Interview by WP, at DIFC during the Dubai Watch Week
Good morning, Maximilian. Thank you for welcoming us in sunny Dubai and taking the time for an interview. Let’s start with your Legacy Machine Perpetual Calendar – congratulations for winning the Calendar Watch prize at the GPHG (Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève) on the 10th of November in Geneva. What does it mean to you ?
Maximilian Büsser :
Every single one of our creations is a story. There’s a journey to it, and this one very much in particular. I met Stephen McDonnell in 2007, the third week of January. He was part of the little group of watchmakers who saved my company when our major supplier supposed to assemble our first movement, our Horological Machine number one (HM1) dropped us in the middle of the project. Stephen was introduced by my great friend Peter (Peter Speake-Marin). They were there to help me out and finalize the assembly and the finishing of that piece.
So, he’s one of the guys who saved my company. That means a lot. Then four years later, he was working for a brand, developing a movement for them. The brand had a big financial problem and they couldn’t pay him anymore. He was all alone at home and having no more revenue. I heard about it. So, I went to see him. I said, “How can I help you?”
And he said, “Look, I’ve got an idea. I have an idea of doing an innovative perpetual calendar.” And I was like, “No, way, please. No, not a perpetual calendar.” Why? Because they’re the most unreliable movements in the history of watchmaking.
As Stephen explained very well during his panel, it’s the only movement where the owner, the human beings, have so much access to the movement. When you have a minute repeater, you pull the lever and it rings. But that’s all you can do. When you’ve got a perpetual calendar, you can go and change the date and dates, the month, the moon phase while it is itself working and therefore that’s why when it’s not breaking down itself, because it is unreliable, it has actually been broken by the clients themselves.
Stephen told me, “I think I’ve got a solution to all of that,” and he actually only the beginning of an idea. He had no design, no – just an idea and because Stephen had helped us and saved us, we said, “OK, let’s do this.” We just let him for three years develop all alone (with the assistance of our team), and he single handedly created a revolutionary movement which has solved every single issue of reliability of the Perpetual Calendar.
Not only has he done that but it is also beautiful. I think we have forgotten that in watchmaking; all these technical breakthroughs to prove that one brand is better than another are lacking too much soul. It has to be beautiful. It was interesting because Stephen was having an interview yesterday with a journalist. I was there and that journalist didn’t understand that he said that every part has to be beautiful. You can do a straight lever but I think that lever which has got a camber and a nice chamfer on it is more beautiful.
Surely it’s much more expensive to do. But isn’t it beautiful? That journalist just didn’t understand that – isn’t it simple to do a straight lever? “Of course,” he said, but that’s not what we do. We create art. We create mechanical art.”
So, Stephen, all alone, created this 561-component movement and after three years when we assembled the first prototype with handcrafted parts, it worked ! It actually worked, which doesn’t happen. We never assemble a fully new movement and it works. You always have one or two errors of construction or something like that. It worked.
Then we did the pre-series and it worked and then we’ve delivered the first 50 pieces, 25 in platinum and 25 in red gold and not only all of them were sold, which is already amazing. Not one has jumped the date, blocked the date or has any one owner been able to block it or break it. He has done this. The GPHG is one of the rewards. There are others. There will be others to celebrate Stephen McDonnell’s genius. We were just the guys who believed in it. That’s a story of watchmaking as it used to be in the 19th century.
Thank you very much for this explanation. Education… What does it mean to you at the Dubai Watch Week ? There are different panels and workshops. What do you think about this event ?
Maximilian Büsser :
We are creating art and unfortunately, most of the time, the clients get in contact with this art through a commercial purpose. A retailer’s goal is usually to sell you something. The point of Dubai Watch Week, even though it has been created and financed by a retailer, is 100 percent educational. It’s to inspire. It’s to engage. It’s to share and that is extraordinary.
The first person who had created such a concept was Michael Tay with The Hour Glass 10 years ago with Tempus and then he stopped. The Seddiqi family has taken it one step further and I think it’s completely at their image. I’ve known this family for 18 years. They are extraordinary. They are passionate. They are warm. They’re welcoming. They want to share. They are people with incredible elegance and education and it is exactly the Gulf I love and it’s often what people don’t realize Dubai is.
Here in Dubai you opened an MB&F MAD Gallery, you now live here. Tell us a bit more about Dubai.
Maximilian Büsser :
Dubai is a country which is governed by pride. That’s a word we’ve forgotten in most European countries —the pride of doing something extraordinary. It’s often mistaken with we want to show off. That’s not the point. The point is we want to be proud of what we do and Sheik Maktoum’s vision is incredible. In the 21st century, I do not know anyone who has such a clear vision of how he wants his country to go and how he wants to improve the life of his citizens.
The only man before Sheik Maktoum who had a similar vision was Lee Kuan Yew, who created modern Singapore, and look what he did. This is what’s happening here. When you come from Europe where we thrive on no change, we thrive on looking back at our years of grandeur and lamenting and complaining that life was better before, it is truly amazing to see in Dubai this fast forward thinking place where value is created every day –they’re creating jobs and they’re creating infrastructure and they’re creating happiness. This is not a joke. When Sheik Maktoum creates a ministry of happiness, everybody laughed. But they’re wrong because he has clearly defined that one of his No1 goals is that his people will be happy. That means safety, infrastructure, education, growth, and a sense of balance and happiness.
Also as a family, this is the most beautiful place to educate a child. My daughter is 3.5 years old. We go back to Switzerland for two months of summer because it is really hot here and after a month, my daughter says, “I want to go back to Dubai,” because it’s a paradise for her here.
That has not happened by chance, but because there is a clear vision. Emiratis want this to be a great country and want people to come and enjoy themselves and be happy to live here. We’ve forgotten that in Europe. Europe is living a scary brain drain. They’re leaving because the quality of life is going down because governments do not understand or know how to tackle the real challenges. Dubai is our home. It has been our home for two years and this is definitely our home.
Thank you very much for taking the time. Again, congratulations for the GPHG.