Currently in Singapore, to unveil the fourth Legacy Machine created by MB&F, founder Maximilian Büsser is dressed dapperly in blue jeans, white shirt, with waistcoat underneath a striking blue jacket. When we met yesterday at the Malmaison boutique by The Hour Glass, Büsser looked fitter than ever, and was excited like a child, which he always is whenever I have spoken to him over the last few years, usually at a launch of a new “machine”. After all, it is the child in him and his dreams of cars and spacecrafts that have shaped MB&F’s renowned series of Horological Machines (HM).
“This is the best year ever of my 10 years,” reveals Büsser. “This is the really the first year when I am completely laid-back.” It’s MB&F’s 10th year in watchmaking and already they are invited to for the very first time, to exhibit at SIHH in Geneva next year, rubbing shoulders with heritage brands such as Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.
But that’s another story. This week is all about the world premiere of the latest Legacy Machine Perpetual Calendar by MB&F, which took place in Singapore last evening, at a dinner of 60 VIP MB&F connoisseurs at Yan Ting- Fine Cantonese Cuisine at the prestigious St.Regis Hotel.
HT: When we think of MB&F, ‘crazy designs’ comes to mind, how different was this excersie for you, to think along traditional classic lines?
Büsser: Actually, the Legacy Machine Perpetual Calendar is the brainchild of Irish watchmaker Stephen McDonnell. It is a project which has taken 4 years, but which is actually a story that started nine years ago. The story is incredible!
I created the company in 2005 and in May 2006, catastrophe hit. ‘The supplier who had engineered the movement on my HM 1 and was supposed to machine and assemble all the parts, sold itself overnight to a brand. Clearly, the brand did not buy that company to manufacture movements for others. So, it was beginning of a total nightmare for MB&F.
In January 2007, we were then told that they would not even assemble our movement.
It was thanks to Peter Speak Marin who saved me that day, as he called up many of his friends, who are independent watch-makers working for the great houses assmebling tourbillons, minute-repeaters and so on. Basically, Peter managed to get four of them, who did not know me and were very busy with much work already, but came to the rescue 10 days later, as they owed favours to Peter.
In May 2007, I was very close to bankruptcy. And, in June 2007, we were actually going to be able to deliver the first two pieces, saving me from bankruptcy.
Out of those 4 watchmakers, one person took the lead naturally. There is no other word but ‘genuius’ for Stephen. While working days as a professor at WOSTEP University, the watchmaking School of Switzerland, he worked evenings and nights for me and solved all the issues, even re-doing parts in his own little workshop at home with really primitive machines. Thus, he is one of the very important people in my life and in my company.
Four years later, he said “I think I have solved all the issues of Perpetual Calendars”. I call them nightmares. They are so sensitive and fragile. Stephen said “We should re-think the whole thing, as the whole principle is wrong, and start a whole new movement from scratch.” We bank-rolled him all along over three and half years, and he has come up with a movement which is a revolution!
HT: What significance does this timepiece hold for MB&F, as a brand?
Büsser: It has a double significance, the first: it’s the epitomy of why MB&F was created and the fact it’s a great human adventure. It’s a story of people helping and respecting each other, and being there for each other. And, it’s a story of talent of course, which is why I insist of the story as much as the product itself.
Second, is the first fundamental research we have forayed in watchmaking, what I mean here is that every year we come up with something completely innovative, but we’ve never tried to improve fundamentally on functions of watchmaking. We deconstruct traditional watchmaking and reconstruct it into a work of art, beautifully finished, amazingly engineered, but we are not improving the world of watchmaking, rather we are improving our own world. With this watch, for the first time, we are actually bringing a solution to a problem which has been there for over 250 years, in fact Stephen did. I did not create MB&F for that, but it just happened as we stumbled upon this idea.
HT: Why make a perpetual calendar?
Büsser: (A simple answer). Because Stephen McDonnell wanted to.
HT: How does this position you from the other independent watchmakers, as not many make Perpetual Calendars?
Büsser: I see all the independent watchmakers as friends and have never cared what our position was compared to any other brands.
But, it’s true that this is a complication that very few small artisans dare tackle because it’s so fragile, which requires taking a lot of risks. I did not want to do a Perpetual Calendar. After my disastrous Perpetual experiences at JLC and Harry Winston, I do not want to touch that complication at all. And, if Stephen hadn’t saved my life, I would have said ‘no’.
HT: What response in Singapore are you expecting towards the latest Legacy Machine during it’s worldwide launch?
Büsser: Whenever I do something, I don’t expect anything commercially, because otherwise I wouldn’t create anything. I create what I believe in, and what I am super proud of, whether it sells or not, I’ll be just as proud. Money has never been an objective, pride has been.
I just have to find another way to pay salaries, but that’s not the issue. I think we are going to have a problem because there are such few pieces, with 60 people at dinner the first evening and 14 people at dinner the next day (today). Between the 2 dinners, we already have 70 very good clients, by which I mean collectors who already own between 3 and even 10 MB&F watches and we have only 7 pieces which we can allocate to Singapore. So, I don’t think I am going to have a problem commercially, but I’m going to have an issue or rather The Hour Glass will have an issue on who is going to get the pieces.