In Conversation With Maximilian Büsser @ Owner & Creative Director of MB&F Horological Lab

MB&F stands for Maximilian Büsser & Friends - just as the name suggests, MB&F is an artistic and micro-engineering concept laboratory dedicated solely to designing and crafting small series of radical concept watches in collaboration with talented professionals. Collectives of independent horological professionals are assembled each year to design and craft radical Horological Machines. Maximilian Büsser, Owner & Creative Director of MB&F Horological Lab talks to mylifestylenews on his switch from luxury watch brands to his very own brand formation and proud to shout out loud that this is a disruptive watchmaking art business during his visit in Hong Kong......

Respecting tradition without being shackled by it enables MB&F to act as a catalyst in fusing traditional, high-quality watchmaking with cutting-edge technology and avant-garde three-dimensional sculpture. In 2007, MB&F unveiled their first Horological Machine; in 2011, MB&F launched their round-cased Legacy Machine collection. In just a couple of years, the talented teams assembled by Maximilian Büsser have become a new creative force in watchmaking with their highly-coveted original timpieces and making childhood dream comes true.

In 2005, after seven years in the senior management team of Jaeger-LeCoultre and another seven years as managing director of Harry Winston Rare Timepieces in Geneva, Büsser created the world’s first horological concept brand: MB&F – Maximilian Büsser & Friends. MB&F is dedicated to developing radical horological concepts by working in small, hyper-creative groups composed of people Büsser enjoys working with. Respecting tradition without being shackled by it enables MB&F to act as a catalyst in fusing traditional, high-quality watchmaking with cutting-edge technology to create three-dimensional mechanical sculptures.

In 2007, MB&F unveiled their first Horological Machine. Its sculptured, three-dimensional case and beautifully finished Engine set the standard for the idiosyncratic Machines that followed – Machines that tell the time, rather than Machines to tell the time. In 2011, MB&F launched their round-cased Legacy Machine collection. These more classical pieces (classical for MB&F that is) pay tribute to 19th century watchmaking excellence by reinterpreting complications from the great horological innovators to create contemporary objets d'art. Since 2011, MB&F alternate between launching an exciting new Horological Machine and an historically-inspired Legacy Machine.

At the Grand Prix d'Horlogerie de Genève in 2012, MB&F’s Legacy Machine No.1 was awarded the Public Prize (voted for by horology fans) and the Best Men’s Watch Prize (voted for by the jury). At the 2010 Grand Prix, MB&F won Best Concept and Design Watch for HM4.

<Legacy Machine N°1 Xia Hang>

Legacy Machine N°1 Xia Hang (LM1 Xia Hang) retains all of the 19th century pocket watch-inspired features of the original LM1, including the majestically suspended slowly oscillating balance wheel and dual time indications that can be set completely independently, but with a twist: the power reserve is indicated by a miniature, highly-polished aluminium man, designed by talented Chinese sculptor, Xia Hang. The man sits up straight when the movement is fully the wound (Mr. Up) and gradually slumps over as the power diminishes (Mr. Down). Xia Hang and MB&F share much in common. While MB&F create serious works of time-telling kinetic art, they don’t take themselves too seriously. Similarly, Xia Hang believes the world of art is often too serious; he likes it to be playful, and wants his sculptures to entertain and make people smile. And just like MB&F, Hang calls his kinetic sculptures ‘machines’. The in-house movement powering LM1 Xia Hang bears testimony to the enormous talent of its creators. Jean-François Mojon and his team at Chronode developed the LM1 calibre, which features the world’s first vertical power reserve and allows completely independent setting – including minutes – of both time displays. Acclaimed independent watchmaker Kari Voutilainen was responsible for the aesthetic design and for strictly ensuring the utmost respect for tradition and finish. Legacy Machine N°1 Xia Hang is a limited edition of 12 pieces in red gold and 12 pieces in white gold. Each Machine is accompanied by a pair of stainless steel sculptures: large-scale versions of Mr. Up and Mr. Down signed by Xia Hang.

<Legacy Machine 101>
For a classically sized 40mm wristwatch, Legacy Machine 101 (LM101) covers a lot of ground. It embodies and accentuates the very essence of what is essential in a wristwatch: the balance wheel, which is responsible for regulating precision; how much power remains in the mainspring, which indicates when it needs to be next wound; and of course, the time. And it has one more very special feature: it houses the very first movement developed entirely in-house by MB&F. Visually, LM101 is dominated by the monumental suspended balance wheel under two arches, its sedate oscillations drawing the eye ever closer. Two pristine-white subdials hover just above the fine sunray-engraved movement top plate: At the top right, highly legible hours and minutes are displayed by beautiful blued-gold hands contrasting against the immaculate white, while the 45-hour power reserve indicator is displayed in a smaller, but similar subdial below. With its undulating Geneva waves, hand polished bevels, gold chatons and countersunk blued screws, the beauty of LM101’s movement doesn’t just stay faithful to a bygone era. It also heralds the dawn of a new epoch as it is the first MB&F calibre to be entirely conceived and designed in-house. While award-winning independent watchmaker Kari Voutilainen took responsibility for the movement’s fines finishing and fidelity to the horological past, its architecture and construction are 100% pure MB&F. Legacy Machine 101 is available in an 18k red gold or 18k white gold case.

<Horological Machine No.5 RT>
HM5 RT is full of surprises: Hour and minute displays look straightforward, but they are bi-directional jumping hours with indications inversed, reflected 90° and magnified 20%. HM5 RT has a futuristic case design, but it’s from the 1970s. HM5 RT has a mechanical movement, but inspired by an era when quartz was King. The rear louvres on supercars block light, but on HM5 RT they let light in. Befitting its automotive heritage, HM5 RT has exhaust pipes, but they drain water. Horological Machine No.5 RT was inspired by an earlier time when we were not quite as blasé about technology as we are now: the 1970s. A deep-brush case finish brings out the lush richness of the 5N red gold and the warmth of the precious metal creates a perfect juxtaposition with the cool electric-blue trim around the time display. Grade 5 titanium flanking the lower sides and base of the case both highlights and softens the formal nobility of the red gold. While HM5 RT has a generously sized 51.5mm x 49mm case and gold is known for its weight as much as its beauty, thanks to the discrete use of ultra-light titanium, HM5 RT is a very comfortable machine to wear. HM5 RT is a luxurious limited edition of 66 pieces in 5N red gold and titanium.

<Starfleet Machine>
The Starfleet Machine is ready to explore the deep space and beyond with you. Starfleet Machine is an intergalactic spaceship-cum-table clock, featuring hours and minutes, double retrograde seconds and power reserve indicator. The highly visible, superlatively finished in-house movement boasts an exceptional power reserve of 40 days (you need a large fuel tank for long space voyages). Starfleet Machine has been designed by MB&F, the award-winning artistic and micro-engineering laboratory.

Hours and minutes are indicated on the central black dome by hand-polished hands that follow the dome’s curved contours. Behind that, a smaller rotating dome, accompanied by a revolving radar dish, provides an intuitive view of remaining energy: five bars indicates the movement is fully wound (40 days of power); one bar means Starfleet Machine is running low on propellant (eight days of remaining power) it’s all relative as most table clocks have a maximum power reserve of only eight days. Below 12 o’clock on the central hour-minute dome are the double retrograde seconds in the form of turret-mounted laser cannons. The cannons start in parallel and cross over one another before rapidly flying out again, an action marking off 20-second intervals. The red-tipped cannons provide eye-catching visual animation, and perhaps just as importantly, fend off enemy attacks against the core of the craft just underneath: the regulator, which has deliberately been placed in full view for all to admire.

What drive you to start with the first horological concept watch brand after numerous year working for JLC and Harry Winston?
When I started at Harry Winston, it was a big shock because I did not know the company was being sold and H.W. Timepieces was virtually bankrupt. This was 16 years ago, I was 31, and I felt I had done the biggest error of my life. With a team of 7 people we were working like hell creating a new strategy, travelling like crazy to help get out of that hole without New York ever helping us in any way. I learned two things through growing the company and becoming really successful: first is that I am capable of doing it. You do not know what you’re capable of doing until you are confronted to it. The second is much more amazing for me: it is that the bigger the company was growing, the more I had what most men want recognition, power, money or your face in the newspaper - the less I was enjoying myself. Even though it was easier and easier, it was becoming less and less pleasurable and I didn’t understand why. It was my father’s passing away 13 years ago that made me realize this is not the life I want to live, not the life I would be proud of on the day I pass away. So I started dreaming about what would later become MB&F but I didn’t have the funds to get started and I just put the idea into a drawer and closed it. Yet, every time I opened the drawer I thought ‘..that’s a fantastic idea!’ and I started opening the drawer more and more often. Then two things happened much like when you fall in love: A) you become completely stupid, and B) you stop reasoning because you’re obsessed. And suddenly everything was about that. I just had to do it. MB&F is about giving a real art perspective to watchmaking. We deconstruct the most beautiful movements of the past to reconstuct them into 3D pieces of kinetic art which give time.

By creating this brand, does this mean that you have made your childhood dream come true?
For a very long time, I considered I had had a pretty sad and lonesome childhood. Survival for a lonely child is day dreaming. I was saving the world on a daily basis. One minute Han Solo, one minute Captain Kirk, one minute a fighter pilot during the first or second world war, etc, etc… And it is only once I started creating for myself at MB&F that I realized these childhood fantasies were getting replayed over and over again in my designs. I don’t set upon creating a Horological Machine which looks like a plane (i.e. the HM4 Thunderbolt), my drawing just takes me there. Sometime I think MB&F is very close to a psychotherapy: I revisit subconsciously my childhood to create incredible 3D kinetic sculptures which make my adult life happy.

Who is your target market?
There is no target market. I create for myself. Our most successful pieces were creations I thought no one would ever buy. This is where watchmaking touches art.

Who are the people in profession best fit in to the MB&F style and design?
I don’t know. All over the world we garner a very small but very loyal group of followers. Their motivations are as diverse as their backgrounds.

How much do you involve the in design & product development?
100%. Creating is my life. That is why MB&F exists. Now of course all alone I would never be able to make these incredible pieces come to life. That is why I called my brand “& Friends” because the incredible specialists, artisans, engineers and watchmakers take an idea and transform it into a beautiful piece of disruptive watchmaking art.

When you design, do you design for trend or practicality and durability? Why?
I design for myself. Trend is a completely banished word at MB&F. In 10 years you will put 20 of my creations on the table, and see no trend of the watch industry. Just what I have wanted to express and experiment. Practicality and durability are of course in the back of my mind when I create a piece. MB&F was created on one philosophy: treat people the way you want to be treated. And ensuring a great product and great service is part of that philosophy, because I would want that if I were a client.

What are the education level/product knowledge shall be given to the people who is new to MB&F in order for them to value and understand such young brand’s history?
Aha… That is a tough question. Clearly it is not easy to understand what we are trying to achieve if all you are looking for is status and recognition. There needs not only to be knowledge about real artisan high-end watchmaking but also an open mindset to watchmaking being an art, where real human beings invest talent, soul and craftsmanship to transform an idea into reality. Watchmaking should not be a way to show off, but a way to connect with creativity.

What are the personality and attitude a person who wear MB&F should have?
After many years of meeting our clients, I realize that one point brings them often together – whatever their culture and country – they are rebels. Strong minded human beings who do not care what others think of their choices. The same decision process which caters to the creation of my pieces (I don’t care what others think), actually infuses the buying process of the same pieces.

What is your brand positioning?
Rebel ultra-high end artisans

Why do you think the HK or Asia market is ready now for MB&F?
Asia is our largest market with 41% of our pieces being sold on this continent. Asia is a thriving forward-looking continent which is ready to embrace creativity and has always loved artisanship and culture. Hong Kong is on the other hand a very new market for us, and we can unfortunately only ship twelve pieces here this year.

What is planned for MB&F in 2015?
 2015 will be our 10th anniversary and will see our 10th and 11th new caliber. Again an amazing year ahead!

What do you and MB&F would like to achieve ultimately?
Be proud and happy.

The Reuge Factory where the Music Machines are made

*Special thanks to Elegant Watch for the interview arrangement.

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