As they sit by a window in a quiet corner of Geneva’s Ritz-Carlton hotel and sunlight pours in on their smiling faces, MB & F’s Maximilian Büsser and Bulgari’s Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani seem relieved that they can – finally – talk about what they’re talking about. worked. past two years.
When the founder of the boutique-Swiss watchmaker MB&F originally met the creative director of the Italian jewelry house Bulgari at the 2017 Dubai Watch Week show, it was, as Büsser says, “love at first sight”. Two years later, they agreed to work on a project together.
And today – just as the fifth edition of the biennial Middle Eastern watch program kicks off – the couple announced the Legacy Machine FlyingT Allegra: a dome-shaped wristwatch covered with precious stones.
While ties between watchmakers and jewelers are not unheard of, the collaboration of a niche independent like MB&F with a global luxury power station is highly unusual – and is likely to send ripples to some corners of the watch industry.
As businesses, MB&F and Bulgari can no longer differ. Büsser says the company he founded in 2005 manufactured 215 watches and had sales of SFr15 million ($ 16.2 million) last year. Bulgari does not disclose its annual figures publicly, but according to Morgan Stanley’s most recent annual watch industry report, published last March, the Italian company sold an estimated 44,000 watches in 2020, with a turnover of SFr261m.
Bulgari’s owner, the giant French luxury conglomerate LVMH, reported revenue of € 3.4 billion in 2020 for its entire watch and jewelery division (which includes other Swiss watchmakers, such as Tag Heuer and Hublot).
Both men appear to be aware of the unlikely association. “A multibillion-dollar company talking to a dwarf?” asks Büsser as his pitch rises. “It’s monumental, because it never happens.”
“For us, it was dangerous,” says Buonamassa Stigliani, a Stoic. “For me personally, it was dangerous. We do not have to make this kind of collaboration. For us, it’s a different segment. We do not have such a watch in our range. ”
In total, there will be 40 watches, 20 in red gold and 20 in white gold. MB&F took responsibility for the watchmaking, with Bulgari doing the same for the jewelry. Both companies will take 10 of each model to sell to their customers. Büsser says the equal distribution reflects a similar investment arrangement between the two companies, adding that a collaboration “never a [purely] business decision because then the product will be skewed ”.
But according to Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin, it is not a one-way street, even if the sale of 20 watches – each costing $ 185,000 – would make a much bigger impression on MB & F’s profit point. For him, the advantage would be to strengthen Bulgari’s status as an excellent watch company.
The watch is based on MB & F’s 2019 critical hit, the Legacy Machine FlyingT, designed by Büsser for his wife (“T” is for “Tiffany”, his wife’s name, as well as for “tourbillon”). Buonamassa Stigliani was then given free rein to redesign what was MB & F’s first model for women. The echo of the original – with its spherical shape and dizzying vertical flying tourbillon – is still very much there, but it now has a custom container and what Buonamassa Stigliani calls a “chaotic mix-and-match of precious stones in different shapes” set in the closet and switch, in the spirit of Bulgari’s Allegra jewelry collection.
Büsser, despite being a self-confessed “dictator”, took shape in the release of his inventive, highly esoteric watch designs in the hands of co-industrial creatives. The “& F” in the brand name stands for “and friends”.
Initially, it meant working with watchmakers and motion engineers to bring his creative vision to life. But in 2009, he set a precedent for himself by voluntarily giving his HM2 design to industry veteran Alain Silberstein. More recently, he has worked with renowned hand digger Eddy Jaquet and Chinese sculptor Xia Hang, but he also worked with fellow independent Swiss watchmaker H Moser & Cie earlier this year.
“There’s a kind of masochism in it, to see how my pieces have changed in a way I would never have done,” says the 54-year-old Swiss. “When I do a collab, I have to leave. It’s a dictatorship detox. “
Although Büsser is no stranger to partnerships, the gathering of two of the industry’s most productive creative forces marks new ground for both men considering the difference between the two companies.
On the Bulgari side, Buonamassa Stigliani is often described as the natural successor to Gerald Genta, the Swiss artist and watch designer who defined 20th-century luxury watchmaking with designs such as the Royal Oak and the Nautilus, commissions for Audemars Piguet and Patek respectively. Philippe. The Italian’s Bulgari Octo and Serpenti watches are also widely regarded as contemporary icons. Earlier this month, a version of the Octo Finissimo won the top prize at the prestigious Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève, commonly referred to as the Oscars of the watch world.
“It was a great pleasure for me,” says the 50-year-old from the collaboration with MB&F. “The biggest frustration as a watch designer when playing with a jewelry brand is that you can not explain or show the power of this. [precious] stones in a clock, because the knob and the glass are so close together. ” The original FlyingT’s snowball-like dome offered more space than you would find in a regular wristwatch.
Both red and white gold models are covered with more than three carat diamonds, but the striking decorations are the five enormous colored stones placed on the dial – tsavorites, amethysts, tanzanites and tourmalines appear on both, with the red gold with a rubellite and the white gold version a topaz.
From above, the Legacy Machine FlyingT Allegra’s tower flying tourbillon looks like a mechanical fish in a tropical tank. From the side, it looks more like the flying car of The Jetsons. Büsser describes it as a “flying saucer” and considering that some of his earlier creations were inspired by shapes as diverse as a frog and a Can-Am race car, this seems to compliment Stigliani’s design. to be.
Nevertheless, the process was clearly painful for him. “I’m 100 percent a symmetrical guy,” Büsser says. “So it was a smear. It’s not my language, but that’s why it’s interesting. My wife buys me things I would not buy for myself and her gifts take me somewhere I would not otherwise go. That’s basically what we’re doing here. ”
When asked about the possibility of further collaboration, Büsser simply says the Legacy Machine FlyingT Allegra is “like a concept car”. Instead, the two creative directors are content to marvel at what they’ve created together – “our baby”, as Buonamassa Stigliani refers to it. “Fabrizio took the FlyingT,” says Büsser, referring to a drawing dated June 15, 2020, “and honestly, in 27 seconds, design what you see here.”