Max Büsser, founder and owner of the MB&F watch brand, calls his unconventional haute horlogerie timepieces “horological machines,” emphasizing artistry over traditional timekeeping. He visited WatchTime to discuss the brand’s newest release, the MB&F Legacy Machine No. 2. Here are his answers to the five questions we posed to him about the watch.
The MB&F Legacy Machine No. 2 (LM2) is a joint effort of Büsser, watchmaker Jean-Francois Mojon and his team at Chronode, and independent watchmaker Kari Voutilainen, the team also responsible for this watch’s predecessor, 2011’s Legacy Machine No.1. According to Büsser, the LM2, with its world’s-first double flying balance wheel with differential, pays tribute to 18th-century watchmaking giants Abraham-Louis Breguet (1747-1823), Ferdinand Berthoud (1727-1807) and Antide Janvier (1751-1835).
WT: You’ve described the LM2 as the watch you would have made if you’d been alive 100 years ago. When you first start designing watches, who were the watchmakers, historical and contemporary, whose work had the most influence on you?
MB: For me, the biggest impact was from Philippe Dufour’s Duality watch. I actually had not seen it in 1996, when it first came out, and let’s not forget this was before the Internet era. He only crafted nine pieces of the Duality. Twelve years ago, I was at a collectors’ dinner and noticed the gentleman next to me was wearing a classic round watch that I didn’t recognize. I asked what it was, and he said it was a Philippe Dufour. I asked to see it and turned it over to look at the back and I was shocked to see two balance wheels working. I remember thinking, one day I will create something like this, with two balance wheels – but in mine, I would like to see them in the front, because it makes the movement so beautiful, it’s a shame not to show them. Then we started doing historical research and found out that the first double-balance-wheel movement came from Ferdinand Berthoud, 250 years ago. There were also some clocks by Aristide Janvier 34 years later. Then there were virtually none, until a few pocketwatches in the 1930s. Unbelievably, up until Philippe, there had only been four watchmakers that had ever worked on this type of movement.
WT: Your background is in engineering, and MB&F watches obviously show a lot of influences outside of traditional watchmaking. Can you tell me what other influences drive your designs for watches, and for this watch in particular?
MB: What influences me most, actually, is my childhood. It’s not even on purpose, but whatever I design seems to go back to that time. I was an only child. I had no brothers and sisters, my parents lived in the countryside, and I was always alone in my room, “saving the world” on a daily basis, as a superhero or a World War II fighter pilot. My childhood fantasies were all about science fiction, airplanes, cars… I learned to read from car books; my dad gave me a car almanac when I was four and I learned by heart the cubic inch measurements and horsepower of various cars. If you look at the designs of MB&F, you see all these elements: you see science fiction, you see planes, you see cars. I don’t start out saying to myself, say, “I am designing something that’s inspired by cars,” but when I start sketching, my brain unconsciously goes there.
WT: What did each of the “friends” — you, Kari Voutilainen, etc. — contribute to the development of the LM2? [The initials MB&F are for “Max Busser and Friends;” each piece is a collaboration with other contributing watchmakers.] And how does the LM2 differ from the LM1, technologically?
MB: At the end of the day, I am just the man with the idea. I do the first sketches, then afterward I work with Eric Giroud, who is an extremely talented independent designer. With me, Eric transforms those sketches into 3D designs that we really like. From there, we go with the design to the engineers and watchmakers — the engineer in this case being Jean-Francois Mojon and the watchmaker being Kari Voutilainen — and together they transform our designs into reality, bringing all of their technical background to bear. In Kari’s case, that includes the design of the bridges and the finishing of the movement. As far as differences, it’s simple: the LM1 is the first-ever flying-balance-wheel movement. It’s got one big central balance wheel, two time-zone [indicators], and a vertical power reserve indicator. The LM2 is the first-ever double flying balance wheel; the power reserve indicator has been replaced by the central differential, which averages out the rate of both balance wheels. Instead of having two time zones, it’s got one. Put simply, LM1 is two time zones/one balance wheel; LM2 is one time zone/two balance wheels.
WT: You’ve said that you’re not interested in creating machines that simply keep time. But how important is accuracy to you? Is there a chronometric value in some of these inventions, such as the double balance wheel?
MB: Accuracy is very important in what we craft because you have to respect the masters to whom you are giving tribute. But I never put a seconds hand on any of my creations. All of our timepieces are tested [for accuracy] and come in at minus-2, plus-10 seconds. But I’m still not giving you a seconds hand, because that’s not the point. That’s not what we’re about. What we are about is horological art.
WT: You started out with the more futuristic-looking Horological Machines (HM) and have now the more historically inspired Legacy Machines (LM). Are the Legacy Machines a harbinger of things to come, i.e., you’ll be looking more into the history of watchmaking for inspiration, or will the next project go totally in another direction?
MB: One of my favorite shows as a kid was “The Time Tunnel.” It was about two scientists who create a time-travel machine that conks out and starts sending them right, left, and center through history. What I’m doing now is that one year we create a Horological Machine, with influences from my childhood, and the next year we go back another 100 or 200 years for a Legacy Machine, and the next year it’s back to my childhood, and then back and forth. We basically stagger it. I don’t consider the HM pieces to be “futuristic.” I’m not really interested in the future. Many people have asked me, “If you could travel through time, would you want to go into the future or the past?” I definitely don’t want to go into the future, because I’m creating my own future, and I want to be surprised. I don’t want to know what’s going to happen. I think it was Coco Chanel who once said, “Only those with no memory insist on their originality.” All the people who think they’re inventing something — they’ve all been inspired by something that they have lived, seen, or sensed in their life. Ideas don’t come from nowhere. In my case, I’ve acknowledged that MB&F is my autobiography as well as my psychotherapy. Instead of sitting on a couch in front of a shrink, I create watches.
The MB&F Legacy Machine No. 2 is available in 18k rose gold and 18k white gold (both priced at $156,000), as well as a limited edition in 950 platinum with a sky-blue dial (pictured in the above photos), for $190,000. Click below to see MB&F’s official video for the watch.
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