I remember the pain like it was yesterday.
My parents took me on a rare weekend trip to the Chesapeake Bay area. I was about eight years old and didn’t yet know how to swim, but liked walking along the beach with my legs in the water up to about my knee. My folks did their very best to teach me the art of being nervous; they weren’t what you’d call, a “daring” bunch. Still aren’t, really. They won’t get on an airplane. Won’t go out for sushi. To them I’m somewhat of a mystery, or at the very least, an anomaly. But on this late summer day along the Mid-Virginia coast, they were fine with my exploring the sunset sea and all the beauty that accompanied it.
Until, of course, they heard the scream.
My mother wasn’t exactly the most athletic person I’d ever known, but as I sat in the wet sand of the outgoing tide, holding my now bright purplish-red shin, I saw her headed toward me like she was Flo-Jo circa 1988. I was wailing in pain and it was the first time as a child I remember having an in-depth conversation with my psyche:
8-year-old Me: “WAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!! WHAT THE HELL???!!! OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO DIE!!! SHARK!!! I’VE BEEN BITTEN BY A SHARK! OR A WHALE!”
8-year-old Psyche: “Could you be a little more dramatic, please? I hear Little House on the Prairie is holding auditions nearby. And most whales don’t bite, moron.”
8YO Me: “And with this, your struggle with empathy begins. HELLO!?! Have you seen my LEG? They’re going to have to amputate it! Not a doubt in my mind. I am not even nine and I’m going to be legless. OH MY GOD THEY’RE GOING TO CALL ME LEGOLAS AT SCHOOL. I knew we were too young to start reading The Hobbit.”
8YO Psyche: “Okay, okay, back it up a minute, sister. First of all, before we get into what actually happened to you, let me just say… well done on the use of your vocabulary words! I mean, empathy and amputate in the same breath? Good job, kid. You might just be a writer someday. Your teacher must be very proud.”
8YO Me: “Hey, thanks. Yeah, Dad made me write a few pages in the dictionary as punishment for forgetting to make my bed again. Good to know it’s sinking in.”
8YO Psyche: “He’s creative with the punishments, I’ll give him that. So, back to what exactly happened… you were stung by a jellyfish, dipsh*t. Not a shark. Or a whale. Or a turtle. Or a crab. Or an oyster. It was a jellyfish. You’ll survive, I promise.”
And while that may have been the last time I would listen to my psyche for decades, it was right; I did survive, and without amputation, but my childhood fear of the jellyfish’s sting stayed with me the rest of my life…
… that is, until now.
If there’s one thing the watch world continuously awaits, it’s whatever Maximilian Büsser and his friends think of next. Speaking for myself, I feel my pulse quicken whenever an email comes through from Charris Yadigaroglou – MB&F’s Chief Communications Officer – and not just because everything about him is cool (including his font choice. How is that even possible?). An email from Charris means that something new, quirky, abstract, or extraordinary is either coming from MB&F or has already arrived, so when the teaser message came through about the release of the MB&F HM7 at the upcoming SIHH, I prepped my camera and held my breath, which was a good thing, because the company decided to take us all for a swim.
Press presentation videos can sometimes be – to put it politely – drab. Throw in a darkened, uncomfortably warm room and some jet lag and one might find oneself struggling to stay awake through them. But as I looked around at my American colleagues while they watched the beginning of the HM7 movie, I could plainly see that there was nary a sleeper in sight, in spite of Charris’s newfound raspy voice, thanks to a severe sore throat likely caused by (but not limited to) recycled expedition hall air conditioning.
The movie took us through the stages of MB&F’s story – of Max’s story – and put us all in touch with our inner curious and youthful selves. It started out by reminding us of our obsession with outer space through the creation of the HM2, HM3, and HM6 Horological Machines. It then carried us on the wings of an airplane through the skies of imagination via the HM4. Once landed, however, it threw us into the passenger seats of the HM5, HM8, and HMX models and drove us fast and far to the shores of our childhood – and in my case, to that beach on the Chesapeake Bay – so that we could strap on our tanks and dive deep into a realm not yet explored in the microcosm of highly mechanical timekeeping; the water.
The HM7 Aquapod (as it is so appropriately named) draws its design inspiration from the jellyfish, and symmetry is key when comparing the timepiece to its sea creature muse. The Aquapod is equipped with radially symmetric rings displaying the hours and minutes as a nod to the jellyfish’s brain, which is made up of an evenly spaced circle of neurons (MB&F had to develop extra-large ceramic ball bearings to support the watch’s spherical hour and minute displays). The watch’s sapphire crystal “bell” houses a flying tourbillon which regulates the power generated by the tentacle-like automatic winding rotor, transforming it into its time display. That prominent flying tourbillon makes for a beautiful visualization by day, however the three panels of AGT Ultra Lume (originally seen in the HMX Black Badger) around the inside of the movement give the watch its jellyfish-like bluish glow at night. But it’s what the rotor’s tentacles are made of and how they are made that adds another level of complexity to this already extravagant yet whimsical wrist machine. Each rotor is crafted from a solid block of Grade 5 titanium which – as any metalsmith knows – is extremely difficult both to work with and to polish evenly and properly, but it’s that same characteristic that adds to the timepiece’s nearly light-as-a-sea-cucumber feel.
The Aquapod’s “floating” curved bezel is created with laser-etched ceramic filled with metalized titanium at the numerals and markers. The watch – which IS NOT a dive watch – is water resistant to 50 meters, has a 72-hour power reserve, two crowns, and an automatic winding movement conceived and developed in-house by MB&F. The engine comprises 303 total components and 35 jewels, and its strap is made in aircraft-grade Fluorocarbon FKM 70 Shore A elastomer with a buckle that matches the material of the case. The HM7 is being issued in 18K rose gold in a limited edition 66 pieces, or in Grade 5 titanium in a limited edition of 33 pieces, and before we had left the press conference there were already two pieces sold.
To say that I, once again, was amazed by a horological creation conceptualized by Maximilian Büsser is like saying that I was going to have three glasses a glass of Champagne with my carpaccio every day during the SIHH lunch. In other words, YA THINK?? But then to see Max’s concept designed by the wonderfully talented Eric Giroud, and brought to life by a team of his extraordinary “friends” is something I don’t think I’ll ever tire of as long as I find myself writing about watches. And to know that Max – just like I – had been stung by a jellyfish while on family holiday many, many years ago makes me give one of those “of course he was” chuckles, for it takes someone with a mind like Max Büsser to turn that potentially horrifying childhood experience into a positive and creative one, (whereas I, in turn, simply avoided going into the ocean pretty much ever again).
So thank you, my dear Max Büsser, and thank you to your friends. Thanks for making me have to recount a terrifying memory and face my fears so that I could appreciate the natural joys of sea life again. That doesn’t mean I’m going to go diving anytime soon, mind you, but it does mean that I might just take a trip to the aquarium more often now. And maybe I’ll find myself hanging around the jellyfish tank. Who knows… it might just be good for my soul to spend a little extra time there.
The Lovechild of Art and Smart: The HMX Black Badger Brightens the MB&F Booth (and This Watch Writer’s Day)
Ever get a Facebook friend request from someone so popular, so well-loved, and so seemingly untouchable that you think to yourself, “there must be some mistake”? Well that’s what happened to me when I saw a notification stating that *the* Maximilian Büsser wanted to connect.
I had read all that I could read about Max and his “friends” up to the moment that the notification bar lit up. I had known of his connection with Jaeger LeCoultre, and Harry Winston, as well as his involvement in the Opus series, and with independent watchmakers. I skimmed pages of articles on his MB&F projects, and read about his ten-piece limited edition partnership with Hodinkee last year that produced the LM101 in stainless steel. I watched videos of his interviews, and flipped articles for future reading, but never did I think he’d be someone I’d call a friend.
That is, at least, until last week.
Heading toward the back of The Palace at Baselworld, I could see Max strolling in my direction. His swagger is unique and undeniably his and he walks as if he were eight feet tall (he is not). He saw me and smiled a very Max smile and I’m sure I turned six shades of chartreuse as a result, but when we reached one another it was if we’d been schoolmates for decades. “Finally!” I said, going in for a hug, to which he replied, “We see you later today, yes?” Then off we both went to our intended destinations, thankfully without my passing out from sheer fangirl glee.
When the time came for my scheduled meeting with Max’s Chief Communications Officer, the tremendously kind Charris Yadigaroglou, I decided to show up a few minutes early to take some photos of the booth and of course, of Max’s “machines.” That was when Jason Heaton walked in.
“DUDE! What are you doing here?” Which as I think about it now, was a rather stupid question to ask one of the most recognizable watch journalists in Baselworld. But before Jason and I got to talking, this super-animated bearded guy walks in, turns to Jason and exclaims rather vibrantly, “ADVENTUREMAN! I was hoping I was going to get to meet you!”
“Beardguy,” I soon came to realize, was none other than James Thompson, the composite specialist and industrial designer responsible for this year’s MB&F “Performance Art” limited edition watch series, the HMX Black Badger, so it made all the sense in the world that he would be in Max’s booth. He got to talking to Jason about stuff I’m still learning about but since I have a decades-long background in the jewelry industry, my eyes, while he spoke, were fixated on his rings.
Me: “Hey man, can I see that ring?”
JT: “Yeah” (handing it to me) “Go for it.”
Me: (Now turning the piece and inspecting it because that’s kind of what I do.) “Hmmm. What’s the inlay made of?”
JT: “Ahhh, see? Now, that’s the secret.”
What I quickly learned, however, was that this was the exact “secret” that led to James’ and Max’s partnership. James uses alternative materials such as DuPont™ Corian®, brightly colored lume, surfboard resin, and carbon fiber. He also mentioned something about digging through the trash to get hold of a certain substance to experiment with, which is right around the time that Charris walked into the lounge and saved me from my own curiosity.
“Performance Art. Are you familiar?” Mr. Yadigaroglou said to me, and while I was familiar (both with the MB&F version as well as the “what my friends did for extra credit in college” version), I wanted to make sure I had all of my information correct, so I beckoned my host to explain. In a nutshell, MB&F “Performance Art” pieces are limited edition works (either watch or machine) that are made in collaboration with various jewelry houses, designers, artists, and manufacturers who happen to tickle Max’s and his team’s fancy. This year’s version was no different.
James Thompson (aka – “Beardguy” – aka – Black Badger) first met Max back in 2013 at London’s SalonQP exhibition. Says JT of the meeting, “I wasn’t campaigning for a job or anything, I really just wanted to meet him and tell him how much I liked his stuff. Clearly he had better and more important things to be doing, but we had a really nice, genuine chat. To be honest I wasn’t expecting anything more of it than that, but then he emailed me a few weeks later and we started bouncing around ideas… I mean seriously? That’s like Sinatra asking what you thought of his new tune.”
The two eventually got together at the MAD Gallery in Geneva and started putting things in motion. The result (or, “lovechild” for the sake of this post) is an intricate timepiece that doubles as something that could entertain your Scout troop or chess club for hours. Made in Grade 5 titanium and stainless steel with either blue, green, or purple high-efficiency luminescent details (known as “rocker covers”), the HMX Black
Badger is, according to the MB&F website, “eye-catching by day, (but) it’s when the sun goes down that they really come out to party.”
The pieces are limited to eighteen in each of the three colors, with every one being a technological symphony of components (forty-four making up the case, two hundred and twenty-three making up the three-dimensional horological Engine). The watch has a forty-two-hour power reserve, and its functions include bi-directional jumping hours and trailing minutes, displayed by dual reflective sapphire crystal prisms with integrated magnifying lenses.
But at the end of the day what I will take away from my experience with Max, James, Charris, and the HMX Black Badger is this: I don’t remember laughing as hard as I did for the rest of the week in Baselworld, and I truly mean that. I can’t even recall what exactly it was we were talking about; all I know is that the three of us were in that darkened room using flashlights and cell phone lighting to try to get a picture of all of the watches glowing together, giggling like fools. I felt as if I were camping out with my friends from high school and trying to light a cigarette without my parents catching me. It is this feeling – this innocence of adolescence, and this joy of journeys past – that is the cornerstone of what I believe “Max Büsser and Friends” is all about.
Friends. Freunde. Copains. Amici. Vänner. No matter how any one of us at that meeting could say it or which language we could say it in, I feel we all were in agreement that “friends” is the core word in this entire project, and I thank Max, and his team, for accepting me as one of theirs.