Ultimate Cars, Watches & Hi Fi S03 ep2 : Max Busser, MBandF Watches, [Switzerland]

Interview with Max Busser

Based around one very simple and fundamental ideal: to assemble dedicated Collectives of talented horological artisans, artists and professionals – all friends – to design and craft each year a radical and original horological masterpiece. By nurturing teams of talented individuals, harnessing their passion and creativity and crediting each individual's essential role, MB&F uses their synergy to become much greater than the sum of its parts. MB&F is above all a human adventure... a human adventure with just one goal: to create incredible horological machines."

 

11.21
I’ve been 20 years in the industry. 14 years I created pieces for other people to please more, to sell
more, to make more money and one day I said stop. I want to create for myself, just work with
people we respect and respect us, hence Maximillian Busser & Friends.
11.43

11.50
I’m half Indian, half Swiss, born in Italy, arrived to Switzerland when I was four years old. I
wanted to be a car designer when I was a kid and then I went to engineering university, did a
Masters in micro-technology here in Nozan and I thought there was just no emotion in what
everything that people taught me.
12.11

12.20
I had a project which was all about watches because micro-technology is also linked to it. I went to
interview four brands to understand what was happening with this watch industry and 22 years ago
the watch brands you could actually meet the CEO’s so I met a Mr Bouder of Breguet and Mr
Urquhart from AP and Mr Belmore from Jaeger and everybody was extremely gracious to this
little student who was no importance but they had time for us and I discovered people who had
quite passion, quite passion for something which was emotional who told me, young man,
everything you’ve learnt, we don’t need it. I was like, sorry? No, no, no what we need is passion,
cost cutting, performance, productivity, that is not watchmaking. Mechanical watchmaking is
keeping a tradition alive when quartz nearly killed it.
13.19

 

Jewellery Theatre Carravaggio

12.20
I had a project which was all about watches because micro-technology is also linked to it. I went to
interview four brands to understand what was happening with this watch industry and 22 years ago
the watch brands you could actually meet the CEO’s so I met a Mr Bouder of Breguet and Mr
Urquhart from AP and Mr Belmore from Jaeger and everybody was extremely gracious to this
little student who was no importance but they had time for us and I discovered people who had
quite passion, quite passion for something which was emotional who told me, young man,
everything you’ve learnt, we don’t need it. I was like, sorry? No, no, no what we need is passion,
cost cutting, performance, productivity, that is not watchmaking. Mechanical watchmaking is
keeping a tradition alive when quartz nearly killed it.
13.19

13.25
I’m skiing with some friends on a ski slope. I stop at the café to have a drink and there there’s the
MD of Jaeger, oh how are you hello, and we talk and he asked me what I’m going to do and I said
I’m going to go work for a big corporation, I’m going to leave Switzerland because I, at the end of
that, those 15 minutes we’re about to leave and as a parting joke, but really a joke, I tell him well,
if I don’t get a job at PNG you can always give me a job at Jaeger and he laughs, I laugh, it’s a
joke and that’s it. And a week later he has me called up and first he said well would you like to
come up the Valley … and have a meeting with Mr Belmore, and I said yeah sure so I take my
good old opal c… up to the Valley … and there’s the most incredible interview in my life. It lasts
three hours and he didn’t ask me one question during those three hours. He basically took me
around his manufacturer, which was in derelict situation, I mean Jaeger was coming out of
virtually bankruptcy and we’re going to do this and we’re going to that and we’re going to
relaunch this and we’re going to do a, and we’re going to relaunch … and the tourbillon we’re
going to do a miniature piece and I was like wow, okay. And then at the end of the interview he
says, ok, you’ve got the job. Sorry? He says yes, yes, I need a young man like you, engineer,
passionate, you’re going to, you’re going to create the products with me, you’re going to be my
product manager and Belmore used to work with his guts, he used to hire people like 99% on his
guts and I was like wait a minute I have to think about this. And then he told me something which
you call a seminal phrase basically, he said, 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 the four
or five of us who are going relaunch this brand? I was like, thank you Mr Belmore, and next
morning I called him up and I said ok and that was 20 years ago.
15.15

15.20
No Jaeger was in those days in such a dire situation that it was making may more movements for
other brands than for its own brand, it was even manufacturing dental equipment, lighters and pens
for other brands just to give work to the people who were in the factory. We believed that we had
an incredible product which was the reverso and we were the manufacturer in when days when
everybody said they were but they were not, we actually had 40 different metier on the same roof
and it was all about just getting people to know what we were doing.
16.01

 

Jewellery Theatre Carravaggio

16.11
The best way to make people understand what we were doing was to create innovative products. If
we were going to create the same products as everybody else it would have been super tough to try
and explain our story but by creating all the limited edition reverso’s the perpetual calendars the
tourbillons the miniature piece in reversos by creating the … by creating innovative horology
actually people started understanding wow those guys actually mean something.
16.38

16.46
There were many more real collectors in those days than there are today. Today we have what we
call the compulsive buyer which are people who buy tons of watches at incredibly expensive prices
but have no idea what they’re buying. In those days, 15-20 years ago, somebody who bought an
expensive piece of horology knew what he was talking about and we had actual technical
discussions with them on why we were doing what we were doing.
17.09

17.17
Horology is all about people. I think we’ve forgotten that. And … in 1988 I arrived in ’91 he first
had to sort out of a lot of issues before and then he started reconstructing with of course the help of
Gunter Bloomlein who was the CEO of the two brands based in Chaffhausen and the strategy in
our world takes time I mean you want to create a watch it takes three years, it’s not fashion, so you
need to construct slowly, slowly and plus when you have no money to communicate what you’re
doing you have on advertising budget, it’s all word of mouth and that takes of course much more
time. So as we had no money we had to go progressively and then you get this, this snowball effect
where suddenly between ’95 and ’98 I can only talk about then because I left in ’98 it took off, we
were doing 3,000 reversos in ’91, we went to 40,000 in ’98.
18.14

 

Jewellery Theatre Elements

18.26
All my retailers were telling me it’s how the hell do you want us to sell this product Mr Busser it’s
there’s no reason for a watch to turn so that’s stupid, it’s not automatic, hand winding my God, it’s
not water resistant and it doesn’t even have a date. They all told me, stop we can’t sell this piece at
1,000 or 950 Francs and I can’t even tell you how much we used to make as profit on that because
we didn’t make any profit. That, we were giving them away, and the world has just completely
changed.
18.58

19.07
And all the head-hunters would call me and I’d say no. No, no, no I’m not interested thank you I
love my job, it’s not about the money. And then one day there’s Egon Zender, now Egon Zender is
like Con… and others they just do like top executives and I’m a little manager and they’re on the
phone and we’d like to interview you and we have a job for you. Ok, let’s go see, I’m curious. So I
go down to Geneva, they interview me, it lasts an hour and a half and I always remember the guy
says, you’re 10 years too young but you could do this. I was like, do what? He says, managing
director of Harry Winston Timepieces. And I laugh like you must be kidding. And he said look,
there are 40 candidates, why don’t you try and they give me the job after four months.
19.52

20.01
What I didn’t know was that the Harry Winston Timepieces was in extremely dire shape, the small
company in Geneva and there was only seven people and me, we were eight. That first year was a
nightmare.
20.14

20.19
There was a very definite design, which is still the design you have today, and there were great
movements too, it was also the first ever double retrograde perpetual calendar had been created by
two gentlemen who are very well known today, Mr Roger Dubret and Mr Jean Marc Viderecht and
Jean Marc Viderecht went on to create as you know Opus 9, the greatest watchmaker of the year
two years ago etc, etc, so what I did was I sat down with Jean Marc Viderecht, … created his
company and we started developing innovative retrograde movements and others for Harry
Winston in those days. It also made me realise that I am at my best when I work with people.
21.01

21.13
It took us a year to more or less stabilise financially that company and then afterwards from I’d say
2000 to 2005, I left in 2005, it was rock ‘n roll, I mean we took that company from 8 to 80 people,
from 8 to 80 million dollars, so after BASA 2005, after Opus 5, my friend Felix, which was for me
one of the most important pieces of my then career, I said that’s it, you have to stop when you’re
top of your game.
21.45

21.56
Opus very often the ideas come from the watchmakers. They say oh we’ve got this crazy
movement, why don’t we adapt it. MB&F is a completely selfish creative process where I design a
concept, I have the idea, I have a design, I design it with Eric J… extremely talented designer,
worked with S… my partner in the company who’s the technical whiz kid, we work together and
then we go and see the watchmakers and all the engineers and say how can we make this plane fly,
star ship fly, etc, etc, so it’s a completely reverse way of creating. Every single person who has
worked on the concept is credited from the person who does the wheels, the bridges, the dials, the
hands, and also the person who does the finishing of the movement or even the person who does
the internet website or takes the photos, it’s like a crew.
22.49

22.56
And what I do is my childhood dreams, those when I was a superhero, those when I was a jet pilot,
those when I was Han Solo, I basically fold them in to my love of 19th Century engineering and
those, that era, into these three dimensional machines.
23.14

Jewellery Theatre Fairytales

23.20
It is a hundred times more complicated to do what we do today compared to what horology was 20
years ago. I mean horology was industrial, it was volumes, you have base plate, certain amount of
wheels and a few bridges and it was hours, minutes and seconds and we’d make tens of thousands
of those movements, it was industrial. Now when you make a machine No. 4, and you spent three
years of development to do a movement of 311 parts all special and we make 20 of them, a year.
23.51

23.56
We’ve got 22 retailers in the world. We do last year we did 152 machines, we always do about 12-
13 pieces a month over the last three years. We don’t want to grow and we just basically supply
our retailers who come into BASA fair or to Geneva Fair, take the orders for the whole year and
we craft them during the year and deliver them.
24.16

24.23
Well luckily for me, for my collectors they’re extremely engaged because you need to be engaged
to have the courage to wear what I do. You have to be a rebel, you have to be somebody who says I
don’t give a damn what you think of what I’ve got on my wrist. Because otherwise you’re going to
be feeling very self conscious. But they’re not at all show off people. My customers are not show
offs because nobody knows what it is.
24.46

 

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Max Busser, MBandF Watches, Switzerland