Talking Time with Ming Liu: Max Büsser

The founder of the boundary-breaking watchmaker MB&F talks horology, creative freedom and why his eight-year-old is giving him a run for his money on the design front.
By Ming Liu

 

Maximilian Büsser is hands-down one of the most amiable executives in watchmaking – he named his company Maximilian Büsser & Friends, after all – so it may be hard to imagine that once upon a time the founder of one of the most exciting and influential independent watchmakers right now was in fact, for a good 14 years, a highflying, big corporate executive. The Swiss native began his watchmaking career in 1991 at Jaeger-LeCoultre, followed by Harry Winston seven years later. “My life is in seven-year stages,” says Büsser, who says that for two years after leaving Harry Winston, “I was all alone in my flat, running around like a headless chicken trying to make this company come to life.” MB&F launched in 2005, where that seven-year streak continued: the first saw exponential growth from zero to about CHF15m, followed by seven years of no growth. “I wanted to concentrate on creativity, and that’s it,” explains Büsser.

Büsser is credited with turning around both Jaeger-LeCoultre and Harry Winston, companies that were either on the brink of bankruptcy or coming out of it. “It was one of the best things that could have happened to me,” says Büsser. “It taught me so much.” Turning around companies was also a lesson in life, eventually spurring him to leave the corporate world and break out on his own. “You realise that you're living the life that everybody tells you is success but that you're deeply unhappy,” recalls Büsser, who adds that he was driven to do something he was truly proud of. “That’s when you realise: ‘I'm not on the right path. I'm in this success story but it's not my story.”

And how happy are we that Büsser went on to found MB&F, today the pre-eminent player in the independent watchmaking space? And a company that in the past 12 months, amid a pandemic, has seen “stratospheric” sales, says Büsser – all of which is testament to MB&F’s boundary-pushing, independent nature. Chatting over “quirky, weird watches”, the “self-satisfied” Swiss watch industry and how his daughter trumps him in mastering colour, we caught up with Büsser in Dubai, where he lives with his wife and two daughters, aged four and eight.

 

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Max Büsser, founder of MB&F (Photo: MB&F)

 

What does watchmaking in the 21st century mean to you?

It’s a living memory of times past. Watchmaking is a reflection of human genius – dating back to a time when we had no tools but still transformed steel and brass into timekeepers. It always blows my mind seeing ancient pocket watches from the 15th – even 18th – century. They’re so difficult to make today. In a world where everything has gone technological, mechanical watchmaking is a souvenir of how greatly innovative and amazing human beings were before computers. And they reflect how incredibly creative and smart we could be, especially in difficult times. Watches remind us of being anchored grounded humans.

 

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The MB&F LMX in Titanium

 


What do you love most about your job?

It saved my life. I was a very awkward young adult – for a long time I felt very inadequate and without purpose. In watchmaking, I found something for which to fall in love, and it’s been a 30-year love story. It gave me a purpose and a surrogate family.

Today, watchmaking is how I express myself. It’s offered me the ultimate goal of freedom, especially creatively: I can work with whomever I want, but more so, I don’t have to work with anyone I don’t want to. There’s also economic freedom. We've never made a loss at MB&F and whatever we make we put back into the pot. So, we’re in charge of our creativity.

 

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The MB&F Horological Machine N°6 (HM6) 'Space Pirate'

 


What’s the most challenging thing about your job?

Finding the right people. We're at the very forefront of high-end watchmaking – creating what’s never been done before – and we need amazing competence. 

Our industry keeps looking back, or sideways, so it’s very difficult to find individuals who welcome a challenge – who want to find solutions that don’t stem from looking back. I need people who doubt themselves and who are never satisfied. My industry is filled with people who are self-satisfied.

They also need to share the same human values as us, i.e., be nice people. The world is comprised of givers and takers, for which there are many more takers. I try to assemble a team of givers.

 

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The flying tourbillon dome in the center of the HM6

 


What does time mean to you?

Something that cannot be wasted. It’s a crime to waste time and of course you only realize that when you get older.

 

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The MB&F Legacy Machine 'LM' Thunderdome (Photo: MB&F)

 


What do you hope will be the biggest change post-pandemic for the watch industry?

Until now, this industry has been dominated by status-driven clients, and I have a secret wish that more people buy into beautiful watchmaking because they actually love it – that they actually understand and appreciate the insane work which goes into each piece. And not just to show off. 

I think the pandemic has made people reassess. I’ve especially seen this with the number of new clients at MB&F. I think a lot of people have realized that wanting brand XYZ which everybody else needs is not for them, and that they want something they actually like. Our clients at MB&F don’t care what others think; they’ve always thought, “I wear an MB&F because I’m a very different person.” In the past 12 months, I’ve seen many more people coming into that way of thinking.

 

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The MB&F Legacy Machine Perpetual EVO Blue, cased in Zirconium
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The MB&F LM FlyingT (Photo: MB&F)


What advice would you give your 25-year-old self?

First is to understand what makes you tick - what you love and don’t love, and what drives you nuts. Second is find what you're very good at – and find what you totally suck at. Most people are pretty good at knowing what they like and do well, and then get into insanely bad situations because they're in denial about what they don't do well and what they don't like. It is more important to know what you don't like and what you're really bad at. Be aware of who you are and stop being in denial. 

Thirdly, and which was especially in my case, everything you do should make you proud. That's a very personal way of seeing life, but it’s transformed my life. 

Finally, treat people the way you want to be treated. I don't believe in God, but I completely believe in karma. My personal story is one of karma. 

And I’ll end on a related point. However smart or hard you work, you’re nothing without the people who will help transform your ideas into reality. Be humble because you are nobody. That’s not only for entrepreneurs, but for everybody. I’ve so many examples of this in my own life.

 

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The 2021 editions of the MB&F LM101 

 


Do you follow trends?

Point number one and within the ethos of MB&F is – and excuse my French: we don’t give a flying F what the market wants. I’ve told my team that if we ever stray from that, to punch me in the nose.

 

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The MB&F x L’Épée 1839 T-REX (Photo: MB&F)

 


What is your style signifier?

I’m becoming more like Steve Jobs and dress exactly the same every day. I wear T-shirts from Son of a Tailor, a brand I found on Instagram; every year I buy 20 to 30 of them, all in the same cut – in black, blue or white. I wear yoga pants from Alo Yoga, which is driving my wife bananas. 

I always wear a watch – and not always my watch. I have dozens of them, and in the last year alone have probably bought at least 12. Just today I bought a 1972 Jaeger-LeCoultre Memovox Snowdrop. It’s insane; the designer must have been on LSD when he designed it. I love quirky, weird pieces.

 

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The MB&F LM1 Silberstein (Photo: MB&F)
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The 2021 LM101 in white gold with a purple dial

 


I have a collection of..

My daughters’ drawings. I used to travel like a madman and would always take one of their drawings with me. I’d take a selfie – in Singapore, LA, wherever – with the drawing in my hand. It was as if my daughters had travelled with me. And when I return home they leave a drawing on my pillow, all of which I’ve kept. My eldest daughter in particular has an incredible talent with colour. She completely puts me to shame – which is a weird feeling when you’ve got a reputation as a creator and your eight-year-old masters colour better than you. 

 

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The LM101 in red gold with a blue dial
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1 of 8 unique pieces with dial plates engraved by Eddy Jaquet, inspired by 8 novels written by Jules Verne. (Photo: MB&F)


What’s on your wish list right now?

Travelling with my family. Seeing the world through your kids’ eyes is a completely different experience than traveling alone.

 

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The HM9 'Flow' Air Edition in Rose Gold (Photo: MB&F)

 


My creative icons are...

Christian Lacroix, who puts colour, beauty, eccentricity, warmth and sun into his creations. And Jean-Charles de Castelbajac – he’s the epitome of my baseline for a creative adult, which is a child who survived.

 

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The MB&F HM10 'Panda', a Pièce Unique created for Only Watch 2021 (Photo: MB&F)

 


The watch design I wish I'd come up with is...

The Ressence Type 2. I think Benoît [Mintiens, founder of Ressence] is one of our trailblazers. The design of the watch is mindblowing in its purity, beauty and innovation. 


If I wasn’t a watchmaker I’d be...

Lost. I became myself thanks to watchmaking. I can't imagine doing anything else; I have branched out – even designed a cool espresso machine and a pair of loudspeakers. But, fundamentally, I’m meant to create watches.

 

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The MB&F x H. Moser LM101

 


 

Want more of Talking Time? Check out our full series here.
 

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