What would it take for you to quit your job? To give up the safety net of a dependable pay check and venture into the unknown to start a business of your own? Most of the independent watchmakers in the industry start out this way, cutting their teeth in reputable watchmaking companies until their passion overtake caution and they decide to start something on their own. To have passion for making watches is one thing, but to turn it into a profitable business, that’s something else altogether. In 2005, Maximilian Büsser the founder of MB&F reached this crossroad and his answer to this question lies in his unyielding obsession with being creative and taking pride in everything that he does.
To give you a little bit of perspective, right before MB&F was born, Büsser was sitting at the very top of Harry Winston. A CEO at 31 years of age, Büsser was regarded as somewhat of a prodigy in the watchmaking industry; he was celebrated, making tons of money and even had his face in newspapers, but as he recounts, he wasn’t as proud as he should have been. “Why was I not proud? Everybody was proud of me. [But] I wasn’t creating for myself, I had become a marketer. I was always looking at what the market wanted, create a product based on it and sell the hell out of it. But as a creator, it was a complete abnegation of myself.”
“When my dad passed away, I couldn’t deal with it. Through 18 months of therapy I discovered a lot of things about myself and one of those things was regret, the regrets I had regarding my father. Then I realised, if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, I would have a lot of regrets in my life.” This was the impetus Büsser needed to make that leap from CEO of a big watchmaking company to starting MB&F with virtually nothing but an idea. “MB&F was not a business decision, it was a life decision,” Büsser recalls. Coming from a man who has always believed that a creative adult is a child who survived, the reason Büsser started MB&F was to create the time instruments that he wants: “three dimensional kinetic sculptures that have been inspired by things and experiences in my life.” Contrary to his role in Harry Winston, Büsser asserts that with MB&F, he doesn’t give a damn about the market; “I don’t care if people don’t like it (his horological machines). In fact, if everybody likes it, it’s lame and I have done something really boring. I have failed. I want to generate as much hate [for my products] as love.”
The road to where MB&F is today, however, wasn’t an easy one. “When I started [MB&F] I was nobody. Sure I was MD at Harry Winston but I am not a watchmaker, I am an engineer and that was labelled against me.” This is where the ‘And Friends’ of the brand comes in. Büsser starts with an idea and from there, with the help of talented artists, engineers and watchmakers, the idea becomes a reality. But, it was still a struggle to grow the brand to what it is today, “We’ve nearly gone bankrupt four times 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2014; for many different reasons, luckily, never the same. I was completely insane, but when I started MB&F, I was divorced and had no children. I was ready to lose my money.” This, he says is incredibly important for an entrepreneur–the willingness to fail.
“When I started [MB&F] there was no expectation. Now everybody demands to be amazed, but it is okay because I demand to be amazed too. I don’t want to do something I have already done.” Over the years Büsser’s creations have never failed to generate some sort of reaction in the horology world and over time they have managed to create a niche group of followers who love what MB&F does. “If I had come up with a piece like [the HM7] 10 years ago everybody would have been like what the [hell] is that; but now after 11 years and 12 calibres and having built this whole insane creative lab which is always challenging the norm, we are getting a fair share of positive reactions.” Büsser continues “we launched the HM7 on the first day of SIHH  and by the second day the MAD Gallery in Geneva had already sold five. And none of the five customers had even seen the watches on their wrist. Without sounding pretentious, success makes you sexy.”
Riding on this success, the MAD Gallery was set up five years ago. At the time, what Büsser had envisioned for the gallery was sort of a decoding machine to decipher MB&F’s creations. “[At the time] most people didn’t understand my watches, I mean you can barely tell the time on these things but that’s not the point. The point is this: we haven’t spent two and half years on R&D with insanely great engineers, 18 months of crafting and hand finishing 600 components which are then assembled by a master watchmaker with 20 years of experience [only] to give you something which is free of charge and better done here,” Max explains as he points to his smartphone. So the idea of showcasing works of art like Chicara Nagata’s motorcycles was to say that “if you want a good motorbike, go out there and buy a Ducati; but if you want three years of the soul and genius of an artist (he has only made five motorcycles in 15 years) then you buy a Nagata.”
Since then, Büsser says that the gallery has evolved into a platform which can be used to help people with talent. “I have just turned 50 and I am at a point in my life where creating your own thing is something important but helping others to create makes me even happier. When I identify someone with talent that nobody knows about and I can help that person, that’s what becomes important to me.” Needless to say, when I asked Büsser whether he was proud of what he has built thus far, without skipping a beat he answers with a satisfied smile, “oh yeah… definitely.”
This article was first published in the print edition of Esquire Singapore, April 2017.