The rise and rise of MB&F

The HM3 has a 3D movement created by Jean-Marc Wiederrecht of Agenhor.

The watchmaker quadrupled output in 2010 but 2011 will be even bigger.

MB&F had a stellar year in 2010, upping its annual output to four models in the 12 months instead of its customary single timepiece, but the revolutionary collaborative art house watchmaker wants even more in 2011.

It wasn’t the diamonds at Harry Winston that put a sparkle into the eye of Max Büsser during his seven-year tenure as head of the jeweller’s timepiece division, but a project that allowed him to work with talented independent watchmakers to create a series of timepieces called Opus.

Hooked on the excitement and innovation he experienced during the project, a seed of an idea planted itself in Büsser’s brain to set up a collaborative company that would work with the best and brightest in the watch industry to create moments of pure horological magic. Unable to shake the desire to follow his dreams, the entrepreneur in Büsser won out and he went about setting up MB&F, an acronym for Max Büsser & Friends.

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Since 2005, MB&F, which describes itself as the world’s first horological concept brand, has been producing one beautifully crafted piece of timekeeping excellence per year. But last year Büsser decided that it was time to take the company to the next level.

At the beginning of 2010 MB&F presented a sapphire-vision version of its HM2 model, a collaboration between Büsser and Jean-Marc Wiederrecht of Agenhor, who is a world leader in retrograde and jumping-hour mechanisms. The watch has a sapphire crystal 3.6mm thick that serves as the front plate instead of metal, allowing the wearer a clearer view of the movement.

In May, MB&F then introduced the market to The Frog, a variation on its HM3 watch with a three-dimensional movement created by Wiederrecht and product design headed up by Eric Giroud. This amphibian of a watch looks fun but is completely functional; the eyes of the watch are used to tell the time and can be viewed from many angles, meaning that the wearer does not have to move their wrist to check the time – the perfect driver’s watch.

As summer set in, MB&F readied itself to wow the industry with another timepiece, the HM4 Thunderbolt. True to its name the watch landed with a bang, winning the award for best Concept and Design Watch at the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie of Geneva.

Like all other MB&F watches the aesthetics of the case were impressive but once you look beyond the futuristic aviation-inspired outer, the magic is concealed on the inside. MB&F created a completely new movement for the Thunderbolt that took three years to complete, with intensive work put in by Laurent Besse and Beranger Reynard of Les Artisans Horlogers. Not only was the technology of the movement new, but each of the 312 components used to make the movement were bespoke.

Within this very special movement two mainspring barrels connect in parallel to provide 72 hours of energy and transfer power to the dual jet-turbine-like indication pods that display the hours and minutes on one and the power reserve on the other, via vertical gear trains. Visible through a shaped sapphire display panel on the top of the case, a distinctive streamlined cock supports the balance, its centre cut away to reveal as much of the oscillating wheel as possible.

Then to finish 2010 on a high, MB&F unveiled its most ornate creation, The JwlryMachine. This colourful owl-like timekeeping creature was a collaboration on a new level, bringing together heritage jewellery brand Boucheron and the dynamic watchmaker that has just five years of history compared with Boucheron’s 150 years.

A vision of amethysts, diamonds, sapphires, pink tourmaline and rose quartz the watches, available in pink or purple, use two glowing cabochons surrounded by diamonds to form the eyes of the owl. The breast of the bird has been crafted from a single block of amethyst or rose quartz and creates a visual illusion that the owl’s heart is beating by the faintly perceived swings of MB&F’s solid gold battle axe-shaped rotor beneath the translucent stone.

The JwlryMachine is a technical and creative triumph, but is also a personal success for Büsser who had spent years dreaming of working with Boucheron. But rather than representing a peak for the watchmaker it seems that Büsser is still pushing his way up the hill.

In 2010 MB&F produced 143 watches. Despite launching four watches instead of one this was on a par with 2009’s production, when it achieved a 100 percent sell-out, and up from 125 pieces in 2008. In 2011 Büsser is upping production to between 165 and 175 timepieces.

As well as increasing production, MB&F will make a move into retail in its own right in 2011. It will open a concept store in Beijing in September through a local partner and is currently seeking out a suitable site for a similar property in Geneva.

If the boutiques prove a success, and MB&F doesn’t get bogged down by the fresh overheads, the extra exposure should help it to achieve its financial targets for the year. In 2010 it increased its turnover by CHF500,000 (£331,800) year on year to achieve sales of CHF7 million (£4.6m), but it’s just not quite enough according to Büsser.

He has big plans for the brand, big “crazy” plans, and to achieve them he wants to be able to spend CHF2 million to CHF2.5m million (£1.3m to £1.7m) on research and development to make these ideas fly. To make this possible he says he needs MB&F’s revenue to hit CHF10million (£6.6m), a goal he has allowed himself the next three to five years to achieve.

If Büsser has kept a few of his own timepieces on ice it might prove a handy additional cash injection as he claims prices of the limited-edition MB&F watches are increasing by 5 percent to 15 percent every year. And with friends like Boucheron joining his merry gang and the luxury market on the rise once again, it seems that Büsser will go on to make some more horological dreams come true, with a little help from his friends.

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