Maximilian Büsser is a nonconformist through and through, and the MB&F watches are a fitting tribute to his persona.
“I create without giving a damn if anybody likes what I do. I put my life into it,” asserts the man behind the whimsical eponymous watch brand, Maximilian Büsser & Friends (MB&F), Maximilian Büsser.
Dialing in from Dubai, Büsser is the picture of frankness and eccentricity. He says it like it is; he is not here to please customers or fawn over businesspeople. He is here to do what he enjoys and to stay true to his passion. Business is not a top priority for Büsser; life is.
Here, he delves into his foray into watchmaking, the morals that define his leadership and him as an individual.
The foundation of MB&F horological machines
One look at the MB&F collection will tell you that these are no ordinary watches. Spaceships, dinosaurs, animals, robots, spiders—the horological machines unleash creativity in the most unexpected forms. Launched in 2005, the company came about with a vision to create radical watches, a departure from the ways people were perceiving wristwatches. The brand is known for its unconventional designs, often taking inspiration from science fiction, robots and other futuristic themes.
One of MB&F’s most popular watches is the “Horological Machine No. 4”, or HM4 for short. It’s a watch that looks like a miniature spaceship, with four pods that house the various mechanisms. Another popular piece is the “Legacy Machine No. 2”, or LM2, which features two independent regulating systems that are linked by a differential to average the rate. MB&F pushes the boundaries of what a watch can be, and that is, in part, thanks to the personality of its founder.
Here’s the thing about Büsser, he is very self-aware. He knows that in the grand scheme of things, business, profits, watches—they are all insubstantial. “We all know that what we do is pointless. I mean, creating mechanical watches is utterly pointless,” he affirms. Ultimately, you do what you do for yourself. And so, there are two reasons he creates MB&F watches: to generate emotions and to have a beautiful work of artisanal art.
When Büsser buys a watch from an independent watchmaker, he buys it 50% for the object and 50% for the story behind its creator. When it comes to big brands, he feels, “The story behind is not a human story. It’s a brand story.” Sure, they are great watches, but what do they reveal about people?
MB&F is a revelation of Büsser. All the watches under the brand are his ideas, executed by designers on the team. “I make really bad sketches and Eric Giroud (his long-time friend and independent watch designer) transforms them into much more beautiful designs, and then he works on the computer with me.” They have been working together since the inception of MB&F.
Why watches became his creative outlet
“Because I don’t have any other talent,” he quips.
Growing up, Büsser wanted to design cars. From the ages of four through 18, he drew a lot of cars and later pursued his master’s in engineering. However, that didn’t make him happy. He says, “I probably had a lot of symptoms of depression because I didn’t want to be an engineer anymore.” Though he loved math—and was rather good at it, he admitted—he just couldn’t stand how dry the field was. As luck would have it, he wouldn’t have to sit through it any longer.
“By incredible chance, I stumbled into Henry-John Belmont, who was the CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre,” he shares. At the time, Jaeger was making half the revenue that MB&F makes today—despite having 200 employees—and it had been on the verge of bankruptcy for years. Despite its circumstances, Belmont tried to do everything to hire Büsser.
Recalling a particularly integral moment in their relationship, he reveals, “He told me, you have to know one thing in your life: Do you want to be one amongst 200,000 people in a big corporation? Or do you want to be one amongst three or four of us who are going to save this company? I was 24 years old.” He joined the company.
After Jaeger, Büsser moved to another renowned watchmaker, Harry Winston, where he was also in charge of saving. There, he discovered himself. He knew he had the ability to be a CEO, but he didn’t enjoy what he was doing. That is when he decided to launch MB&F.
At MB&F, great values define a great workplace
MB&F has always been about making himself proud—not just as a creative entrepreneur but as a human being. Büsser’s previous ventures in working with different luxury watch brands focused purely on the marketing aspect of timepieces—what will people want? What will sell more? What will please more? “It was an abnegation of who I was,” he says. He added that he wouldn’t even wear most of the pieces he created during his time working with other watch brands.
His moral compass was influenced by many factors in his life, most noteworthy of all, his parents. “My parents were the kindest and most honest people. I was brought up by good words, thoughts and deeds,” he notes. Those values shaped how he would approach the business world, too. Unconventionally, Büsser believes that we shouldn’t separate our personal and professional lives when it comes to embodying values. So, if anybody refuses to be nice—be it clients, suppliers or employees—Büsser is okay with letting them go from the company.
Finding coworkers that enhance your brand’s strengths and make up for your flaws
When developing a company, Büsser not only focused on his strengths but also his weaknesses. He tells us, “I hate managing people, so clearly it had to be a small company. I hate processes and logistics, and it’s not the kind of person I am. It took me years to understand that.” Luckily, he found team members that would be the yin to his yang, bringing his ideas to life.
That is not just great for the brand but also for its creativity. “You don’t want to collaborate with somebody who’s like you. You want the DNAs to be different so that it creates an interesting child. If the DNAs are too similar, then it’s like it’s an emanation of you, you could have done it yourself,” he shares.
Giving women the watches they deserve
It’s no secret that most watches cater to men. “MB&F is creatively egoistic, it’s about me, me and me,” he says. He creates what he would like to wear, and it is the only way he can innovate.
For a while then, his watches remained about his imagination—until 2014, when he realized that his family comprised only three women: his mum, wife and daughter. So, he decided to create something for them. But it wasn’t going to be so simple. After all, he was met with one of the biggest and most common hindrances, “The only thing men really don’t understand is women,” he exclaims.
He was creatively stuck trying to figure out what they would like. And so, he went back to the strategy that never failed him: creating for himself. But this time, he decided to add a twist: he would create something that would embody what he likes about those three women.
Inspired by the most important women of his life, he created the Flying T collection. True to his characteristic unconventionality, though, the letter “T” does not stand for “tourbillon”, the popular movement in watches, but “Tiffany”, his wife’s name. “[The watches in the collection boast] an incredible vertical movement. That’s because my elder daughter at that time wanted to be a ballet dancer, she was always in a little pink tutu switch rolling around in the sitting room. And so, that movement is a ballet dancer on the stage,” he shares.
There’s also a 22-karat gold sun, which brings energy to the movement. In other words, he says, “Those three women are the sun of my life, and I was gyrating around them.” The watch is brimming with many other such dedications. For instance, under the dome of the watch, you can see its mechanism breathing life into the timepiece. That is a reference to motherhood and an ode to his mum and his wife.
Unfortunately, by the time Büsser released the watch, his mum passed away and couldn’t see it. However, his second daughter was soon born, completing the trifecta of women whom this watch was modeled after and for. “Luckily, they liked it. And I didn’t really care if anybody else did,” he says.
It is this attitude towards his job that keeps Büsser away from the more economic aspects. Today, when most people view watches, they see an investment. But Büsser is not about that life. He is on board if his customers make money from his watches someday, but if that’s the sole reason they buy his watch, then, he admits, “I would be disappointed.”
Header Image by MB&F