M.A.D.1 Friends Edition From (Not By) MB&F: Why I Bought It, Why You Can’t (Not Yet Anyway), And Why It’s A Marketing Masterclass – Plus Video of Max Büsser Explaining The Watch And Concept
by Ian Skellern
Good salespeople don’t sell, they simply appear to help you to buy what you previously didn’t know you wanted. And you feel thankful for their help. While Switzerland excels in many domains, it generally has a very poor sales culture. Far too often I’ve been in a shop to buy something and made to feel like I’m just a drain on the staff’s time rather than a valued potential client.
That does mean, though, that when you come across a good salesperson in Switzerland, they stand out. I remember going into a car parts and accessories store to buy engine oil and an oil filter for an old Land Rover. I told the salesman what I wanted, the year and model of the car, and he came back with the correct oil and filter.
He then said, “If you are servicing it yourself, you might also consider changing the air filter and fuel filter while you are at it.” I thought that was a great idea, thanked him for pointing those items out, and ended up spending twice as much as I’d planned. Win-win.
I am lucky to have acquired a few nice watches, but I don’t consider myself a collector. I don’t feel a need to own watches that I like; I can happily appreciate them when owned by others.
My taste in watches (and most things) tends to be restrained. I’m not one for bling or a watch that shouts, “LOOK AT ME!” And I’ve got small wrists so I avoid large watches – especially thick, large- diameter watches. And while my income unfortunately doesn’t match my tastes, I like beautifully hand-finished, high-end manufacture movements by small independent brands.
So with its large, high case, blingy, spinning “LOOK AT ME!” rotor on top, and mass-market Miyota movement, the M.A.D.1 ticks all of the boxes on my “may be interesting, but not for me” list.
And then . . .
Around a month ago, I received an email from MB&F founder, owner, and creative director Max Büsser with the subject line “M.A.D.1,” which led me to expect the mail to be about a new artwork or event at the M.A.D.Gallery in Geneva. I opened the mail, and my eyes were immediately drawn down past the few paragraphs of text to the first of three images showing a large, thick watch (side on, which emphasized its height).
One thing was immediately crystal clear in my mind: whatever this watch did, it wouldn’t be doing it on my wrist.
And then I read what Max had written. I knew that he had been working on “Blue Dog” – a more affordable sister brand to MB&F – for many years, but something always seemed to come up to thwart his plans. He decided to ditch the name “Green Dog” for “M.A.D.” and here was the very first fruit.
In the email Max wrote, “I’ve been playing with a side project for quite some time now: creating a machine that would be accessible to my friends, under another label, but always with our crazy touch. The result is finally here: the ‘M.A.D.1’.”
Max went on to explain a few technical features, “What makes this M.A.D.1 special? As you’ll see in the attached video, the fully visible automatic winding rotor – the star of the show! – but also the lateral time display. We selected one of the rare automatic movements with unidirectional winding (essential for an easy, high-speed rotation), the well-known and reliable Miyota 821A, which we flipped upside-down – a nod to our HM3 and HM8 – to showcase a pretty crazy triple-blade winding rotor, crafted in titanium and tungsten. The typically MB&F lateral time display is obtained thanks to two aluminum alloy cylinders for the hours and minutes, engraved and boosted with Super-LumiNova. The 42 mm case is in stainless steel.”
As I read this, I was thinking the M.A.D.1 sounds interesting. It looks like an MB&F-style watch, and if it’s a relatively affordable MB&F-style watch then it’s sure to be a winner. But it’s not the type of watch I would even borrow to wear, let alone buy for myself.
The next paragraph of Max’s email went on to say, “The M.A.D.1 is reserved in priority for our Friends, followed by our collectors (members of The Tribe), before we propose it to other close contacts. There is obviously no obligation whatsoever! The choice of a watch is totally personal and you alone can decide whether the M.A.D.1 has a place in your collection. If you are interested, please let us know rapidly. The price is CHF 1,900 + VAT, and the first pieces will be delivered at the end of June.”
“PS: There will be no press kit and no launch – this is just for our friends.”
A confusing mass of contradictions, moi?
The last paragraph in Max’s email spun my thinking about buying a M.A.D.1 a full 180 degrees. With both the text and the price, I felt that he wasn’t trying to sell me a watch (he wasn’t) but saying thank you by offering me a present. I felt proud to be an MB&F “Friend” (I wrote MB&F’s press releases for 10 years) and thought it would be churlish to refuse the gift.
But what really drove the point of what Max was doing home was when Elizabeth Doerr and I thought at that price, we might buy another M.A.D.1 to offer to a watch journalist friend who Max knows well. After all, while it was an edition limited to MB&F Friends and The Tribe (MB&F collectors), it didn’t appear to be a strictly numbered limited edition.
When we told Max that we would like to buy an extra watch he firmly said sorry but no. It was exclusively for Friends and The Tribe. No exceptions. None.
And that no made me feel that the M.A.D.1 was even more special and that I was even more fortunate to be offered the chance to buy one.
M.A.D.1: nice touches
The M.A.D.1 comes with some nice touches. The packaging is simple but well done with a protective case sliding inside a sleeve. Opening the case reveals the watch in a cutout niche with what appears at first to be a gray textile panel embellished with the M.A.D. Edition logo.
But coming from MB&F, there’s naturally a surprise. Lifting the panel reveals that it is actually a travel pouch concealing a small UV flashlight (the spinning, triple-blade, dial-side rotor and hour/minute numerals have inlaid Super-LumiNova). Scanning the QR code with your phone takes you to a dedicated webpage where you can view/download the simple user manual and warranty.
The large steel folding buckle is nicely finished and well built. It exudes quality.
And the Miyota movement is nicely machine-finished with both anglage and Geneva waves.
But my favorite feature is the folding crown between the lugs at 12 o’clock. It makes winding and setting the time a real pleasure.
And while it’s not an MB&F Horological Machine, the M.A.D.1 shares common traits including the fact that it’s a machine that happens to tell the time rather than being a machine to tell the time. The M.A.D.1 is really a driver’s watch, the time easily and clearly visible on the case band while your hand is on the wheel.
Shortly after picking up my M.A.D.1, I was talking to a friend who is also an MB&F Friend. He told me that he had declined to buy one as he didn’t think he would wear it and thought that many who did so were likely buying just to flip it. While I’m not planning to flip mine, that did get me thinking: is flipping really a bad thing?
We’ve had had quite a bit of discussion on Quill & Pad about flipping (it usually comes up in the comments every time the Patek Philippe Nautilus is mentioned), and the general consensus seems to be that flipping is bad because those who want a particular watch can’t get it. Well not for what they feel is a reasonable price anyway.
But I suspect that a lot of the demand for hard-to-get new watches is often driven by people who want what they can’t have. That’s seems especially to be the case with Rolex as there’s no shortage of watches. Stores everywhere are packed full of seemingly indistinguishable Rolexes, but collectors moan because they can’t get that rare variation they so “desperately” want.
Patek Philippe’s policy of policing retailers to sell in-demand models at list prices when they could sell them for much more means that the stores reward their bigger spending clients with the opportunity of buying a model that will appreciate as soon as they buy it.
Most supercar brands do the same thing. We don’t complain when rare watches sell for record prices at auction; in fact we often celebrate that. Why is it different for new watches – is it just jealousy or envy?
If a loyal big-spending client, or Friend of MB&F, is rewarded by the brand with a watch that’s worth more than they paid, why shouldn’t they be able to guilt-free convert that into a financial reward by selling it on to somebody who will appreciate the watch more?
I for one will be keeping an eye out for the first M.A.D.1s to hit the secondary market and see how much they sell for.
And in reflecting on flipping, I came up with a very simple and fair way for brands to eliminate the practice. Plus it would eliminate most of the gray market for watches too. But that’s for my next article.
Likely differences between the M.A.D.1 Friends edition and the public production models to come
MB&F is a small brand making around 200 very upmarket, unusual watches per year. And that’s a full-time job for the small team. The concept behind the new M.A.D. brand is to offer interesting MB&F-style watches at a more affordable price. And that means producing them at scale, something the small MB&F team isn’t equipped to do.
While for the M.A.D.1 Friends Edition MB&F modified, assembled, regulated, and cased the watches, the production edition is likely to be simplified slightly to make production at scale more efficient to keep down costs. It will also be assembled by a company specialized in producing larger numbers of watches.
And the price is likely to be higher than for this first launch edition, which was offered at or below cost as a thank you rather than a commercial proposition. That said, it is still likely to be very reasonably priced.
There is still a lot of work to do in developing the production model and selecting good suppliers so when the watch will be available to the public isn’t yet known. However, if all goes well we may see it in the first half of 2022. So there’s time to start saving!
A marketing masterclass
The M.A.D.1 isn’t just a fantastic way for a small brand like MB&F to say thank you to the suppliers, key retailers, and collectors who enabled the brand to prosper and thrive, it’s also a marketing masterclass, albeit perhaps an accidental one. If a deliberate aim was to use guerrilla marketing to spread the word, then making available some press photos and a press release certainly would have helped.
Büsser has just launched a completely new brand (M.A.D.) with zero marketing: no press release, no fancy launch event. He didn’t even offer any watches that the public can buy. That sounds crazy, a sure recipe for disaster.
But what happens when you have a few people (like me) with a platform for reaching watch lovers around the world, feeling thankful? We write about it (as I’ve done here) and do Max’s marketing for him.
And what happens when you tell watch lovers that they can’t have a watch that they can afford? They want the watch even more.
The public edition of the M.A.D.1 will hopefully be available in the first half of next year. And I’ll bet that MB&F already has a long waiting list for a currently nonexistent watch that would be the envy of a large brand spending a fortune on marketing.
I tip my hat to the way MB&F has launched the M.A.D. 1 with gratitude in my heart and a smile on my face.
For more information, you will just have to wait. As the M.A.D.1 isn’t yet available, there’s no website, no press release, and no mention of it on the MB&F website. If you would like to register your interest in a production-model M.A.D.1., send an email to [email protected].
Quick Facts M.A.D.1 Friends Edition
Case: 42 x 18.8 mm, stainless steel
Movement: modified and inverted unidirectional automatic Miyota 821A (Citizen), 42-hour power reserve, 3 Hz/21,600 vph frequency, titanium and tungsten winding rotor
Functions: lateral hours and minutes on case band using two revolving aluminium rings with engraved numerals filled with Super-LumiNova
Strap and buckle: light gray calfskin strap, steel folding buckle
Price: 1,900 Swiss francs (excluding taxes)
Remark: exclusively offered to MB&F Friends and collectors (The Tribe)