Regular followers of our blog know about our admiration for MB&F. Thanks to the kindness of its CEO, Maximilian Büsser, and coordination and attention received by Charris Yadigaroglou, its Head of Communication, we are pleased to offer you the exclusive interview with Maximilian Büsser.
Initially published in English to keep all sense of the answers and unadulterated with the translation. In short, the post in Spanish.
Do not miss it, it’s worth.
Los seguidores habituales de nuestro blog sabéis de nuestra admiración por MB&F. Gracias a la amabilidad de su CEO, Maximilian Büsser, y a la coordinación y atención recibidas por parte Charris Yadigaroglou, su Jefe de Comunicación, tenemos el placer de ofreceros la entrevista en exclusiva a Maximilian Büsser.
Inicialmente la publicamos en inglés para conservar por completo el sentido de las respuestas y no adulterarlas con la traducción. En breve la publicaremos en español.
No os la perdáis, vale la pena.
You started your career in Jaeger-LeCoultre to continue as Chief Operating Officer of Harry Winston Rare Timepieces. In both manufactures you achieve excellent results. How did the idea of MB&F and which were the reasons that led you to found it?
I became CEO of Harry Winston Timepieces at 31, when I never expected to, and in fact never aspired to such a position. Now, after having turned around the company, all the time Harry Winston was growing and flying from success to success I should have been extremely happy, but the bigger the company was becoming, the more I was reaping the benefits (recognition, power, money…) and the less I was enjoying myself. And I just could not understand why. Then one day late 2001 my father passed away. That jolted me into rethinking my life “was I actually proud of my life ?” Everyone was proud of me, but I had the feeling that if I were to be run over by a bus tomorrow, I would not have accomplished something which made me proud.
I understood most of that feeling came from the fact that I was always thinking of what clients would want, and of how to grow the company. I realized that if I were the owner, I would do neither ! So I started dreaming of my “dream company”, the company which would help give a meaning to my life (at least my professional life) . It would have to be very small – less than 15 employees – because in small structures everyone works as if it is their company and the level of enthusiasm and energy is maximal. It would have to be centered on my own personal creative thoughts and never consider what clients would like or want. And finally it would allow me to work only with people whom I respect and admire. But of course all that was impossible…
But it became an obsession and soon I just had to do it.
Winston Churchill said about winning the Battle of Britain “We did not know it was impossible, so we did it”. That is exactly what happened with MB&F.
If I had asked anyone in the Industry, he would have advised me to forget about it. But it had become my obsession. I needed to do this. And so after Basel Fair 2005, I decided “This is it”. Flew to New York for a board meeting and tendered my resignation to the disbelief and frustration of my Harry Winston CEO.
Since I have never looked back, even though there were of course some very tough times – I believe it is the most important decision I have taken in my life and am genuinely a very happy man today.
Initially, it surprises the change in the vision of watchmaking that you implement in MB&F compared with the used existing methods on your previous posts. What are the pillars of the philosophy of MB&F and why you prefer not to consider it as a “brand”?
MB&F is a Creative Lab, and not a brand, because its sole purpose is to create what WE believe in, whatever it is and whatever the public thinks. There is no brand DNA. The creative process is such that we start with a blank piece of paper on each piece, and that whatever it is, it will not look like the previous or the next.
Now there are some common denominators: MB&F creates Machines, or kinetic sculptures, that give time, not to give time. If you want to have the time, you have dozens of more practical ways to get it. No need for a mechanical watch. Those who cherish mechanical movements see them as the works of art they are, so we at MB&F decided that there was no need for that incredible work of art to look like the practical object it used to be…
Speaking about the philosophy of MB&F and the difficulty which obviously implies for the production of each piece, could you tell us what the average annual production of MB&F in number of watches is?
MB&F will always remain very small. It is the price to pay to be completely creatively free and it is also the only way this company will remain as efficient and humanly responsible as it is.
Our production numbers are:
2007: 30 pieces
2008: 125 pieces
2009: 143 pieces
2010: 152 pieces
2011: 174 pieces
In my opinion, there are many concepts of “manufacture” that lead to confusion, could you give us your definition about what a real manufacture is for you and how do you implement it at MB&F?
The word Manufacture has been used and misused in hundreds of ways over the last twenty years. For me, it means a company that creates and manufactures virtually every part of their watch. There are extremely few even though many companies have seriously verticalized in the last twenty years.
But at the end of the day it is a false and sterile debate. Manufacturing in house does not mean it is better than sub-contracting to the most skilled independent artisans – often it isn’t because yo cannot be the best in all domains. But the whole point about the debate was and is that many brands tried to make people believe that they were creating in-house when they were buying stock standard industrial movements and cases, and then trying to make everyone believe that a Manufacture crafted piece is better than one which was not.
At MB&F, the F means the Friends – every single person who has worked on one of our pieces. From the wheels, cogs, springs, balance wheel, bridges, to the case, dial, hands, etc… On our website every single person involved gets their full page with who they are, what they do and how to contact them. For many of our incredibly skilled suppliers, it was the first time ever that a brand mentioned their existence. We are of course not a Manufacture, but an independent network of the best artisans in Switzerland. Many people ask us how we managed in such a short time (6 years and a half) to come out with 5 different calibers created, developed and delivered in the highest quality. One of the answers is that we work with the best but also that each of the persons involved in our projects is very proud of working on it and recognized for his or her craftsmanship.
The designs and quality finishes in each of your watches are out of the norm, ranging from the most radical designs applied to the Horological Machines to even the most exquisite elegance of the new Legacy Machine No.1. But these designs are not limited to cases and dials but extend to the unique calibres of each of your creations. Let’s talk about technique.
Your creations are seen as a whole in which the case cannot exist without the calibre and vice versa. This leads to the sense that the design of both is simultaneously done in defiance of all rules and accepting any technical challenge. Who sets the priorities, the calibre or the case?
Always the design concept. We first create a work of art, then we populate it with the
horological movement which will give it its reason of existing. Indeed one never goes without the other but the outer shell defines the first step. MB&F is not a design brand. It is a concept creator. And we usually create the concept based on a story – a personal one – knowing while we are designing it pretty much how the movement will look and function but we tackle that after we are happy with the balance and aesthetics of the piece.
This working method is not available to everyone and requires technological know-how and an important capacity to develop and design, how do you get it?
The problem of most watch brands today is that the CEO is not a product person. He can be a financial whiz kid or a talented marketer (who reads the market and feeds it what it wants) but very few actually love creating horological products. I was taught by two incredible product creators at Jaeger LeCoultre: Günther Bluemlien and Henry-John Belmont. The product was always first and then we would see how to sell/market it. At MB&F we take it a step further: during the creative process, we actually don’t care if anyone likes what we do… the sole purpose of creating is super selfish; there is no way I could create an HM4 Thunderbolt thinking as a marketer. I was in fact till the first day of Baselworld practically sure that no one would ever want to buy a piece !
As a lover of mechanical watches, I can’t help to make any questions about the calibres of each of your creations.
In the caliber of the HM1 there are two points in particular that arouse my curiosity. First, the four mainspring barrels simultaneously connected in series and parallel and which winding system is automatic for the pair on the left and manual for the pair on the right. Secondly, the great synchronization wheel located between the display of the hours and minutes. Could you talk briefly about both of them?
The HM1 movement/engine was modelled on the functioning of a human being. The barrels are the lungs which send the energy/oxygen to the regulating system/the heart at the centre from two different sides, who in turn sends the information to the hands on either side. This had never been done before. The barrels sending energy to the regulating system from two sides (and not from one like all other movements) had been tempted only twice before: in a pocket watch from Abraham Louis Breguet and in Peter Speake-Marin’s foundation pocket watch.
The large synchronization wheel is necessary to link the hour and minute gear, which for once are not linked one to another – it is suspended in the air on ruby palets and is pretty difficult to regulate well – another work which can only be done by a very skilled watchmaker. The whole movement or engine is made up of 376 parts of which 81 jewels ! And out of the 100 HM1 which have been delivered, only 5 have ever come back for a minor repair in 4 years. A true tour de force managed by all the actors involved in creating and crafting this incredible masterpiece.
The HM2 incorporates an innovative jumping hour’s system that allows an instantaneous jump without lost of amplitude, that is, the accumulation of the necessary energy for this jump doesn’t affect to the balance amplitude. Where are MB&F’s technical limits?
The limits are those of the constructors, watchmakers and engineers involved. We try to
assemble the best people and get the best out of them. They often give us new ideas or different ones and we adapt our creations to these new ideas. It is an incredibly collaborative process, based on a very dictatorial creative drive !
In the case of HM2, the whole power process was imagined by famed master watchmaker Jean-Marc Wiederrecht, who had this simple and therefore brilliant idea.
With the emergence of HM3, you surprise us again by implementing the indications on a novel way that surprise even more on the HM3’s Frog bulbs and for which you must have a great knowledge of materials technology. Do you devote part of your research to the study of materials?
We try to avoid as much as possible what we call fundamental research. Our goal is to craft three dimensional kinetic art which gives time, and not to advance in the fields of material science. But in some case, like the Frog for example we had to find solutions to make our ideas come to reality, which meant pretty serious research. Now the difference with “normal” watch brands is that they will be crowing in all their press kits about how incredible this new material or this way of using the material is, while we will just mention it in passing to explain how we came to the solution we were looking for. Fundamental research is for us not a goal but just a mean.
The vast majority of the brands, if not all, when they use more than an only mainspring barrel in order to increase the power reserve, they mount them in series. The HM4, as in the HM1, arranges them in parallel which seems more effective and reduces the size of each of them. Does it make this arrangement a great technical complication?
In HM1 they are mounted in parallel AND in series. Which is a first as it is crucial that all 4 barrels be always wound up at the same level, as they send the energy to the regulating system from two different sides.
And the last to arrive is the first of your watches with a round case, the LM1. You have put the caliber upside-down and the balance wheel is located above the dial, you have built the first vertical power reserve indicator and two independent time zones that can be adjusted to the minute. What will provide us with the future of MB&F?
Legacy Machine is a completely different and new line for MB&F. It will live in parallel to the Horological Machines. The idea of the LM is what would have MB&F created if we had lived a hundred years ago, still want into create three dimensional Machines giving time, but without the references of my childhood, like Star Wars, Goldrake or fighter planes and instead the references of the 19th century such as the Eiffel Tower, Jules Verne and the Universal Exhibitions.
From this year onwards we will alternate each year between an HM and a LM. And we have already 5 movements in the pipeline !
In order to finish and if it looks good, let’s talk about the market.
MB&F is the holder of a number of features that distinguish it from other existing manufactures today. We think that these traits can also influence your market, what is the main market of MB&F?
The main market is today Asia (without China where we are not) which takes 50% of our pieces. Europe and America take 25% each.
And speaking about markets, has the Spanish market any representation in sales of MB&F? Please, tell us about the importance of the Spanish market for you and what is expected to be its evolution.
MB&F does not have for the moment a retail partner in Spain. As we have decided not to grow our quantities (you saw that we only grew from 125 to 174 pieces a year over 4 years) but our brand awareness has multiplied by ten and our retail network doubled worldwide, we are lucky that 100% of our pieces are sold through each year. Since our pieces are so special we only open retailers who approach us on their own accord (it would be dumb to try to convince one to try our concept if he is not already, because he will undoubtedly fail to sell them) and virtually no Spanish retailer has approached us to date. Also there is no point for a retailer to take on a new brand if he does not think he can sell 4 to 5 pieces a year, so we do not accept retailers who are only opportunistically interested in one or two pieces a year – it just gives us so much more work to cater to a market when economically the return of selling one or two pieces (which could easily be sold in our existing markets) is just not worth it.
By the way, since October last year, we have now opened our M.A.D. Gallery in Geneva which can easily cater to any requests from Spanish end consumers with free shipping wherever they wish.
In recent years the Internet has been a revolution in information technology and the emergence of new types of market. If we refer to watchmaking, what do you think is the importance of the Internet as spreading tool and as a potential marketing tool?
MB&F would not exist if there was no Internet. That is one of the rare things I am sure of
! With zero advertising budget and so little time and money on our hands there is no way we could reach so many people who could be interested in such a radical concept.
Sometimes people cannot understand the prices of luxury watches but they don’t have any problem to understand that a sports car may be worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of Euros. Fortunately, watchmaking lovers understand that it represents a significant development of micromechanical engineering. Is it possible for these lovers to visit the facilities of MB&F?
Of course, but they may be slightly disappointed! The whole concept of the Friends is that 100% of our manufacturing is sub contracted, even though 100% of the assembly is in house. So they will see our watchmakers assembling painstakingly over weeks one HM or LM, and they can visit our Gallery which will take them not only through all our pieces (something you will never see anywhere else in the world) but also discover the amazing Machines from artists/creators and designers curated from all over the world.
Finally and for our Spanish readers, do you have planned some MB&F presentation or event in Spain?
Not yet but hopefully soon. It all depends if a good Spanish retailer is interested in presenting our pieces.
Once again, we would like to thank the attention received from MB&F’s.
On the occasion of the next edition of the SIHH we have prepared a visit to the MB&F’s facilities. We are looking forward to offering you a good report about it on our return.
Una vez más agradecer a MB&F la atención que nos ha dispensado.
Con motivo de la próxima edición del SIHH tenemos preparada una visita a las instalaciones de MB&F. Esperamos poder ofreceros un buen reportaje sobre ella a nuestro regreso.