Exclusive Interview: Armed with love, creativity, art and human values, and a decade’s worth of company profits, MB&F founder Maximilian Büsser is ready to take COVID-19 head on

Exclusive Interview: Armed with love, creativity, art and human values, and a decade’s worth of company profits, MB&F founder Maximilian Büsser is ready to take COVID-19 head on

Editor’s note: This Maximilian Büsser (MB&F) feature is our latest interview with industry leaders for our segment of talking about everything from upcoming 2020 novelties to COVID-19’s impact on the Swiss watch industry. For our introductory ones with Ming Thein, Founder of MING watches and with Edouard Meylan, CEO of H. Moser & Cie, please head to our interviews page here.

There are a few choice words MB&F founder Maximilian Büsser used in our interview that have remained with me: crazy creativity are two that resonate the most. 

MB&F
Maximilian Büsser | Courtesy © MB&F SA 2018

MB&F’s Kinetic Art

It’s like when Pablo Picasso once said, “Everything you can imagine is real”.

Now who would have thought that time telling devices could be created that mimicked the motions of a pet (‘Bulldog’ watch), bore the likeness of a dinosaur (T-Rex clock) or scare the bejesus out of someone afraid of insects (Arachnophobia clock)?

There is a certain poetry in motion and to harness that into a form of kinetic art is sheer brilliance.

“Creativity is intelligence having fun,” quoted Albert Einstein. 

Maximilian Büsser manages to do just that. But he does more; he takes these forms of kinetic art and turns them into mechanical time devices. 

Double D 

I could come up with words such as innovative, new, extraordinary, outstanding, and while all of them would be true in describing MB&F, they would also fall under the generic category. 

In-fact the words new and innovative are used so often now within the watch industry that they have pretty much lost all sheen. What is not used commonly, or should I say correctly, is the word disruptive.

Or, let’s make it even simpler; the thing with MB&F is, is that it’s different. There you go, MB&F is disruptive & different.

The Creative Process 

There are various reasons why watch brands produce watches. Commercial gain is usually pretty high up there. After all we are dealing with the luxury watch market.

But there are brands that are also experimenting, say with new materials (like Hublot), or honing complications (like Patek’s Rare Handcrafts or Minute Repeaters), or simply pushing the boundaries of what’s achievable and what’s not. 

MB&F is one such brand, that’s thinking out-of-the-box, that’s being creative. 

“Luckily at MB&F the only goal of my creative process is to create the piece I want to wear (and in the case of the FlyingT, my wife and daughters)”, says Büsser.

Normal is then not a word I would use when I describe anything to do with MB&F. But that doesn’t mean going against the grain is less successful either.

After all a brand that focuses on wrist machines rather than watches has proved over the years with watch designs like the Legacy Machine Perpetual, Thunderdome, Horological Machine No 9 ‘Flow’ among others that none of their creations is what could be categorised under the tag of traditional or normal but have a viable market to exist

Deconstructing MB&F

Since their watches are so complexly different, in the interview I asked Büsser to define MB&F in one sentence. 

His response at first threw me off a bit. He said: “A labour of love creating kinetic sculptures with people sharing the same human values.” 

I then decided to peel the layers and in return I also discovered the philosophies behind the brand’s work.

Share is a word that jumped right at me. This is very true for the brand. It starts with the name, MB&F, short for Maximilian Büsser & Friends. Every press release I have seen from the band uniquely lists people who collaborated on every project. It’s a welcome change that reads more like a movie credits list than a traditional press release.

The labour of love I can see from designs such as the ‘Bulldog’.

Same human values is reflected in Büsser’s description of his ideal customer profile. “Except for the FlyingT which I created for my wife and daughters, every piece I have created at MB&F was a personal goal,” says Büsser.

“Having said that, I notice that most of our clients share some common traits, wherever they come from: they are strong-minded and self asserted, they do not need or want to show off and they love why we create as much as what we create. And that makes us all proud,” he further explains.

Kinetic vs Traditional vs Customers

MB&F’s timepieces are kinetic sculptures that are more of an art form sometimes. 

It’s not very often we have to look up Wikipedia while writing about interviews but we wanted to get this right: an art form of any medium that contains movement perceivable by the viewer or depends on motion for its effect is how kinetic sculptures would be summarised. 

The noted American feminist writer Kate Millett once said on the topic, “they are more beautiful than anything in the world, kinetic sculptures, perfect form in motion.”

But as impressive as they are, how do they play out in terms of generating a customer base for the brand? 

Our industry’s customers are multiple,” starts Büsser. 

“There seems to be at least two very defined categories at the opposite sides of the spectrum: the status driven buyer who is motivated by showing his or her success and wealth (and who usually does not really understand what they are buying), and the watch aficionado who actually purchase a piece because they are knowledgeable and passionate. Watch aficionados make up the large majority of our clients,” Büsser elaborates. 

Think. Create. Repeat.

For a company whose watches take years from conceptualisation to realisation, the uncertainty of the virus can certainly put a spanner in the works. This, in turn, is bound to affect Büsser’s creative design process. 

The world is probably going to be very different post COVID-19 and the only thing we are sure of is that we are sure of nothing anymore. From there onwards I would not want to be a marketer” says Büsser. 

“My creative ideas may change following what we are living but those changes will be seen in the products which come out in 4 to 5 years as that is the time necessary for a mechanical sculpture gestation,” he expands.

The Present 

2020 had been big for MB&F. They released a new variation of the FlyingT & my personal favourite yet of MB&F watches, the “Bulldog”. 

Then the COVID-19 drama happened.

“Most of our retailers have closed (but amazingly are still selling our pieces) and most of the artisans who work with us have had to close, so we have put the company in hibernation for the moment,” says Büsser talking about how the current global pandemic is affecting MB&F directly.

“We decided a month ago to cut our production by 50% for 2020, and half of those pieces have already been produced and delivered to clients, so we will craft maybe 4-5 timepieces a month from now on,” Büsser expands. 

MB&F
Maximilian Büsser | COPYRIGHT SAMUEL ZELLER | Courtesy © MB&F SA 2018

The world is pretty doom and gloom right now. Sites like Forbes and Bloomberg believe that many brands are suffering and will continue to suffer. For instance, Rolex has shut down plants, while Swatch & Richemont shares have lost a third of their value. The exports in high revenue markets such as Hong Kong & China are tanking.

We asked him how does he feel the pandemic is going to affect the luxury watchmaking industry as a whole. 

“Everyone is going to get hit hard. The big companies have enough cash to sustain the worst crisis, but will probably cut dramatically their headcount going forward. The smaller players have usually much less cash reserves but much lower overheads and can be more nimble and agile. The virus will probably affect companies in the same way it affects humans: you better not be fragile and/or unhealthy when it hits,” says Büsser.

Doom. Nah. Positivity. Yah.

Post this interview I was left with a feeling of admiration for the man behind the brand. Büsser it seems is someone who has the rare gift of combining the ideas of optimism with reality and then giving that a positive spin. 

MB&F
Maximilian Büsser | Courtesy © MB&F SA 2018

Normally one would think that the ripples of the pandemic would crash through the foundations of an independent brand like his. But fortunately for Büsser, that’s so far not the case. 

“I have kept 12 years of profits in the company, which allows us to weather a potentially very, very long storm,” informs Büsser.

And even though production has gotten delayed for the company, Büsser is nonetheless looking towards promoting new creations. 

2020 was going to be a spectacular year! Following up on three calibers having come out in less than twelve months (FlyingT in March 2019, Thunderdome in December 2019 and Bulldog this March) we were on a roll. Since mid March our teams are at home, so we cannot craft or assemble the next pieces, and 95% of our retailers have had to close. So of course we are delaying the launch calendar accordingly. Am always super excited with the pieces in the pipeline but will just have to be more patient (patience is not one of my greatest assets),” explains Büsser. 

But like we said, never one to back down, Büsser is infectiously positive about the evolution of MB&F and the future.

We have an array of very exciting new creations in the pipeline – starting with an amazing “Performance art” piece we hope to unveil early June,” he says.

MB&F
Maximilian Büsser | © JAKE REEDER | Courtesy © MB&F SA 2018

Coming full circle 

The world is unstable currently, whether be it the luxury sector or any other industry for that matter. In the end it’s a waiting game. 

Whatever happens we continue to pave our way with crazy creativity. That is our purpose. And as usual it will depend on who crosses our path along the way,” affirms Büsser.

There is a quote by Dr. Seuss that goes something like: “Being crazy isn’t enough.”

He’s right. You need genius. Combine the two and what you have is MB&F.

MB&F’s creations are interesting and intriguing to say the least. We think the future of the watch industry is safe as long as companies like MB&F are around.

For more information on MB&F’s creations, head to their website here.