When you’re a businessman, the de facto face of your brand and a star in the world of haute horology – an industry resolutely centred in Switzerland – moving to the Middle East might not seem like the most likely move. After all, why base yourself in a part of the world where mechanical watch retail activity still tends to account for only 8-15 per cent of global sales? The answer, for MB&F founder Maximilian Büsser, came, simply
and elegantly, down to time – not its manifestation on a wristwatch, but in its definition of a life lived meaningfully. It’s been two years since Büsser decided to leave the cool precision of Geneva for the heat, sand and shimmering construction of Dubai. Since then, the entrepreneur responsible for some of the most outlandish ‘horological creations’ in the watchmaking industry has opened a Dubai-based M.A.D Gallery and – most importantly – found a perfect balance between running a business and spending
time with his family.
“For me, there is no better place to bring up a family than Dubai,” says Büsser, relaxed in a crisp white shirt, jeans and brown leather shoes. Colleagues looked at him as if he was “insane” when he announced the move but that is a reaction he is rather used to. From questioning every aspect of a wristwatch’s construction to uniting the world of art with the rules of mechanics, he isn’t a man who abides by convention.
Max Büsser, founder of MB&F.
MB&F (the &F stands for ‘ and friends’) was founded in 2005 as an ‘artistic concept laboratory’, dedicated to creating radical horological masterpieces and uniting ideas in mechanical watchmaking with the art world. In the space between its launch and today, Büsser has presided over the opening of three M.A.D Galleries that showcase his work and a dazzling collection of inventive pieces that push the boundaries of what defi nes a watch. Collaboration has always been at the heart of Büsser’s work and he has drawn on the talents of the world’s leading watchmakers and visionaries – people prepared to take a leap of faith with him, and to do things differently.
A conversation that took place over a decade ago planted the seed for his move to Dubai. “The person who inspired me was Rolf W. Schnyder, onetime owner and CEO of Ulysse
Nardin,” says Büsser. “Very few people know that he lived for over 30 years in Kuala Lumpur and built Ulysse Nardin essentially from scratch while based there. I once had
lunch with him there about 12 years ago and I asked him why he lived there and his answer changed my life. He said: ‘because I’m seeing my children grow up.’”
It makes sense, when the duties of family life come calling, to reassess one’s priorities – but few men actually make any kind of convincing, sweeping life changes: it’s certainly almost unheard of for the horological executives of Le Locle, Geneva or Neuchatel to deprive their colleagues of their early-morning and late evening presence simply because of their progeny. However, when Büsser’s wife fell pregnant, the long-buried idea of living abroad bubbled up to the surface again. Asia was too far. Dubai, with its relatively short direct flights to Geneva, and having been a holiday destination for the couple in the past, was the natural, Swiss-like compromise. When Büsser’s daughter Mila was one year old, he and wife Tiffany bid farewell to their apartment in Geneva and moved to Dubai. They rented a villa and even underwent the expat rite of passage of trips to the local IKEA. Complicated furniture requirements are not, apparently, a top priority in the Büsser household (“I like to focus purely on what’s important,” he explains
with a smile, when I express surprise that his home isn’t filled with
complex mechanical sofas.)
Being away from an office (Büsser works from home) says has transformed his ability to be creative. “In Dubai, I’m able to have time for myself,” he says. “That is an insane luxury. I’ve created more in the past two years than I have in the previous five, because I have moments to think. I’m nurturing my family life, which is most entrepreneurs’ regret at the end of their life. The last lines of Nike founder Phil Knight’s biography are about losing his family and I thought ‘I don’t want to write that.’ He carefully divides his time between his Jumeirah villa and the gallery in Al Serkal Avenue, which, when we spoke, was about to host an exhibition of renowned Chinese artist Xia Hang, along with a
collaboration with Caran D’Ache, a rocket-shaped fountain pen featuring its own magnetic astronaut.
The M.A.D Gallery Dubai.
“I find Dubai is a mix of the frenetic and laid-back. People here work like mad, and everything is a work in progress and at the same time there is this notion of time that is different. I find that if you know how to use that, it’s great. If you go with the fl ow, that’s great. Life is a balance, and the advantages of being in Dubai far outweigh the problems. I don’t want to lose time on things that aren’t worthwhile, and I want to concentrate on things that make me happy, which is to create, and to spend quality time with my family – that’s it. All the rest is unnecessary.”
Büsser has been coming to the UAE for almost 20 years, thanks to his longstanding relationship with Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons, the region’s leading watch retailer. He has worked with Abdul Majied Seddiqi since his time at Harry Winston when Harry Winston was still a relatively small enterprise. “At the beginning of MB&F, he was before I delivered the first piece.”
It’s the regional culture’s focus on making relationships that, along with the endless sunshine and the focus on family time, was a draw for Büsser. “A relationship is something that you nurture for decades, and that you can destroy in two seconds. I had my perspective of Dubai because of the Seddiqis – this perception that everybody in Dubai was like them… of course they’re not, but I remember coming here for the first time and I was staying at the Jumeirah Beach hotel and Abdul Majid Seddiqi would come from Bur Dubai, collect me, have dinner, and then take me home again. I was this 31-year-old kid heading Harry Winston… but that’s what he did, because having that
relationship with someone he worked with was important to him.”
The LM1 M.A.D Dubai features a green dial, in tribute to the region.
One of MB&F’s recent pieces, the LM1 M.A.D Dubai, a variation of an existing piece, is a tribute to the region, but even more so than the green-faced watch named for Busser’s new home, the M.A.D Gallery itself stands as a testament to the deep connection between MB&F and its regional partner. It was the first gallery to open in the Al Serkal Avenue extension, doing so on January 10, 2016, and was a leap of faith for both parties, with its location far from the mall footfall (but also the astronomical rents) of the city’s more expected locations for a high-end watch and art establishment. “Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons has a longstanding relationship with Maximilian Büsser who represents the true spirit of creativity and entrepreneurship and we were delighted to bring M.A.D.Gallery to
Dubai,” Mohammed Seddiqi, CCO Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons said at its inauguration.
Based in Al Quoz, the gallery showcases MB&F’s various mechanical collaborations, the out-of-the-way location meaning that clients come by word of mouth. “On a normal Saturday in Dubai, we now have around 80-100 customers, local residents who have heard about it – art lovers and people who are curious.” The gallery is the third one of its kind, the previous being galleries in Taipei and Geneva – both opened because of Busser’s longstanding relationships with retailers in those cities. “My brand is called ‘and
friends’ – that’s the story of my life.”