The visionary founder of MB&F, Maximilian Büsser, discusses his challenging beginnings, inspirations, and why he wakes up everyday with a smile on his face
In the world of haute horology, an industry that places much value in history and heritage, Maximilian Büsser certainly stands out. "In this industry, all we've been doing is the same stuff for 300 years. You take a 1910 watch and 2010 watch and it's basically the same, though maybe one will be bigger, in black and be water-resistant," says the 44-year old candidly. Büsser's career began at Jaeger-LeCoultre, and subsequently, he moved to Harry Winston Rare Timepieces where he was appointed managing director at age 31. Despite the success and recognition he achieved there, he chose to leave and embark on his own business in 2005 - today, he is the owner and chief creative officer of Maximilian Büsser & Friends (MB&F), where he leads a team of independent artisans in creating some truly unusual horological machines.
Singapore is a market with which he's extremely familiar. After all, he tells us, virtually one quarter of MB&F's machines end up on the wrist of someone here. Asia Tatler had a chance to speak with the charming entrepreneur during his most recent visit, where he presented MB&F's HM4 Only Watch, the result of a collaboration with Chinese artist, Huang Hankang that will be auctioned off on September 22, 2011 to benefit research into duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Huang Hankang and Maximilian Büsser
Asia Tatler: You left a high-profile job to start up your own company - what was going through your mind around this time?
Maximilian Büsser: I was getting all the things that men usually want - power, money and recognition. You think that's success because people tell you that's success, but that wasn't what I was looking for. Then my dad passed away, and lots of things happened, like my divorce, and it made me think, 'What the hell am I doing?'. Everyone is proud of me but I‘m not. All I do is create for other people - to please more people, to sell more watches, to make more money. Which is what a business is about, but it's a total abdication of yourself. So I started dreaming of my own company, a self-serving system that's there only to create. It's amazing that in our personal life we don't accept a tenth of what we accept in our business life. For example, in our personal life, if someone lies to you or bullies you, you never see that person anymore. In business, you accept a whole lot of things you would otherwise never accept. I told myself I wasn't going to accept that anymore. So six years ago, I created MB&F.
AT: What were some challenges you faced in the beginning?
MB: The first was of course financial. I reached into all my savings but that was by far not enough, because when you create a watch brand and have movements with about 300 to 400 parts in each, it's heavy engineering and you have to pay a lot of people to do that. Luckily, six retailers in the world believed in me enough, to not only order the pieces on design but also to finance one-third of it, two years before I delivered. That was still a drop in the ocean but I managed, living like a penniless student. Yet the beginning is extraordinary because you're 100 percent in creative mode. Now I wake up with a smile on my face everyday; I've never been this happy in my life. I'm looking forward to growing old because every year is more and more amazing.
AT: Much of your inspiration comes from your childhood. Can you tell us more about that?
MB: I come from a very simple family. I was an only child so I was always alone. I had an incredibly imaginative life, and I say jokingly that every evening, I was saving the world. This was from the age of six to, unfortunately, 14 or 15. I was a geek. I was ten years old when I saw Star Wars, and that was like, wow. My machines are very much influenced by my childhood, this Peter Pan complex that I have. Many more things have an impact on us when we're children, when everything is incredible. As adults, we become reasonable and blasé, and we lose our capacity to become excited about something.
AT: If you had to pick just one piece that represents the spirit of what you do, which would it be?
MB: It would be the HM4 Only Watch, which is based on the Thunderbolt HM4, our most extreme machine to date. Every big brand donates a piece for this charity auction, but it's usually just a matter of changing a dial. We create machines with a symbolic message, and every single part is made from scratch. The case is completely crazy, probably the most complicated case in watchmaking. It represents a double engine plane and I'm most proud of it because a year before I presented it, I had the prototype in my hand, and I was thinking, ‘Who the hell is going to buy this?'. And we still did it. This piece represents me best, as it's my craziest machine and behind it is a story about people and children, and I go very much into my childhood to find inspiration for what I'm doing today.
MB&F HM4 Only Watch
AT: What is the dynamic with your team like?
MB: We consider it a concept lab, where every year I assemble a team, and the mission is to create a crazy machine. Everyone on the team is an independent artisan and they work for the best brands in the watch industry. The most important person in my professional life is [the late] Günter Blümlein, who [presided over] A. Lange & Söhne, Jaeger-LeCoultre and IWC. He would come for these product meetings while I was product manager at JLC, and one day we were debating - he wanted something and I wanted something else. He then looks and me and says, "Creativity is not a democratic process". And that's what I apply to my designs. They're my ideas, my gut and feelings. I listen to everybody but I take a decision at the end. If everyone got a say, we'd have a round watch with a white dial and roman numerals. To create the crazy pieces that we have, it has to be my baby.
AT: What are you currently working on?
MB: We've got three to four machines in the pipeline. It's interesting that whatever we do evolves as we do. My first ever machine is the one I have the most affection for, because it was the most difficult machine I've ever created and it took me hundreds of hours. But today, I would never create that machine because that was the man I was back then. Now, I'm working on what you're going to see in 2014. So one day I'll look at my HM1 to my HM10 and I'll see my life. That will be my autobiography.