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Et Cetera WATCHES

A wacky take on time

Maximilian Büsser founded MB&F to radically change watch designs. Keeping the firm artisanal is essential to maintain that creative edge, he says.

Swiss watchmaker Maximilian Büsser & Friends (MB&F) makes less than 300 pieces a year. But they are so edgy that their buyers have to be brave and deep pocketed. Founder Maximilian Büsser, who is half-Parsi and has roots in Mumbai, is a former employee of the luxury jeweller and timepiece company Harry Winston. Fortune India caught up with him in Basel, Switzerland. Edited excerpts:

 What led you to create MB&F?
After my father passed away, I realised that having regrets on your last day is the worst feeling. So I decided to create a brand with my crazy, non-commercial ideas. But MB&F is small and will stay that way.

Define the MB&F culture.
The hierarchy is flat but I am an enlightened dictator. The directors can disagree with me and I can still go with what I believe. But not all ideas have to be mine.

 Are private equity alliances out of question?
It’s a devil we won’t go to even if we’re dying.

2017_Mar_MB&F2
MB&F's HM6 SV

What do you have to fight to stay small?
First is middle management, the biggest enemy of innovation. Next is shareholder value—double-digit growth every quarter means no one will take a creative risk. The last are marketeers—a curse on innovation.

But Apple, Facebook, and Diesel jeans started small.
Their goal was to be No. 1 in their industries. But we’re an artistic firm. The futuristic Space Pirate took me five years to make. Maybe 25 people can buy such a piece. With a staff of 100, I won’t have the guts to create such pieces. [We] will have to sell 100 pieces a year to sustain ourselves and creativity will have to be toned down.

Some MB&F watches look like they would be okay on wrists maybe 50 years from now.
Creativity is a drug for me and MB&F is my psychotherapy. Today, I look at my foundation piece, HM1 (Horological Machine No. 1), which I made a decade ago, with great fondness. But I would never have made it now. That’s how I function.

The roughest patch you hit...
Most large companies don’t make more than one caliber (watch movement) a year because of the R & D needed. In 2012, I said we’ll do two calibers. My team thought I knew what I was talking about. I didn’t. So, in 2014 we nearly went bankrupt.

Your watches start at $60,000 and go up to $400,000. How do watch collectors get involved?
Our work is highly capital intensive, with low margins. All 80 of our 10th anniversary watch, at 29,000 Swiss francs each, sold out in four days. But it still made no money.