Words Vani Kambali
Inputs Ajinkya A Nair
“MB&F makes 100 great pieces over 1000 ordinary ones”- Maximilian Büsser
THE CREATIVE ADULT IS THE CHILD WHO SURVIVED AND MAXIMILIAN BÜSSER MADE SURE HE LET THE CHILD IN HIM BREATHE IN THE FORM OF MB&F
Somewhere in Dubai, there’s a man thinking with the speed of light, revolutionising how watches are made and brick by brick, creating a realm of the zaniest watches ever seen. Born to a Swiss diplomat and his mother, an Indian national, Maximilian Büsser spent his childhood drawing cars in his sketchbook. He always had his face buried in books and that meant being the kid who didn't fit in with others. This led to him creating an imaginative world of his own. A world where he was the Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, Captain Kirk and Grendizer. He was always saving the world and righting wrongs. Maximilian in an interview once said, “The creative adult is the child who survived”, and he made sure he never killed that child in him who today, has helped turn this obsession with the unconventional into something this legendary. Büsser finished his college and was spotted by Henry-John Belmont, at the time a chief executive of Jaeger- LeCoultre on a ski slope in Verbier. John asked him to join the company (which was nearly bankrupt at the time) as a product designer. He put forth one single question, which even Busser accepts has helped form his foundation. "Do you want to be one among 200,000 in a big corporation or do you want to be among the four or five of us who can save this beautiful company?" What do you think Max chose?
His career rose as he got appointed as the CEO for Harry Winston Rare Timepieces. However, these ladders came with the bumpiest of steps as working with the brand was riddled with hardships. The company was almost bankrupt, people kept resigning, yet his drive towards timepieces pushed him to turn everything around and convert the US$8 million company to US$80 million in just five years. He also created the groundbreaking Opus series of ultra-complicated mechanical watches in collaboration with independent watchmakers. It was through the Opus series that he discovered his passion towards concept style watches. And now, it was time to climb that ladder again. Only this time, it had to be a leap of faith. After gaining 14 years of expertise in watchmaking, Büsser felt he was finally ready to conquer the industry with an unconventional storm unseen to the human eye before, which was MB&F.
It was the year 2005 when a rebel with a suitcase full of sketches travelled to find a retailer. He started with mere sketches and retailers did pay him in advance. However, his suppliers turned their backs on him which left him with 85% of the parts but no assembly plan. Rescuing him from this situation came four independent watchmakers along with Peter Speake- Marin, he delivered his first two promised pieces but right after that the company went bankrupt, he sold everything to cost without any margin to recover the loss. It took him two full years before the HM1 came out. But when it did, the horological world stood still in awe.
However, the journey to the making of this artistic watch brand cannot be fast-forwarded. It was a man's dream to break the chains of standard watchmaking and his first step towards it was to name it "Maximilian Büsser & Friends". Why friends you ask? Well, Büsser believed in credibility and the importance of recognising the artist for their masterpieces. He quoted saying "I wanted to put back the humans into the equation". According to him, commercial brands use celebrities to put their brands on the map whereas it's the watchmakers, engineers and artisans behind the success of a project.
Keeping the ‘Friends’ angle in check, he buys most artist’s pieces and then resells them. His point is to showcase and grow talent. It's his belief that someone gave him a chance 25 years ago and now it was time to do the same. Thirteen years down this lane, MB&F is now well known as an artistic concept laboratory with a single ideation of assembling collectives of independent watchmaking professionals to develop radical horological masterpieces. The brand reinterprets traditional, high-quality watchmaking into three-dimensional dynamics sculptures. Each masterpiece nearly takes 3-4 years for completion because of all the complexities. Max sketches his ideas onto paper and works with Eric Giroud, the designer and co-owner of MB&F, who reconstructs these sketches into 3D designs on the computer. After designing a few 3D prints, the force moves forward and transforms the concept into a movement.
The Horological Machines (HM) series was the watch line that Büsser introduced first. Inspired by spaceships, frogs, jellyfish to cars and robots from his childhood, this line was the embodiment of his life. HM1, being the first, took nearly 300 hours for just the sketch. It features 376 components, 81 functional jewels, four mainspring barrels, a seven-day power reserve and an elevated central tourbillon. Max dove headfirst into the market by later launching the HM2, HM3 and the HM6, which is inspired by outer space. Beautifully developed to display the movement in operation, HM3 series to date remains to be the most loved out of them all. A frog's protruding eyes enable it to see in many directions without having to turn their head. HM3 Frog’s bulbous hour and minute domes mimic a similar but reversed effect in which the wearer can easily read the time from a variety of angles without having to turn their wrist. HM4 was his take on aviation. He converted his passion for assembling model aircraft into watches. Whereas HM5, HMX and HM8 were inspired by automobiles, which were Büsser's initial interest. A decade later, in 2015, it was time to celebrate. But there is one basic fact about birthdays that the one celebrating usually gets the present. MB&F conceived the HMX – ‘X’ as in the Roman numeral for ten as a thank you to the Friends. Instead of developing a complicated, expensive anniversary timepiece, they cut margins without sacrificing quality, offering a true horological machine at an unprecedented price.
Everyone who knows a little about this brand knows how important the element ‘friends’ is for Maximilian. It was in the year 2009 that the brand decided to collaborate with Alain Silberstein. The result caught everyone completely off guard: the HM2.2 Black Box. To Alain, the HM2 reminded him of the vintage box cameras which he then replicated in his creation. What brought the 160-year old House of Boucheron and the young MB&F together was the JwlryMachine, an astonishing haute-joaillerie version of MB&F’s Horological Machine Noº3. The jewellery brand completely instilled it with jewels to make it look like an owl. MB&F then moved forward and collaborated with Stepan Sarpaneva, not once but twice to create the MoonMachines 1 and 2. They reconstructed HM2 and HM8 respectively with their specialised touch to them. They both utilise the rotor and moon phase display as focus points for incorporating the Sarpaneva contribution, but MoonMachine 2 takes this seemingly straightforward addition and gives it an exponential bump: the first ever projected moon phase display. There are masterpieces and then there exist pieces that words can't do justice to. LM1 Xia Hang was one such artwork.
Right when you thought this man cannot amaze you any further, he comes up with the whole idea of co-creation by using his ideas and others skill set to present this world with contraptions set in the future. He collaborated with artists and created unconventional yet fully functional table clocks shaped like rockets and robots. Then came the MusicMachines 1, 2 and 3 as an ode to the music boxes of yesteryear. He also collaborated with Caran d’Ache to create an astrograph writing instrument that contains a total of 99 components, making it the most complex writing instrument ever made. Maximilian Büsser has a team of 20 people and prefers making 100 brilliant pieces rather than 10,000 conventional ones. He cannot absorb the idea of customisation because, for him, all his timepieces are close to his heart, and are a part of him. The beauty of Maximilian Büsser and Friends lies in the fact that they are narrating a story. A story that is solely theirs to tell.