Maximilian Busser is the type of guy who really doesn’t care what people think about him. That’s a huge statement to make. Most of us attempt to do an elaborate tango in the social and work arena because we’re trying to gain friends and good will. Busser just won’t do the dance. And this is a good thing, especially in the oftentimes-constrained world of watches. If Busser were to tippy-toe around, we wouldn’t have the quirky and playful creations from his company MB&F like the HM3 JWLRYMACHINE and the Legacy Machine 1.
Though Busser grew up in the conventional world of watch brands, first with Jaeger-LeCoultre and later as the head of Harry Winston rare timepieces, he never lost his Wild West spirit. There were glimpses of his mad scientist tendencies in the Harry Winston Opus series, where he partnered with independent watchmakers and said have at it, boys. The results were beautiful oddballs from the likes of Felix Baumgartner, Andreas Strehler and Vianney Halter. Busser discusses the Opus series in this video here.
Busser may not be involved in the Opus series anymore, because, believe it or not, in that environment he still couldn’t cook up the alchemy in his mind. He needed even more freedom without a board of directors looking over his shoulder and shaking their heads. Busser is still up to his experimentation. Next to come from the test tube is concept C3H5N3O9, dreamed up with Felix Baumgartner of URWERK. In this separate company, Busser and Baumgartner have the liberty to create outside their established brands’ DNA. The name is actually the molecular formula of nitroglycerin, an explosive chemical compound, which is practically impossible to remember and I’m sure this brings a mischievous smile to Busser’s lips. That’s why it’s nicknamed Nitro for short.
First up under C3H5N3O9 is the watch deemed Experiment ZRO12. Using the concept of a Wankel engine (employed by Mazda in the RX7), it presents a way to tell time in a newly minted package. Two Wankel engine eccentric rotating Reuleaux polygons, triangular-shaped rotors!, indicate hours and minutes. The back of the zirconium case houses the power reserve indicator, which shows where you are in the 39-hour cycle. To ensure comfort, the titanium lugs, a compound front lug and articulated rear lug, wrap around the wrist. The movement’s gear train is sourced from Girard Perregaux/Sowind, while the whole complication is from the URWERK team. The C3H5N3O9 website gives a great explanation of the technical aspects.
When Martin Frei, URWERK’s designer, and Baumgartner first suggested the Wankel concept for a new watch, Max was totally in. His best friend’s father, who was an inventor, drove Busser and his son to school every day in an NSU Ro80. Busser was wowed by this outlandish and revolutionary car, which drove off a Wankel engine, particularly because his best friend’s father explained how cool it was.
Who is the customer for this watch? “I have no idea!” Busser exclaims. “Somebody who thinks like Felix, Martin, Serge, Eric or myself I suppose. A dreamer, a rebel, a misfit, a passionate individual, or all of the above perhaps? We will soon find out.”
Busser doesn’t go through elaborate marketing exercises to come up with his watches. No, that wouldn’t be any fun. Four years ago, he and Baumgartner came up with the plan during a lunch in Geneva, probably doodling the idea onto a napkin that got scrunched up in one of their pockets. This is the research part of the process. Next comes development to get the thing to work. Busser and his partner Serge Kriknoff enlisted watch designer Eric Giroud to design and produce the case, while constructor Cyrano Devanthey was charged with developing and producing a movement.
Here’s where it gets extremely interesting. Companies are designed to profit. Busser and Baumgartner are actually prepared to lose money on Nitro. But this is of no consequence to them. “URWERK and MB&F have effectively booked all the C3H5N3O9 project as a potential loss in our accounts,” Busser casually remarks. “If all 24 pieces (12 in Zirconium this year and 12 in red gold next year) are sold, then we might break-even.”
Going a step further, Experiment ZRO12 can only be obtained through their site. Imagine buying a watch that sells for over $100K on the net. That’s insane at the same time it is forward thinking and foresees the new marketing model. Of this bold move, Busser says, “I believe that in the future any part [of the watch buying process] that does not bring added value to the “creator to customer” chain will disappear. Darwinism applies to economics as well as biology.”
Busser was inspired by Ron Johnson, the creator and manager of the Apple Store concept for over 12 years, who said that it isn’t enough for brick and mortar retailers to differentiate themselves from on-line sales just by displaying the physical product, they have to really engage potential customers. “And ‘engaging’ is what the digital world is all about,” Busser says.
We can only wonder what the next experiment to come from the C3H5N3O9 will be…