Watch this Space

MB&F founder Max­i­m­il­ian Büsser speaks to Ni­co­lette Wong about his new HM9 Flow, and the fu­ture of his com­pany

Singapore Tatler - - STYLE -

There is no sec­onds hand on any MB&F. If you want sec­onds, go and buy a watch.” Such is the kind of ex­hor­ta­tion that has be­come sig­na­ture for Max­i­m­il­ian Büsser, who is re­garded as a rock star of sorts in the watch­mak­ing world. His com­pany MB&F (which stands for Max­i­m­il­ian Büsser & Friends) cre­ates time­pieces that have never been seen be­fore in the watch in­dus­try—beau­ti­ful ma­chines with in­ven­tive me­chan­ics that just hap­pen to tell the time. His Horo­log­i­cal Ma­chine No 1 (or HM1), with its separated hours and min­utes dis­play, vo­lu­mi­nous 8-shaped case and four-bar­rel move­ment, seems tame by com­par­i­son to his cur­rent works, but it rep­re­sented a whole new world of watch­mak­ing back in 2007. Eleven years, sev­eral prizes, and nu­mer­ous land­mark watches later, Büsser is in Sin­ga­pore to launch his lat­est cre­ation, the HM9 Flow. Büsser is, as al­ways, clear about his phi­los­o­phy when it comes to creat­ing his horo­log­i­cal ma­chines. “We didn’t spend two and a half years on re­search and de­vel­op­ment, 18 months to cre­ate 300 to 400 com­po­nents, and months to assem­ble and test the fin­ished pieces to cre­ate some­thing that’s in­fin­itely less pre­cise than the time dis­played on your phone,” he says. “We be­lieve that we’re or­ches­trat­ing me­chan­i­cal sculp­tures that just hap­pen to give the time.” And what a sculp­ture it is. The HM9 Flow has all the sleek, sexy curves of a mid-cen­tury race car, or an early-gen­er­a­tion air­craft. Think the Mercedes-benz W196, the 1948 Buick Stream­liner, or the de Hav­il­land Venom. The HM9’S aes­thet­ics, ac­cord­ing to Büsser, hark back to a time when engi­neers were also artists—they didn’t have the tech­nol­ogy at the time to help de­ter­mine what would make a car or plane go faster, so it was im­por­tant only that th­ese crafts looked fast. The HM9 cer­tainly looks like it could take off at a mo­ment’s no­tice. It has a con­i­cal main body flanked by two long

teardrop-shaped pods, which have a com­plex com­bi­na­tion of satin and pol­ished sur­faces. The three-di­men­sion­al­ity of the en­tire struc­ture can­not be over­stated—it def­i­nitely rises well above the wrist. Büsser was also quite spe­cific about his cre­ation process. “I didn’t go ‘I love vin­tage cars and planes, what can I do that is based on that look?’ The HM9 just popped into my head one day.” He sketched it out im­me­di­ately, and it was only af­ter­wards that he an­a­lysed its form and re­alised where his in­flu­ences might have come from—in more ways than one. The de­sign of the HM9 is rem­i­nis­cent of one of MB&F’S ear­lier mod­els, the HM4 Thun­der­bolt, which had a dis­tinctly box­ier body struc­ture but also re­sem­bled a model air­craft. Both the HM4 and the HM9 are read us­ing in­di­ca­tions per­pen­dic­u­lar to the wrist, a con­ve­nient quirk for driv­ers and pi­lots who now need not turn their wrists on the steer­ing wheels to tell time. The rounded curves of the HM9 case, how­ever, are a de­scen­dant of the or­ganic, un­du­lat­ing case of the ear­lier HM6 Space Pi­rate. The HM9 case was, how­ever, far more tech­ni­cally chal­leng­ing to build than its pre­de­ces­sors. When Büsser and his team first pre­sented the HM9 to their case man­u­fac­tur­ers, they were told that such a de­sign was im­pos­si­ble to build. Other chal­leng­ing case shapes, such as that of the HM6, were ge­o­met­ri­cally com­plex, but the case’s max­i­mum height dif­fer­en­tial (that is, the ver­ti­cal dis­tance be­tween two con­tigu­ous points) re­mained within 5mm. For the HM9, it was dou­ble that thanks to the rad­i­cal curves of its de­sign. Plus, the place­ment of the swathes of mir­ror and satin fin­ish­ing also posed a chal­lenge as fin­ish­ing tools would have to care­fully nav­i­gate the nar­row chan­nels of the case. On top of that, the ta­per­ing bod­ies of the HM9 meant that it was im­pos­si­ble to in­stall the move­ment us­ing con­ven­tional means. To in­sert it, the case had to be cre­ated us­ing a three-block con­struc­tion—a so­lu­tion that raised yet an­other prob­lem: wa­ter re­sis­tance. The gas­kets that af­ford most watches their level of wa­ter re­sis­tance are usu­ally only two-di­men­sional. The con­struc­tion of the HM9 case ne­ces­si­tated a three-di­men­sional gas­ket, which had never been used in the in­dus­try be­fore. “It was ab­so­lutely in­sane,” says Büsser. MB&F did even­tu­ally get their sup­pli­ers to cre­ate the three-di­men­sional gas­ket, which is now patented, and the HM9 is wa­ter-re­sis­tant to 30m. Plus, MB&F can now have its cake and eat it too. “The new 3D gas­ket de­sign is go­ing to en­able me to go into a whole new ter­ri­tory,” Büsser en­thuses. “There are a few pro­jects that I had put aside two or three years ago be­cause it was im­pos­si­ble then, and now we can come back and re­view them again.” Just as the HM9’S case builds on MB&F’S pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence with the HM4 and HM6, its man­ual-wind­ing engine is a suc­ces­sor to the Legacy Ma­chine No 2 (LM2), which was de­vel­oped to the brand’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions by award­win­ning move­ment spe­cial­ist Jean-françois Mo­jon. The HM9’S dou­ble-bal­ance sys­tem with a plan­e­tary dif­fer­en­tial is based on a sim­i­lar sys­tem in the LM2,

al­beit with an extremely dif­fer­ent aes­thetic. The twin bal­ance wheel sys­tem works like this: each of the twin bal­ance wheels will ob­tain a cer­tain set of chrono­met­ric data based on the wearer’s move­ments. They feed the data to a cen­tral dif­fer­en­tial for an av­er­aged read­ing, which then al­lows the gear train to ad­vance by the cor­rect amount and move the hands for­ward. The HM9 Flow is avail­able in grade 5 ti­ta­nium, in two dif­fer­ent edi­tions. The Road edi­tion has a rose gold move­ment and speedome­ter-type dial, whereas the Air edi­tion has a dark­ened move­ment and avi­a­tion-style dial. Both edi­tions are lim­ited to 33 pieces each. The time­piece—or horo­log­i­cal art, as Büsser might put it—is a de­vel­op­ment made pos­si­ble only by the watches that have come be­fore it, which have al­lowed MB&F to learn cer­tain tech­niques and build a level of know-how that makes the HM9 pos­si­ble. As Büsser put it, “I be­lieve that no big brand could cre­ate the HM9 to­day. Or if they did, it would take years and make no eco­nomic sense.” The HM9, in other words, stands on the shoul­ders of gi­ants.

THE FU­TURE

Know­ing what has come from MB&F’S past, we can­not help but won­der, what is in its fu­ture? Or in Büsser’s, for that mat­ter. In 2013, when MB&F hit CHF15M in rev­enue, Büsser made the de­ci­sion not to grow the com­pany any fur­ther, which is a con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion for any en­tre­pre­neur to make, es­pe­cially when your busi­ness has the ca­pac­ity for growth as MB&F as­suredly does. But the man him­self has a sim­ple ex­pla­na­tion: he is happy with the way things are. He had pre­vi­ously said in an­other in­ter­view with Sin­ga­pore Tatler that “I thought I’d be happy if we could hit CHF15M, and we have, so I de­cided to stop grow­ing the com­pany”. This time around, he once again af­firms this fact, say­ing “I never imag­ined be­ing as happy and as con­tented as I am now.” Büsser’s easy-go­ing ap­proach to busi­ness is an un­usual one, but it is a fair enough point, given that the com­pany’s goal is not to max­imise prof­its, but to cre­ate things that he loves. (He owns 80 per cent of the com­pany, with the re­main­ing 20 per cent be­long­ing to MB&F chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer Serge Kri­knoff.) “I have this urge to cre­ate stuff. It gives me adren­a­line spikes, and I’m a junkie for that.” The com­pany is merely the means with which Büsser makes his cre­ations come to life. For his ef­forts, he was re­cently awarded the Gaïa Prize in en­trepreneur­ship by the Musée In­ter­na­tional d’hor­logerie, an ac­co­lade many liken to the No­bel Prize in watch­mak­ing. It was some­thing that he took to heart, par­tially be­cause his first men­tor, Henry-john Bel­mont, the man who gave him his first job at Jaeger-lecoul­tre, had been on the panel. As a junkie for cre­ation, as Büsser him­self puts it, he has seven-year cy­cles. He spent seven years each at Jaeger-lecoul­tre and Harry Win­ston be­fore creat­ing his own com­pany. Seven years into MB&F, he launched the MAD Gallery and Legacy

Ma­chine col­lec­tion, which he never would have imag­ined creat­ing in the early days of the brand, and started work­ing with other cre­ators such as Swiss clock­mak­ers L’epée. Now, nearly 14 years into the life­time of MB&F, what is next? The an­swer: “Our first ladies’ watch.” While the idea may seem sur­pris­ing, Büsser as­serts that it rep­re­sents a change in mind­set. “Af­ter 14 years of creat­ing for my­self, I wanted to cre­ate some­thing for women… not be­cause I think it makes eco­nomic sense as not many women even know my brand ex­ists. But be­cause I’m try­ing to get out of my com­fort zone and take risks.” He hints that the ladies’ watch, how­ever it may look like, will make its ap­pear­ance next year. While it seems like Büsser is a con­sum­mate cre­ative with an un­end­ing drive to bring new things into the world, it turns out that he does have a limit. Büsser speaks of a project, some two years in the mak­ing now, that he re­cently had to shelve in­def­i­nitely. “It was go­ing to be a whole new brand, at a more ac­ces­si­ble price point,” he laments. “But as a hus­band and fa­ther, who’s try­ing to bal­ance his own life… it doesn’t make sense. I’d also have to give my team a lot more work, and none of us have the time.” While we are dis­ap­pointed we will not be see­ing a new world of watches from the mind that shaped the world of in­de­pen­dent horol­ogy, there still cer­tainly seems to be much to look for­ward to; af­ter all, ac­cord­ing to Büsser, “we al­ready have six [new watches] in the pipe­line”.

“I be­lieve that no big brand could cre­ate the HM9 to­day. Or if they did, it would take years and make no eco­nomic sense”

BROTH­ERS IN ARMS The HM9 Flow (the Air Edi­tion pic­tured) is a de­scen­dant of MB&F’S pre­vi­ous cre­ations, the HM4 Thun­der­bolt and the HM6 Space Pi­rate

PAST, PRESENT, FU­TURE While MB&F’S watches al­ways look like they come from the fu­ture, they of­ten have his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ence points. The HM9, for in­stance, was par­tially in­spired by vin­tage 1950s race cars such as the MercedesBenz W 196 R (above)

THE CON­SUM­MATE CRE­ATIVE MB&F founder Max­i­m­il­ian Büsser de­scribes him­self as a junkie for the cre­ative process

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