Maximilian Busser – Master Horologist

Maximilian Büsser is a household name in modern horology. He began his career at Jaeger LeCoultre under the mentorship of Günter Blümlein where his fascination for high-end watchmaking first took root. Seven years later, he took on the role of Managing Director at the then declining watchmaker, Harry Winston Rare Timepieces. Maximilian transformed the company with the launch of the innovative Opus series and, subsequently, positioned himself as a key player in this competitive industry.

In 2005, driven by a desire for more creative freedom, Maximilian resigned from Harry Winston and launched his own company, MB&F. He based his brand on a simple vision: to bring together the most talented horological artists to create exceptional and highly original horological machines.

Maximilian shares with us what drives his success and his passion.

Maximilian Büsser

What was it that first fascinated you about horology?

Watchmaking saved my life. After my masters in microtechnology engineering, I did not really know what to do with myself, and started interviewing with big corporations, like Procter & Gamble and Nestlé, hoping for a marketing job. Luckily for me, I met by chance the Managing Director of Jaeger-LeCoultre who not only offered me a job in the then ailing company, but also mentored me for many years.

Considering your success at Harry Winston, was it a difficult decision to strike out on your own and launch MB&F?

When I started at Harry Winston it was a big shock because I did not know the company was being sold and H.W. Timepieces was virtually bankrupt. This was 15 years ago, I was 31, and I felt I had done the biggest error of my life. With a team of 7 people we were working like hell creating a new strategy, doing crazy traveling to engage people to help us to get out of that hole without New York ever helping us in any way. I learned two things through growing the company and becoming really successful: first is that I am capable of doing it. You do not know what you’re capable of doing until you are confronted to it. The second is much more amazing for me: it is that the bigger the company was growing, the more I had what most men want – recognition, power, money or your face in the newspaper – the less I was enjoying myself. Even though it was easier and easier, it was becoming less and less pleasurable – and I didn’t understand why.

It was my father’s passing away 12 years ago that made me realize this is not the life I want to live, not the life I would be proud of on the day I pass away. So I started dreaming about what would later become MB&F but I didn’t have the funds to get started and I just put the idea into a drawer and closed it. Yet, every time I opened the drawer I thought ‘..that’s a fantastic idea!’ and I started opening the drawer more and more often. Then two things happened much like when you fall in love: A) you become completely stupid, and B) you stop reasoning – because you’re obsessed. And suddenly everything was about that. I just had to do it.

HM5 Face - Maximilian Büsser

Megawind RG Engine - Maximilian Büsser

Having worked with such key players in the horological industry as Günter Blümlein, who or what has been the biggest influence in your career?

Clearly Günther Blümlein and Henry-John Belmont shaped my first years in the industry. They were my mentors and I owe them a lot. When I took over Harry Winston timepieces I had no one to look up to. Alone, and in a really difficult situation, I realized only then and after saving the company that I was able to fly on my own. I have to thank Ronald Winston who believed enough in me to give me the opportunity to save his Timepiece operation. It allowed me to grow like no other experience would have.

Günter Blümlein

With so many notable successes in your career to date, what has been your biggest challenge and which successes has brought you the most satisfaction?

Stepping down from my great position at Harry Winston to start my own company, MB&F, putting all my savings in it, was clearly my biggest risk and most important leap of faith. MB&F nearly went bankrupt in 2007, before even delivering the first piece – one of our main suppliers caused us a seven month delay on the first piece and we nearly defaulted. We again survived the 2009 crisis, and many other issues since. I think we have created the perfect Anti-fragile company (for those who have read Nicolas Taleb’s latest book). An entity which becomes stronger each time it gets hit by a big problem.

In your opinion, what sets MB&F apart from its competition?

MB&F is about giving a real art perspective to watchmaking. We deconstruct the most beautiful movements of the past to reconstuct them into 3D pieces of kinetic art which give time. It is also a story of respect and personal ethics. The “Friends” are all the people who transform our ideas into reality – the independent artisans, engineers, watchmakers who craft every single part of our Machines are who are never credited by their other clients for the exceptional work. MB&F is about treating others the way you would want to be treated.

Jewellery Machine in Purple - Maximilian Büsser

With the emphasis on partnership in the company name and your description of MB&F as a “human adventure”, just how important is the relationship between you and your team? Is the realization of a MB&F timepiece a true collaborative process?

Creativity is not a democratic process ! I think up the concepts and sketches, then work with all the super competent parts of the team who will give their input, but at the end of the day to ensure the real power of innovation, I will have to decide what ideas we keep and what we don’t. It is therefore a collaborative process with one person deciding.

Moon Machine Ti Face - Maximilian Büsser

HM4 - Maximilian Büsser

What inspired you to establish the M.A.D gallery?

Real mechanical high-end watchmaking is ART. Unfortunately it is too often sold to the public by marketers as a piece of status rather than a piece of art. Having said that, 99% of today’s watchmaking is a more or less pale copy of what has been invented 150 years ago. So at MB&F we actually took the idea of art one step further, getting inspiration not from other brands or what has been done in the past, but by what made my life up – as a child and one day as an adult. We deconstruct traditional watchmaking to reconstruct it into a piece if kinetic art which “by the way” gives you time. Now travelling around the world I had the incredible chance of meeting some of the most amazing artists and creators in fields of mechanical art. Each considered an alien in their world – very much like us – and a natural affinity created mutual attraction. The idea of the M.A.D. Gallery was born.

MB&F has an active online community, with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo and Pinterest plus a company blog; how important has an online presence been to the company’s evolution?

MB&F is as much a community of thought as a creative lab. Because our creations are so polarizing – either you get it or you don’t – we have gathered quite an amazing following. Something I had never expected at the beginning. Thanks to all the social media tools we can not only stay in touch, we can actually communicate together – and that is the most important part of social media compared to traditional marketing/communication which is a one way process.

Horolobot - Maximilian Büsser

What’s next for you and MB&F? What direction do you see the company taking in the future?

MB&F has virtually achieved the maximum size we had planned from the beginning. So no more growth but always more creativity. We have six different Machines in the pipeline (each Machine takes approximately 3 years to develop form scratch), and are actually ramping up to launching two new movements a year from 2014 onwards. Many people ask us how is it that we are able to create so many amazing pieces with virtually no money and such a small team. The answer is because we have no money and the team is so small. Creating is our drug. We exist only for that and because we are small and penniless can actually make our ideas come true without bothering to wonder if there is a market for them or a shareholder to content.

10. What is your personal definition of luxury?

Finding what is important for you and going after it.

Interview Conducted by Charlotte Claxton.

Maximilian Busser logo

Charlotte Claxton

Charlie is a freelance writer who specialises in travel, luxury and food. Having earned her chops as a staff writer for international travel brands and digital marketing companies, she now writes for freelance clients and runs her own travel blog. Charlie grew up in London and has since lived in Canada and Australia. She currently writes from various cafés, hammocks and beaches as she travels the world, bringing LuxeInACity readers first-hand insight into the best luxury experiences worldwide. Get to know Charlie better at www.charlieclaxtonwrites.com

Latest posts by Charlotte Claxton (see all)