MB&F Brings Childlike Creativity Into High-End Watchmaking
MB&F also known as Maximilian Büsser and Friends produces some of the most interesting timepieces and horological machines in the world. The key to the brand’s success has been Maximilian Büsser’s creativity. He is uncompromising in seeking to realize his goal of bringing a child’s sense of awe and playfulness into high-end watchmaking. The brand’s calling card is blending traditional watchmaking with an artistic approach to create three-dimensional kinetic sculptures.
Founded by Büsser, the Geneva-based Swiss watch brand celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2015. In a short span of time, the brand built nine horological and four legacy machines. It also created 16 performance art pieces, which are limited editions developed in collaboration with artists.
Thanks to its unique design and loyal customers, most MB&F watches carry a retail price between $55,000 and $90,000.
Earlier this year, Epoch Times met with Büsser at Baselworld in Switzerland. Büsser spoke candidly about his personal journey and how that influenced his professional life and current passion for watchmaking.
Art of Watchmaking
Epoch Times: Your brand is very unique. Can you tell us about how you started this journey?
Maximilian Büsser: MB&F is a life decision, it’s not a business decision. Watchmaking saved my life 25 years ago. I studied engineering. After university, I was going to work for big corporations like Procter & Gamble or Nestlé.
When you are young, you think that is what you should do. I was lucky to find a job in watchmaking at a time when nobody wanted mechanical watchmaking anymore. And it was extraordinary. I found a family, a passion, and a meaning to my life.
I worked for Jaeger-LeCoultre and Harry Winston. When I took over Harry Winston, I was only 31. The company was virtually bankrupt. So I had to save the company and grow it.
Epoch Times: What was your role then?
Mr. Büsser: I was the managing director of the global timepiece operation. So I basically took over at a time when the product, retailers, suppliers, and the team were all problematic. So it was a big challenge.
Epoch Times: How did you save the company?
Mr. Büsser: It’s a very long story, very complicated. Especially the first year was horrendous. I had an ulcer. I was working 18 hours a day. We were only seven in the company. And we managed to grow the team from 8 to 80 people, from $8 million to $80 million revenue. We created the Opus range.
During that time, I discovered two things: First, I realized I was a capable person. You have no idea what you’re capable of until you confront it. And second, the larger the company got, the less happy I was. I come from a family with no money. I have never imagined having that kind of success in life. Everybody was so proud of me. But I was not proud of myself.
Epoch Times: Why?
Mr. Büsser: I discovered that after my dad passed away, which was 15 years ago, I thought I would deal with it but I couldn’t. So I went to therapy, which lasted 18 months.
During that time, I discovered many things. And the first thing I discovered was that the most important day for us is our last day. Because when you look back you have to feel proud of what you’ve done. Otherwise, everything you do is useless. And that’s coming back to regrets. So I decided to change my life and do something that I would be proud of.
And since the age of 4, I have been creating. I wanted to be a car designer so I was designing cars when I was a kid. I was creating products at Jaeger and Harry Winston, as well. But I was creating for the market, not for myself. I thought people would like it, which is a total abnegation of your true self.
When I realized this I decided to put an end to it. I decided to create for myself. For the last 10 years, I don’t care if people like what I do or not. Another thing I realized: in your personal life, you don’t accept even a 10th of what you have to accept in your professional life.
If somebody in your personal life, manipulates you, backstabs you, lies to you, you don’t see that person anymore. But in business, you have to deal with them. And I thought I don’t accept that anymore, I’m not proud of this.
So I created the brand and called it “Max Büsser and Friends.” Everyone told me it’s the worst name ever for a watch brand and told me that I can’t call the brand like that. But I told them I can.
I put all my savings into the business, which was by far, not enough. I created the company. I traveled around the world to visit the retailers. I told them I did not have enough money to make the brand come true. So I asked them to pay one-third upfront for the watches I would be making.
Luckily I managed to find six retailers who were crazy enough to pay me one-third in advance. Two years later, we managed to deliver the first two timepieces. That was HM1. And I started hiring a team. Now we are 20 people.
I don’t want to grow further. I had a dream of making 300 watches a year and having 15 employees. We hit that target in 2013.
I must admit, I am proud to accomplish this all by myself and with my savings of 700,000 Swiss francs ($708,000). Our company is small in size. When we hit the target of 280 or 300 watches a year, we stopped growing.
Money has never been the motivator. We have created 11 calibers. We create horological machines and legacy machines. Because we believe watchmaking is an art.
Pride, Not Money
Epoch Times: I understand money is not the motivator. What motivates you to continue especially when you cannot see a bright future ahead?
Mr. Büsser: Pride is the only motivator. Being proud of what you do. And everyone on my team is also proud of what they do.
The future has never been brighter. We had problems in 2007, 2009, 2012, and even in 2014. But now, the demand is enormous, way over our production. So, we started cutting our retailers. We reduced the number of our retailers from 41 to 28 last year.
Epoch Times: Who are your best customers? Who appreciates your watches most?
Mr. Büsser: I have got incredible customers. Somebody who has the courage to wear one of my pieces is an extraordinary person.
Most people love showing off. And unfortunately showing off has become 80 to 90 percent of the motivation to buy a high-end watch and it makes me very sad.
However, if you have an MB&F nobody will know what it is. And nobody knows the price. And when they discover the price, they will go crazy. They say you should have bought a Patek Philippe. So my clients are like me. They don’t care about what others think.
Epoch Times: How do you make people know about your brand?
Mr. Büsser: When you are such a small company and you put so much in research and development, you have zero communication budget. So there’s virtually no advertising for the company. Our retailers help us a lot.
Source of Creativity
Epoch Times: What is the source of your creativity?
Mr. Büsser: Initially, I had no idea about the source of my creativity. Then I slowly started to understand that it came from my childhood. I was a very creative child who later became a very boring adult. And that’s why today, our philosophy is “A creative adult is a child who survived.”
Children are creative because they are not scared of being wrong. Their parents are the worst killers of creativity. Because we want to protect our children. But we are basically in a devastating way, killing the creativity of our children. I was lucky at some point to find my creativity. My childhood is my inspiration.
Epoch Times: So how did you retrieve that lost creativity?
Mr. Büsser: I think I was always creative. But I just could not dare to be creative. Because you can’t be wrong and you have to make money for your company. And the craziest ideas are never very good for business.
So when I decided to work to be proud, I started not to care about what others think. And that unlocked my creativity. Initially, it wasn’t that easy. My first piece, HM1, took me 300 hours of anguish to design.
Then the second one was a bit easier. And the third one got better. Now I have got so many ideas. Some of our craziest pieces, which I thought would never sell, were our bestsellers.
Epoch Times: Were you surprised when you were selected among of the top brands in the watch industry, the brands that exist for so many years?
Mr. Büsser: I was very surprised indeed. We only craft 23 watches a month. I was surprised when we got the design prize for our Legacy 101 watch, which is the most classic design actually.
Pamela Tsai contributed to this report.