Controversial Watchmaker Maximilian Büsser Reveals What Makes Him Tick
Maximilian Büsser is the founder of MB&F, a horological collective that creates some of the most innovative and controversial timepieces on the planet. Büsser began his career at Jaeger-LeCoultre before becoming the managing director of Harry Winston Rare Timepieces. But MB&F has enabled him to embrace a decidedly counterculture approach to watchmaking. His whimsical creations have pushed the boundaries of design and engineering, making the Swiss entrepreneur the watch-industry equivalent of automotive visionaries like Horacio Pagani or Christian von Koenigsegg. We caught up with Mr. Büsser to chat about his iconoclastic timepieces and learn how they are influenced by his passion for cars and motorcycles. (mbandf.com)
RobbReport.com: Your watches are unlike anything else out there. Before you founded MB&F, who were your watch heroes? Who did you look up to?
Maximilian Büsser: I’m trying all sorts of new things. I did all the basics, I started off at Jaeger-LeCoultre 23 years ago and spent seven years at Harry Winston. I’ve done all that. Now, I’m reinterpreting all of it, and I have no reference at all. There are a lot of people I look up to as talents, but not as creators. Urwerk and De Bethune are the two brands I really like. But at the end of the day, I’m writing my own story. And nothing at all is linked to the trend of fashion or what’s happening in the watch world.
RR.com: Many of your watches reference cars. What cars do you drive, and where do you find automotive inspiration?
MB: I’ve always been a car person. But for me, like watches, the human beings who create them are as important as the product themselves. So, when I finally started making a real living, 13 years ago, I got my dream car of the day. In those days I drove a TVR Griffith. Absolutely hairy, crazy car. I had it nine years and every time I took a turn I was like, “I’m still alive!” But the sensation that car gave me was much more than any Porsche or Ferrari … I’m not that sort of guy.
Three years ago I sold my TVR and I got my next dream car. I got a Wiesmann MF4-S. I specialize in cars that are handmade by crazy people, who have put their soul in it. It’s as important as the product itself. Something completely different made by people who dream. And actually, TVR went bankrupt and Wiesmann has gone bankrupt now. I went to visit their factories. Insane. Did you see the Wiesmann factory? That’s why they went bankrupt. They were doing 150 cars a year from scratch. BMW engines and Getrag gearboxes, all the rest was made by them. A monoblock aluminum chassis done by them. Even the bodywork, they had the molds; they were making them. The electrical circuits they were doing on measure for each client. It was insane. And it’s less than the price of a Porsche, so, of course they were going to go bankrupt. But it’s an incredible car to drive.
RR.com: What do you think of Pagani?
MB: Of course, I actually always use Horacio [Pagani] as an example. He’s practically the last dreamer in this industry except for a few English guys. And we all wonder how he’s still there. The level of detailing, the level of everything he does . . . incredible. And it’s interesting that one of my collectors in Hong Kong who’s got all my pieces, he’s got three Paganis, and after he bought the first MB&F, he said, “You know, what’s happened to me since I bought your piece is same thing when I bought my first Pagani. I’ve sold all my Ferraris and Lamborghinis and all that. And I’m going to sell all my watch collection.” Because it’s the same story. For him, it’s the same story. MB&F and Pagani. And it completely makes sense for me. There are no more rebels out there in the car industry. It’s so difficult to survive.
RR.com: Tell me about some of the engineering challenges you faced during the creation of the automotive-inspired HM5.
MB: It took four years just because we cocked up completely at the beginning; we had used parabolic mirrors [for the hour and minute display] and then we realized it didn’t work. But the whole system [was challenging]: the movement we developed which is, of course, new; the prism mirror; the most complicated case in the history of watchmaking—all the systems. And we’re never going to amortize that over the 200 pieces we’ve done.
RR.com: What inspired the unique shape of the case?
MB: We have to find solutions for everything we do because round watches, which have been made for hundreds of years, are just improving a little bit on what already exists. We’re continually hitting walls in every one of our ideas, but nobody’s ever done it and we have to find solutions for it. So, this is an engineer’s wet dream, and it’s an engineer’s nightmare. It’s really both.
For us, we create kinetic art. That’s what we do. What I do is kinetic art, which, oh, by the way, gives you the time. So, I deconstruct beautiful, traditional watchmaking and reconstruct it into a 3-D machine, which, by the way, gives you time. Think Transformers. The car becomes a robot. For me, the boring round watch becomes a 3-D piece of mechanical art. It’s inspired mostly by my childhood. So, planes, cars, science fiction.
RR.com: What kind of science fiction?
MB: I was 10 years old when I saw Star Wars. I can still remember the first scene where Darth Vader walks down the aisle and [choking sound]. So, I was Han Solo. I was also Captain Kirk [from Star Trek]. I’m an only child, and my parents were so in love with each other they didn’t even notice I existed. I was all the time alone. I was so lonely that my survival depended on being a superhero, so I was saving the world every day.
I think when you’re a kid you’re 100 times more creative than when you’re an adult. You dream of all sorts of things and then your parents tell you, “Stop it. Become reasonable. You have to go and make a living.” Your professors tell you, “Stop having your crazy dreams. You need to work.” Even my first boss, whom I loved, she’d tell me, “Büsser, your crazy ideas are cool, but we need to make money.” And everything in your life conspires to stop you being a dreamer and a creator.
So for me, MB&F is as much my psychotherapy—revisiting my childhood—as my autobiography. I create without giving a damn about what people think. It’s the anti-marketer. I’ve been a marketer. I’ve done that. I never want to go back to that. As a creator, I want to create what I believe in and maybe there’ll be a client out there.