I have never known Maximilian Büsser to have a bark or a bite, but then again I’ve never worked for him or lived with him, so my perception of his potential aggressiveness could be completely off (and honestly, please don’t kill my illusion of him if it is). What I have known him to be, however, is loyal, which may subconsciously be the reason he considers himself a dog person.
On Tuesday, March 24th, as many in the horological world watched the numbers of those infected by the COVID-19 virus rise steadily in real time via Worldometers.info, while at the same time several others in the industry closed their businesses, homeschooled their children, and tried desperately to find household paper products and soap of any kind at nearby supermarkets and pharmacies, the team at MB&F was busy launching their latest Horological Machine: the fantastically quirky HM10 Bulldog.
While those of you who don’t frequently float about in the watch universe may have just read that last paragraph and responded with a, “Dafuq she just say?”, those who do, know that we all collectively let out a much needed sigh of relief. Speaking as a member of the media, it was refreshing to see an email come through that – for the first time in weeks – didn’t inform me of a factory closure or a cancelled trade fair or event. The release of the HM10 Bulldog was a significant occurrence at that moment for several reasons, but what it showed me personally was that the team at MB&F stood steadfast in their belief of remaining loyal to their collectors, their retailers, and their media friends, by providing all of us with the most delightfully jaw-dropping (literally) example of unequivocal joy in a time that was being overwhelmed by despair, darkness, and unwanted distance.
They say you’re either a cat person or a dog person. They also say you’re either a Beatles person or an Elvis person (but I don’t believe that to be true, and who the hell are “they” anyway?). If I had to choose the type of domestic animal with which I’d be most similar, I’d have to say that without any hesitation my answer is most certainly cats. Cats have no time for sweet talk or bullshit. They want to be cuddled when they feel like it and want nothing to do with you when you seek attention in return. They’re difficult and fickle. They are feminine in movement yet will violently scratch your eyes out when cornered or crossed. But cats are also strongly independent in all the best ways. Like I said, they’re pretty much me with more luxurious hair and far more Instagram followers than I’d ever get. But as for the mad genius known as Max, he has his reasons for being drawn to – and feeling associated with – “Man’s Best Friend” which, when I interviewed him for this piece, he willingly explained in detail.
Barbara Palumbo: Max, you say in the video released by MB&F for the new HM10 Bulldog that you’ve always been a dog person. Why do you say so? What draws you to dogs other than their loyalty, which I can only imagine is important to you?
Max Büsser: I grew up with dogs and had my dog, a golden retriever by the name of Flash, from when I was 9 years old until I was 22. Flash was like most golden retrievers: a source of unconditional love and fun. I have often explained that I was very lonely growing up, and Flash was an incredibly important source of emotional support in my younger years. He would sleep on my bed every night – we would battle for space as I grew up – and whenever I was sick, he would never leave my side, just running out to gobble his food and back immediately after. We lived in the Swiss countryside, and I spent hours roaming around with him by my side. He replaced (in a way) the love and attention I so craved from my father but felt I was not getting.
BP: Do you have a dog now?
MB: Unfortunately, since Flash passed away 31 years ago, I have never had another dog. I would love to have a dog now that I finally have a family and we have a house, especially for our children, but the logistics of living in Dubai and then travelling around Europe for the two summer months, makes it a bit more complicated.
BP: I completely understand your dilemma, as we are currently in a debate in our own household on whether getting a dog would be feasible with my travel schedule. I do want to further ask you though, you state in your interview video that you were in Tokyo on your way to the airport several years ago, jet-lagged, when the vision of this watch came to you. Was it something you saw during your trip? Some sign or significance that stuck with you?
MB: There seems to be, at least as far as I recall, no real link between that visit to Tokyo and the HM10 Bulldog except that I envisioned it there and then. I actually saw it in my mind. That was the first time my mind created a piece without sketching it and in reality, I have not sketched one since. Every other piece after the Tokyo experience has “appeared” in my mind in 3D. But that first time… that pretty much freaked me out. I felt a little like Christopher Walken in the movie ‘The Dead Zone’.
(Editor’s note: I had to search for ‘The Dead Zone’ on Netflix in an attempt to fully understand that reference, but when I realized it was a horror movie I made my husband watch it by himself and explain it to me afterward.)
BP: Having now known you for a few years Max, I feel that you and your team likely debated on whether or not to release this piece right now, in the midst of a pandemic unlike anything we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. What was the deciding factor in going full steam ahead? (For the record, it feels as if the general consensus is that everyone [including yours truly] is happy that you did.)
MB: Oh yes, we debated the release intensely for weeks. Especially after realizing that the closer the launch date got, the more chaos the world was in. But we decided to go ahead for two main reasons: first, we had already delivered fifteen HM10 ‘Bulldogs’ to our retailers in the weeks before, and many of our customers had already pre-ordered the new release since we toured the world in January to compensate for Watches & Wonders [formerly SIHH] having been moved to March. We were in this weird situation where the retailers had the new pieces, the customers had already ordered them (and in some cases, fully paid for them), but going forward could not happen unless there was an ‘official’ launch. The second reason is that whenever someone saw the HM10 Bulldog, a big grin would appear on their face. And in these insanely dark times we thought, let’s take the risk of making a few people smile even if others may be offended. It was this way of thinking that led us to making this very tough decision, and based on the feedback we’ve gotten since, I think we really did well.
BP: If this release – which is pretty much a “blind” release in the sense that the watches are not able to be seen firsthand or handled by many of us around the world where an MB&F gallery or retailer doesn’t exist – is as successful as the Horological Machines or Legacy Machines you’ve released in the past at trade fairs such as Baselworld and SIHH, do you believe it will change your way of thinking about exhibiting at those types of fairs in the future? Obviously, it’s quite expensive to exhibit at any trade fair these days, so do you think this pandemic will alter how watch brands showcase their creations from here on in?
MB: During the first seven years of our company, we did not have any money to exhibit during a trade show. Instead, I would travel the globe for four, five, or six weeks at a time with those “around the world” airline tickets (which were far less expensive to purchase) and it was much more effective than showing at events such as Baselworld or SIHH. But then a mix of three elements – our creation of many more new products per year, our ability to finally afford a booth at those fairs, and my desire to travel less after my first daughter was born – made me start exhibiting in Basel and then also in Geneva at SIHH. Most observers did not understand why we would always exhibit at both shows. The answer was simple for us: we launch nine to twelve new products every year (almost one per month) so it became the norm that we would present our first semester novelties to our retailers at SIHH in January and the second semester novelties at Baselworld in March.
So, what is going to happen now? I really don’t know. I am QUITE curious about the Geneva Watch Days initiative spearheaded by Jean-Christophe Babin. The beauty of that project is that it may federate fifty to seventy brands without any central committee or organizer telling them what to do or how to do it. The costs are 100% the responsibility of each brand, and no one forces you into anything. A brand can start with just renting a suite in a hotel or doing a pop up in a store, or they can even go as far as taking over an entire hotel and creating their own event. It reminds me very much of how it is at the OFF section of the Salone del Mobile in Milano.
BP: So, let me ask you then, when was your original scheduled release date for the HM10 Bulldog? Was it Baselworld or was it the now-postponed Geneva Watch Days event that you just spoke of? Or hell, was it neither?
MB: The launch date for the HM10 had always been March 24th. However, during Watches & Wonders at the end of April, we were also going to unveil a really cool performance art collaboration. Not sure when we will be able to get that one out now.
BP: I’m sure you’ll figure out the perfect time for that release just as you did for this one. So, last question, are you full steam ahead with whatever is to come next at your factory, or have you slowed everything down a bit with all that is going on in the world right now?
MB: Up until now, in times of difficulty, I always abided by “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” mantra. I have always been a warrior. Last Wednesday, however, we were forced to close the company and send everyone home, and I have felt, ever since that moment, as if I am sitting on the sidelines for the first time of my life.
But with this global shutdown of the planet (isn’t this insane?), there is really not much we can do. It took me a good week to get out of my feeling of helplessness which was bordering on depression. I am now finally getting over it. Every plan we had devised had been shattered, and that’s when you realize that plans have suddenly become pointless. We will live day after day and see what can be achieved one step at a time. Now is the time to become way more fluid, nimble, and flexible (something we were not too bad at before, but now we need to get it to a whole different level). We have five years of projects and products in the pipeline and we will see how and when we manage to come out with them. In the meantime, I taught my eldest daughter to ride a bicycle and I am working on helping my younger one to swim.
Lemons and Lemonade.
The MB&F HM10 Bulldog is available in either the Grade 5 titanium version with blue hour and minute domes (serving at the Bulldog’s “eyes” encased in a domed sapphire crystal “head”), or the 18K red gold and titanium version with black hour and minute domes. One look at the piece may strike fear into someone with a small wrist, but the HM10 Bulldog measures 45mm across, which is a fair amount shy of say, the HM7 Octopod, which came in at nearly 54mm in diameter all around. And while the length of the Bulldog’s body is the same of the entire diameter of the HM7, the Bulldog’s “legs” – the moveable lugs attaching the case to the elegantly crafted hand-stitched leather strap – allow its body to conform to the wrist of the wearer, thus giving the watch a more comfortable appearance.
But even though the HM10’s eyes, legs, head, and body are representative of a stoutly English bulldog, it’s really the “jaws” of the watch that have horological heads exploding. The watch’s hinged jaws (complete with detailed teeth) open and close according to the amount of manual wind left in its mainspring. When the watch is nearly out of power, the jaws of the Bulldog will be completely closed. However, if the teeth are showing and the jaws are opened, that means that the Bulldog is wound up and fully charged with 45-hours of ball-chasing power reserve.