MB&F COVID-19 Lessons
In our lives for some time now, COVID-19 has upended our lives and our habits, and those of Maximilian Büsser (founder and creative director of MB&F) as well.
A month ago, I had the opportunity to speak with Maximilian Büsser, founder and creative director of MB&F, while he was in Geneva. As usual with Max, the discussion was rich with insight, focusing on his fundamental link with the brand (you can find this first part of the interview here). However, the current hot topic of COVID-19 was also part of the conversation.
With COVID-19, everyone's habits changed quickly in a short period of time; social distancing, mask wearing and confinement became the watchwords of an entire period (some of them continue to be an everyday reality). In this hostile and unfamiliar environment, we had to learn to live and move forwards differently. An inquisitive, adaptive approach has therefore become a key element — some might say the most important element — of our daily lives. "My ability to question myself is my greatest strength," says Maximilian. "When you're successful, you tend to reproduce the recipe that led you to success. For me, this is one of the great problems of our profession: we are in the process of reproducing the elements that led to the success of watchmaking, but the time for that formula has passed. Personally, I do not reproduce the method that led us to success. COVID-19 has helped me enormously in this respect because all the objections I was blocked on had to be challenged; the MB&F of 2021, 2022 and 2023 will be very different.”
Legacy Machine Flying T © WorldTempus/Jordy Bellido
The blending of the personal and professional environment became one, and working while confined could sometimes call for a miracle, especially for families with children. As a result, production and output were not necessarily there: "I always create when I'm alone, so I didn't create for four months during COVID-19 because I was surrounded by my family. When I finally found myself alone, I created a great product.”
Overall, the health situation this spring proved to be more favourable to independent watch brands in a certain way. The term "favourable" is perhaps exaggerated; let's just say that it was probably simpler to manage for them, in the sense that taking risks seemed (and still seems) less complicated for this type of brand, which is not accountable and is therefore freer to make its own choices. "In our business, I think one of the biggest problems is the absolute thirst for control that brands want to have over their image and history," says Maximilian. "However, when you're in the creative business, you lose control. So perhaps the lack of creativity in our business is a result of this absolute thirst for control. Moreover, COVID-19 was clearly a game changer because it completely lifted all our inhibitions. Even though MB&F is a disruptive brand, we still have inhibitions. And then, when all of a sudden, our hands and feet are cut off and we are asked to move forward, how do we do that? Crawling isn't such a bad option after all. Before, I wouldn't have dared to crawl in public, because crawling is not cool. It's an allegory, but that's how it is. Three months ago [early April], I didn't know what Instagram Live was, and since I have no problem being transparent, I immediately bought into it. However, most of the big brands disappeared from the media landscape because it was the moment when you had to be live and being live is very dangerous — you don't control everything.”
Legacy Machine Perpetual © MB&F
In these difficult times, the best thing we could do was to help each other (which we should do constantly anyway) and not to think about personal interests. Being in a "small" structure where everyone is in contact with everyone else and not having (at least) high goals at all costs, as is the case with independent brands, has, I think, helped to cultivate a way of thinking that is more conducive to mutual support: "Regarding our e-shop; we had launched it for the M.A.D. Gallery, but never for MB&F," says Maximilian. "Why not? Because we didn't want our retailers to feel like we were trying to steal sales from them. We always went hand in hand with our retailers. However, we ended up with 24 out of 26 retailers closed in March, so no more distribution. The e-shop option was raised, but we wanted to make a different one, so we presented 2–3 products maximum, which we had at the M.A.D. Gallery and which had therefore not been sold to our retailers.”
On this subject, Maximilian remembers: "Two things happened. The first is that we opened the possibility for our retailers to present their pieces on our e-shop, to help them move the pieces they had. The second is that when we started the collaboration with H. Moser & Cie, we had kept seven of the 60 pieces at the M.A.D. Gallery in Geneva, for ourselves and eventually for the e-shop. The seven pieces were sold after 12 noon and, 18 hours later, 52 people were on the waiting list. So we contacted our retailers to see if they had any models left and, within four days, all sixty models were sold, half of them thanks to us, who had redirected customers from the waiting list to the retailers. We could have done that before COVID-19, but we didn't because we had inhibitions. So COVID-19 was a tremendous generator of creativity in my team. We integrated many much younger members of the team into our strategic meetings/brainstormings and the results were truly impressive - we should have done that before."
LM101 © MB&F
Even if 2020 is marked by this unprecedented health crisis, 2021 looks bright, at least for MB&F, whose MB&F M.A.D. Gallery in Geneva will celebrate its 10th anniversary (and WorldTempus will celebrate its 20th anniversary, in case you didn't know it). For this anniversary, and in the same way as during the confinement, creativity will be the rendezvous point for Maximilian Büsser and his collaborators: "We are going to launch our first product," he shared. "Until now, we were curators of the M.A.D. Gallery, so we were going to find artists to exhibit their work, but to celebrate its 10th anniversary, we're going to create something interesting. However, I can't say more than that for now.”
M.A.D. Gallery, Genève © M.A.D. Gallery