“ACTIVITY KILLS MY CREATIVITY. I TRY TO SPEND 45 MINUTES OR AN HOUR JUST SITTING IN MY GARDEN, NOT DOING ANYTHING BUT THINKING”
If you are lucky enough to wear an MB& F out in the wild, strangers will stare, and hard. In fact, they might even talk to you. This is not to say that the watches are flashy, or anywhere near typical of anything.
Take the Horological Machine
No 9 Flow, for example. The latest example of mind- warping horological experimentalism from avant- garde Swiss watchmaker Max Büsser comes with a visually astonishing three- part case, featuring a unique manual-winding mechanical calibre developed especially for it, with a twin balance wheel assembly, linked by a planetary differential that averages out the timekeeping rate. It also represents an unprecedented achievement in water resistance: getting a complex three- part case like this to be water resistant at all.
But then there’s little that’s typical about Büsser. To begin, most independent watchmaking firms are headed, or at least fronted, by a watchmaker, which he isn’t. He also fell into the world of watchmaking by accident. As a child, he wanted to design cars, but ended up getting a master’s in microengineering.
The only child of a Swiss father and an Indian mother, the young Büsser spent a lot of time by himself. He became a “full- time car designer” till he was 18, but grew up and moved away from his childhood dreams when he set his sights on a marketing role at Procter & Gamble after completing his degree.
Then came the moment that changed his life. During Büsser’s military service in Switzerland in 1990, he was driving a 1950s jeep with a trailer when the trailer made an ill- fated contact with a bump. “I was thrown out of the car, luckily onto a patch of grass, and the whole car and trailer rolled over and two tonnes of jeep landed on my back,” he has said.
Büsser spent six weeks in hospital, and got out with his entire torso encased in plaster. Crucially, he celebrated surviving by buying his “first real mechanical watch”
— an Ebel chronograph powered by the legendary Zenith El Primero movement. Then, while recovering, he took a ski holiday and bumped into Henri John Belmont, then managing director of Jaeger- Lecoultre, who offered him a job helping to rescue the manufacture at a time when Swiss watchmaking generally was in dire straits. “Belmont asked me if I wanted to be one of thousands of employees in a corporation, or if I wanted to be one of the handful who save Jaeger-Lecoultre,” he says.
He took up the offer, and Belmont created a role for him at the manufacture. Possibly Büsser learned something from his father’s experiences working at a major Swiss processed food giant.
“I saw my father suffer for most of his working life in a big corporation,” he says. “He was fundamentally the most honest man I have ever seen, and was constantly bewildered, hurt and abused by all the politics and backstabbing in the organisation. I remember thinking at around 13 that I would not let people walk over me the way he unfortunately had to suffer. He accepted it because he needed to keep a job. His total abnegation of his own professional happiness so as to be able to provide is one of the many ways he expressed his love.”
Today, Büsser is responsible for a watchmaking firm that makes his own dreams come true, and boasts some impressive numbers. It has revenues of 15 million Swiss francs ( about HK$ 117m), and an annual output of more than 200 watches, which in 2013 allowed him to decide he didn’t want to grow the business beyond those numbers. It was a “crazy decision,” in his own words, and he’s stuck with it to this day.
Limiting the output gives him the space to create, he says. “I can only create when I have nothing to do. Activity kills my creativity. I try to spend 45 minutes or an hour just sitting in my garden, not doing anything but thinking.”
What drives him today, he says, are “love and gratitude. Love for my family, love for creating, gratitude for where I have arrived in life, when I never even dreamt of it. Actually in my life there are only two goals now: to love and to create.”