Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 May 2019

New MB&F limited-edition Alien watch sells out before its debut

A single buyer bought all four editions of the latest MB&F machines, each worth Dh1.8 million

Capitaine Flam, a Japanese anime character from 1970s French television, was one of the inspirations behind a new Dh1.8 million timepiece by Swiss watch brand Maximilian Busser and Friends, popularly known as MB&F.

The first model of the N°6 Alien Nation was recently unveiled at the MB&F M.A.D. Gallery in Dubai – a space that pays tribute to all sorts of time- and space-inspired works of art, in addition to housing MB&F’s own machines.

MB&F founder Maximilian Büsser prefers the word “machines” to “watches”, as his inventions are far more intricate, complex and avant-garde than your typical wristwatch. Born in Milan to a Swiss father and Indian mother who met and married in Bombay, Büsser studied microtechnology engineering, before working with Swiss watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre. At the age of 31, he became CEO of Harry Winston, Inc in Geneva, but five years later, left to start his own brand, MB&F. In 2011, he launched M.A.D. (Mechanical Art Devices) Gallery, a move that complemented his art-driven approach to technology. There are only three branches worldwide, in Geneva, Taipei and Dubai, and the latter has been Büsser’s home since 2014. Still, his brand ideology eschews traditional marketing and celebrity ambassadors, and Büsser’s machines are all inspired by his childhood and produced in extremely limited editions.

The N°6 Alien Nation continues the company’s legacy of producing space-influenced creations, with a piece of wearable art that is made up of five three-dimensional domes. Two of these spheres show the hour and minutes, with the mechanical movement on display in the larger, central sphere. Upon closer examination, five different alien figures can be seen, all hand-sculpted from white gold by engraver Olivier Kühn. The sixth miniscule alien is situated in a “pilot’s seat” at the front of the watch. The tiny figures had to be created under the lens of a microscope, and 35 to 40 hours of work went into producing each one. “The alien’s arms, legs and necks are so thin, that if Kühn trembles a little, they will be cut off, and he has to start all over again. I think that if I ask him for one more, he will hurl his engraving material at me,” says Büsser.

The watch’s case, meanwhile, is the result of 500 hours of work. Formed from 12 blocks of sapphire crystal, utmost care goes into manufacturing each case, and it is common for breakages to occur during the process. During the creation of the first N°6 Alien Nation machine, the material cracked, after over 300 hours into production, and the case had to be scrapped and started from scratch.

Only four of the spectacular N°6 Alien Nation timepieces are being produced worldwide, each with a different accent colour and glow-in-the-dark, Ambient Glow Technology hue. “From the beginning, we were planning on four unique pieces for this insane series,” says Büsser. “It has been such an ordeal to craft the sapphire case that we definitely do not want to do more.”

Still, for a creator, it must be difficult to part ways with a design, especially one that is so complex and creative. “In one way it is extremely bittersweet and in another it is like being freed,” says Büsser. “Bittersweet because part of you wants to hang onto these pieces that you have worked so hard over four years to bring to life, and where you have put so much of yourself into it. Freedom, because once a piece has finally come out into production, it frees me to work on the next creations, which get my adrenaline flowing.”

It’s rare for a client or collector to reserve more than a single piece of the same model, especially when editions are so limited. But a single client, whose identity will not be revealed, reserved all four models of the N°6 Alien Nation at the end of last year, before they had even been built. Büsser reveals that this particular customer already had around 15 MB&F watches at the time, and when he first saw the design in November 2016, he immediately reserved one piece. A week later, he sent Büsser a WhatsApp message saying that he needed two. Büsser explained that it was the same watch, just in different colours, but the client was adamant that he wanted to own more than one. “Then, three weeks later, he flies to Dubai, takes me out for coffee, and tells me, ‘I haven’t been able to sleep at night, since you showed me that design... I need all four of them,’” recalls Büsser, who spilled his apple juice on the table in shock. “He insisted and insisted. Finally, I caved in and told him he would have to pay for all four in full, and I needed to have 70 per cent of the total amount in our account the week before Baselworld, which would be in March 2017.”

Büsser was confident that asking for such a large sum of money upfront, with a deadline just a few months later, would give the client some time to rethink his request. “I thought that would calm him down. But on December 28 the amount arrived in our account and I received a WhatsApp message saying, ‘Surprised?’”

The mystery client received his first piece – the same one shown at the MB&F M.A.D. Gallery in Dubai - at the end of June, and the other three will be delivered in July, August and September.

Updated: July 3, 2017 09:29 AM