Cover Maximilian Büsser in the MB&F Lab. Photo: The Hour Glass

In Singapore for the opening of the world's first MB&F Lab, Maximilian Büsser reflects on 17 years of his brand and shares what lies ahead

After three years, Max Büsser is finally back in Singapore. The Dubai-based founder and creative director of luxury watch brand MB&F was here this week for the opening of the world's first MB&F Lab at Raffles Hotel Singapore

Founded and operated in partnership with homegrown watch retailer The Hour Glass, the hybrid retail and gallery space is a platform showcasing MB&F's horological creations, collaborative pieces, as well as curated kinetic and mechanical art pieces by artists from around the world.

It is the first concept of its kind, with plans to open five more MB&F Labs in various cities over the next 12 months. The decision for Singapore to be the first location is unsurprising, given that the country has the largest community of MB&F collectors in the world. 

There is much to discover in the MB&F Lab, and a particularly fun piece is World Skies by Breakfast. The interactive kinetic artwork is made up of metal discs that flip to display the weather in real-time. It also has a sensor that allows the discs to reflect the image of a person standing in front of it. 

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"We live in a world where every city center is looking more and more copy-and-paste," says Büsser. "Whether it's Dubai, Singapore, LA or Paris, you get all the usual big brands with their flagship stores with the same products. But when you come to the MB&F Lab, you will see something that will amaze you for sure. Because if it amazes me, it will definitely amaze you."

Certainly, Büsser, who dreams up the incredibly whimsical yet technologically impressive MB&F Machines, is one of the most radical, innovative minds in the watchmaking industry who has wowed watch lovers time and again. It's been 17 years since he founded MB&F as an independent brand, creating futuristic and unconventional timepieces (often in the form of spacecraft and other sci-fi-inspired motifs) with an utmost respect for traditional watchmaking. 

There is so much for the 55-year-old to be proud of, but sitting down with us at the MB&F Lab, Büsser admits he is often so focused on the future that he hardly celebrates his current achievements, much less looks back on the past. 

However, with the opening of the MB&F Lab as well as the recent publication of the the brand's catalogue raisonné, MB&F: the First Fifteen Years, a Catalogue Raisonné of MB&F Watches, this year, Büsser has been forced to reflect on how far he has come. 

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"Looking back, I was completely insane," says Büsser. "I put in all my savings, went around the world with just a drawing of my HM1 to convince a few retail partners to say, 'Yes, we're going to follow you'. I had nothing else planned. 17 years later, we've got 20 products. We created the Legacy Machines, the M.A.D.Galleries, the Labs, the co-creations, the M.A.D.Editions—none of this was on my mind 17 years ago, so that's really amazing."

In addition to partnering with The Hour Glass to open MB&F Lab in Singapore, Büsser shares that the next two MB&F Labs in Paris and Beverly Hills will similarly be founded with retail partners who have been with him since the beginning.

"It was our intention for the first three MB&F Labs to honour the relationship with our original retail partners," he says. "The brand is called Maximilian Büsser and Friends because the relationships have always been paramount. I used to think MB&F was just about creating great products but now, I realise the journey and the people I met along the way are more important."

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MB&F has seen some tough times—Büsser says the years 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2014 were particularly challenging for the business—but always manages to bounce back even better than before. In the last two years, especially, Büsser says the brand has garnered a lot more attention. Demand is so high that the waiting list for its handcrafted timepieces goes up to 18 years.

It's come to the point where Büsser has had to make the call to slow down creating novelties and instead focus more on keeping up with demand for existing pieces. Novelties that were planned for release between now and 2026 have been reforecast to stretch to 2030. 

He jokes that this renders him "basically unemployed" as the creative director of MB&F.

But rather than feel sorry for himself, Büsser has been channelling his creative energy elsewhere, in worlds outside of watchmaking.

One of the projects he's working on is an espresso machine shaped like a bull (ironic, given that Büsser no longer drinks coffee), which he shows me a picture of on his phone, as well as a loudspeaker that is also a sculptured work of art. 

It's a whole other challenge for Büsser to prove his legitimacy in these fields.

"Most people have never heard of MB&F as it's still very much a geeky brand for people who really know about watchmaking. But that's what I'm working on and now with the MB&F Labs, I'll have a space to showcase these creations as well," Büsser shares.

Whether in the world of watchmaking or otherwise, Büsser's seemingly endless capacity for creativity is incredibly impressive. "A lot of creators tend to have one great idea and then they perfect it over the years," he observes. "But I am not interested in doing the same thing all the time—I just get bored really quickly."

He sees his creativity as an addiction and likens himself to adrenaline junkies who are always chasing the next thrill-seeking adventure. "I see these guys jumping off cliffs in wingsuits, and I think, 'What is wrong with that human being?'. But they're the guys who maybe started out parachuting and then after their 40th jump, they don't get the thrill anymore so now they're jumping with wingsuits," he says. "And that's exactly my process. My creativity is an addiction and like any addiction, I have to increase the dose of the risk to get that thrill."

At the same time, he strives to maintain a startup mindset at MB&F, upholding the same rebel with a cause attitude from the brand's beginnings. For Büsser, the sky's the limit when it comes to his creations: "I see what we do as kinetic art; watchmaking is just the canvas. This way, the options available to us are way larger than if we were to see ourselves as a watchmaking brand only."

This radical approach has struck a chord with many, and developed a newfound purpose for Büsser and his team to inspire people to think differently. "We want to empower, and inspire people to get more creative, to get out of their comfort zone, to take more risks and to become entrepreneurs," he asserts.

"Over the last decade, I've had so many messages from people on social media saying, 'I'll never be able to afford your watches but I've been listening to your podcasts and watching your videos, and you've inspired me so I'm creating my own company or going to do something which nobody understands.' I hope they don't fail, but if inspiring people to think differently is the one legacy of MB&F, I think that's very cool."

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