Maximilian Büsser: The Mastermind Behind the Magic of MB&F
Watch & Bullion22 July 2018 | 4 min read
While you may find Maximilian Büsser on the cover of a watch magazine or the floor of SIHH, make no mistake to presume he is just a watchmaker. What Büsser is, first and foremost, is an artist in every sense of the word, something best represented by the following quote:
“If you’re just interested in having the time, or even worse to have status, don’t come and see us … you’re not worthwhile.”
He was born in 1967 in Milan, the son of a Swiss diplomat and an Indian mother. At age four, the family moved to Switzerland, where he spent the rest of his youth, graduating in 1991 from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne with a Master’s in Microtechnology engineering.
By chance, he first set foot into the watch industry when he met Henry-John Belmont on a Ski slope. The Former CEO of Jaeger-Lecoultre held the realms of a struggling watch brand when he recognised Büsser’s potential and offered him a Job. Maximilian’s taste for risk first took form. Rather than taking a cushy job, he decided to help restore Jaeger to his former glory. Suffice to say their plan worked.
After seven years, in 1998, he switched horses to the then-also struggling Harry Winston to become their head of the watch division at only 31 years of age. Being responsible for creating the Opus series, he managed to raise revenue from 8 to 80 million a year. Having taken significant risks twice, most people would sit back, settle down, and work on retirement. Max showed his colours at this stage, as he rejected a promotion, quit his job, and took all of his money to found MB&F in 2005.
MB&F was an uphill battle from the start, requiring close to 1 million in personal capital and several advances to come up with the parts. Further, to make his unique visions a reality, he had to call in favours from other independent watchmakers. What exactly were these so very ambitious dreams? Well, MB&F is outside the business of making watches. No, they are in the business of making what Maximilian calls “Horological Machines.”
The same difference, you might think, what’s the difference between a watch and a horological machine? To explain that and, more importantly, why Maximilian does what he does, you have to look at his company’s slogan “A creative adult is a child that survives”.
Max is in the art business, and he recognised the shift in the industry where displaying the time became a secondary function of a watch. While some may clammer on to their “tool watches” and call his creations pretentious or lacking utility, I consider them self-aware. After all, it would have been easier and more financially lucrative to make characterless designs and spend the rest of their capital on product placements and brand ambassadors. Therefore he considers the time-telling function his canvas on which he can paint as he likes, not having to be restricted by such boring things as practicality.
Unusual watches are created through unusual methods, so the entire company and its process reflect Maximilian himself. He consciously limits his team to a maximum of 20 people, being aware of the creativity-killing effects of middle management. That limits how many watches he can produce, which is around 300 per year.
Despite these self-set limitations, MB&F makes revenue above 10 million dollars a year. That can, of course, only be done through very high prices, so high that the CEO himself says he can’t afford his own watches. For that price, however, you gain entrance to an exclusive club of some of the most hard-core watch enthusiasts. To give some perspective on the scale of their production, if you count together all the watches MB&F ever produced, it would be the same amount of timepieces Patek manufactures in about a week.
Having experienced the troubles of trying to make a living with art, Büsser said his company was close to shutting its doors three times, and now he is looking towards giving back. Through his MAD galleries, he grants exposure to artists who produce mechanical and kinetic art by buying their art and putting it on display. Through such methods, he has presented the works of Bob Potts, Gaby Wormann, and Chicara Nagata, who, after years of struggle, now get the attention they are worthy of.
How do you then sum up a blog on Büsser? The man defies categories and has been the most influential and beneficial person in the watch industry of the last decade. To say he is the creator of MB&F fails to do justice to his achievements and ambitions.
Usually, I would say that it will be many years before we will see someone in the industry like him again. However, the hope is that he will inspire a new generation of people to question the old brands and create new ones. Who knows, maybe one of them has even read this blog.
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