A CON­VER­SA­TION

Max­imil­lian Büsser, the colour­ful founder of MB&F on his pas­sion, the peo­ple he gets on with and who loves his brand

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Ev­ery­one who fol­lows great de­sign and watches knows MB&F, that idio­syn­cratic brand es­tab­lished by Max­imil­lian Büsser a lit­tle more than a decade ago. We talk to the watch­maker on, well, ev­ery­thing re­ally.

Choos­ing to be kind

My par­ents were prob­a­bly the most re­spect­ful and kind peo­ple I’ve ever met and in your pro­fes­sional life you have to deal with a lot of peo­ple who are not that kind, and I de­cided I just wanted to work with peo­ple who share the same values, that’s why I called the brand Max­imil­lian Büsser & Friends. When I launched the com­pany every­body told me it’s the worst name ever.You can’t call a high-end watch­mak­ing brand Friends. And I said, well that’s the only word I have. And it’s funny be­cause 13 years later, suc­cess makes you sexy and so ev­ery­one’s like, oh, great name.

The hap­pi­ness equa­tion

Hap­pi­ness equals re­al­ity mi­nus ex­pec­ta­tions. If re­al­ity is higher than ex­pec­ta­tions you’re happy. If re­al­ity is lower than ex­pec­ta­tions, you’re un­happy. It’s a sim­ple equa­tion. I’m 51, I’ve had some re­ally tough times in my life, even in my com­pany. It’s been 13 years – we had four very rough years, one where we nearly went bank­rupt and now we’re do­ing su­per well, but it’s not al­ways been that case. It’s the fact that I’ve fallen down and got back up on my feet that to­day I feel serene for the first time. I know that I will fall again; I know that some­thing is go­ing to hap­pen, I don’t know where it’s go­ing to come from but it’s be­ing an en­tre­pre­neur, it’s just nor­mal.

On find­ing your pas­sion

I wanted to be a car de­signer. From the age of four to 18, I was draw­ing cars. When I grad­u­ated from high school, the Pasadena ArtCen­ter Col­lege of De­sign opened their Euro­pean head­quar­ters 20 min­utes from where I lived in Switzer­land. My dad was mid­dle class, no money, and he said, okay, with your mum we’ve de­cided we’ll try and find a way to pay for this. But I said, you know what, I’ll do en­gi­neer­ing. I’ll spe­cialise in car de­sign af­ter­wards.

In the mid­dle of en­gi­neer­ing I fell into watch­mak­ing, which was a dead in­dus­try 30 years ago. As a stu­dent I did a pro­ject on watch­mak­ing where I sent let­ters out to the brands say­ing, I needed to in­ter­view some­body in the com­pany. And the com­pa­nies were so small that each time the CEO replied, say­ing “Come at this date at that hour and I’ll give you an hour”. That’s un­think­able to­day.

On the value of a watch

You buy a watch be­cause it’s beau­ti­ful, you love it, you sell it at a loss or you keep it and maybe in 40 or 50 years it will be worth 10 or 50 times that. Brands tell you that a watch is an in­vest­ment. I would never dare say some­thing like that. They may be in 30 or 40 years like that Fer­rari GTO that sold for $75 mil­lion. A guy who buys a Fer­rari now and man­aged to flip it and make his 30 per­cent that’s not a prob­lem. But all the oth­ers, they’re go­ing to have to wait 40-50 years and maybe if they’re lucky and they have some­thing ex­cep­tional, some­thing rare, it will fetch in­cred­i­ble prices.

On his cre­ations

Peo­ple who buy an MB&F are clearly peo­ple who are very dif­fer­ent from most watch buy­ers. They’re usu­ally en­trepreneurs, peo­ple who’ve cre­ated their own suc­cess, very strong minded, who don’t care what other peo­ple think of them. It’s peo­ple who say, you know what, I don’t care if you don’t like it, I love that piece be­cause of the jour­ney, of the story of why it was cre­ated and be­cause it speaks to me. And I’ve dis­cov­ered that over the years I don’t give a damn what peo­ple think of what I do. It’s the only way I can cre­ate some­thing like this. And, hon­estly, some of them have been mas­sive flops.

The value of re­think­ing

The HM5 was one of the most im­por­tant pieces for me be­cause that young car de­signer fi­nally tack­led the car de­sign part. It is prob­a­bly one of the most com­pli­cated pieces we’ve ever cre­ated but most peo­ple just don’t get it. It was the weak­est seller in the his­tory of our com­pany. Be­cause to make this pos­si­ble we’ve got a com­plete in­ter­nal ti­ta­nium chas­sis, which is in­de­pen­dent, like a car, and the body work is screwed on like the pan­els of a coach-built car. It’s com­pletely wa­ter-re­sis­tant, the ti­ta­nium chas­sis. It took us four years to cre­ate this piece and I’m pre­sent­ing it dur­ing the Basel Fair and one of my re­tail­ers goes, “Okay, so what hap­pens if wa­ter goes in?” And I re­alised, God, I hadn’t thought of that. Imag­ine, this is an $85,000 watch and you come out of the wa­ter and you have to ac­tu­ally go like this ( Shakes his wrist). It’s not very el­e­gant. So, then we cre­ated the first ever ex­haust pipes on our watch. These two holes here are ac­tu­ally drainage sys­tems. If wa­ter comes in here, it flows out from the back. Once you ex­plain the story, they’ll go okay but if you don’t ex­plain it, you just see it in a show­case, peo­ple go, why would I pay 80 grand for this?

Im­ages cour­tesy of MB&F

The HM5, one of the most com­pli­cated watches MB&F has pro­duced

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