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