M.A.D.1 Red Owner’s Review: The Spirit of Something Greater and the Most Affordable Horological Machine by Maximilian Büsser (Plus Videos)
I never thought I would own an MB&F watch in my life. Technically, I still don’t. I could work to save up and eventually buy one if I didn’t want a house and my own workshop, or a retirement account, but it is hard to imagine that I would make that choice. It is indeed a lot of money, but for good reasons.
MB&F has been one of my absolute favorite watchmakers ever since I learned about them back in college, somewhere around the HM2. In those days, I was only dipping my toe into the watch world, and yet it was clear that this was a brand after my own heart, doing things very differently and creating functional art.
The fact that it was called a “Horological Machine” was all I needed to know that MB&F understood exactly what I was looking for.
Nobody at MB&F knew me (and I knew nobody in the industry), and in my mind, I was never, ever likely see an MB&F watch in person because, holy cow!, they were awesome, expensive, and very limited.
As a student living on cereal, pizza, and a daily trip to the campus cafeteria, the idea of owning or even handling watches that cost a couple thousand dollars was way out there, let alone ones costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Little did I know that a short five years later not only would I be playing with a couple of MB&F’s latest models, but I would also be making a connection with the incredible people that work with the brand.
It all began with Charris Yadigaroglu, an excellent representation of the people at MB&F – kind, warm, welcoming, and passionate. He didn’t know that I was just a kid way out of my comfort zone, he saw a passionate fan that wanted to talk watches, and handed me an HM3 Megawind and we chatted about their iconic battle ax rotor.
At the time, I thought I was the luckiest person at Baseworld, only later did I understand that it was just who Charris and the rest of MB&F was.
I visited MB&F every year at the fairs until the pandemic hit and was absent from Switzerland for over two years. But then the next time I saw Charris, Max, and the rest of the gang, it was as if I had seen them the previous week.
This was also shortly after the brand disrupted the entire industry by releasing a watch that was unobtainable for anyone other than people chosen by the brand (the Friends and the Tribe) and cost less than two months’ rent.
The M.A.D.1 Surprise
To say the M.A.D.1 excited me and caused a great longing is an understatement. The watch changed my entire idea of what the future could hold. But there were a couple of catches.
First, I was not a member of the Tribe, in other words, an owner of an MB&F watch, and I was not one of the Friends as I did not work with MB&F. My colleagues were Friends and both had the opportunity to purchase the original M.A.D.1 Friends Edition, but sadly I was not a part of that small club.
I understood, of course, that I did not have that relationship, but to be so close made me feel so far away. I wasn’t financially able to buy a regular MB&F watch, but I could have afforded this with a little saving, however, I thought that I would never get the chance.
Yet while visiting with MB&F at Geneva Watch Days there was talk of the enormous response and plans for a public release sometime the following year, and I knew I had a chance. What I was to find out later was that my colleagues had been so persistent in inquiring about the original M.A.D.1 Friends Edition on my behalf that when the public release for the M.A.D.1 Red dropped, they were on the list for the first batch offering.
Thanks to the relationships that I had built with Beth & Ian here at Quill & Pad, and with MB&F over the years, I was finally going to get a chance to own a piece of MB&F history!
Arrival & Debate
It took a few months for the M.A.D.1 Red to arrive at my door thanks to a special delivery from my editor during a trip back to the states, and it was entirely worth the wait. I had spent time with other’s original M.A.D.1 Friends Editions and knew what to expect but opening the box and unwrapping my very own M.A.D.1 Red was an awesome experience. It was also my first new watch in years, and it immediately became the most prized of my humble collection.
But in the year and a half since the original quietly debuted, I’ve debated with myself about how to precisely classify this watch in relation to MB&F. It lacks any specific MB&F branding but features the iconic MB&F battle ax rotor, battle ax imagery on the crown (like MB&F pieces), and is a watch that comes partially from the workshops of MB&F.
It is very easy to argue that the watch is not an MB&F watch since it is branded with the logo of the M.A.D.Gallery and not MB&F, and it clearly is not an ultra-luxury watch.
It is also true that the letters of the M.A.D.1 refer to “Mechanical Art Machines” from the M.A.D.Gallery, but the stores are essentially MB&F boutiques just by another name, all part of the same Maximilian Büsser & Friends concept.
Yet, since Max Büsser is the “MB” part of MB&F, and this watch was designed by him and bears his name on the rear of the case, it clearly is a watch that was made by Maximilian Büsser and his Friends.
So, by all practical measures, to me it is an MB&F watch that lacks the name and the expense to turn it into a fully luxury watch. You might say that the M.A.D.1 is to MB&F what Volkswagen is to Porsche.
For many, this is enough to dismiss it as anything other than an affordable side project that isn’t related, but for me and many others, it is an MB&F watch for a non-MB&F price. The case is wild, but closer to a normal case than the Horological Machines, while the display is perfectly in line with something you would see from an MB&F HM piece.
A giant box crystal with twin cylinders displaying the time peripherally sounds exactly like something you’d expect from the new HM13.
M.A.D.1 features the free-spinning battle ax rotor on an inverted movement like the HM3 and HM8, and what barely passes for a case makes the watch look like it’s floating over top of the deeply chamfered lugs. In fact, the bezel sort of floats on the top of the box crystal, keeping the two stainless steel sections of the case completely separated by perfectly smooth, uninterrupted mineral glass.
Even many of the crazy sapphire cases have screws going through them to hold everything together, but this extremely affordable (by MB&F standards) watch has a pristine view around the entire circumference of the watch. The style comes down to presence, the same x-factor that makes an MB&F watch what it is makes M.A.D.1 Red stand out on the wrist.
People that see it on my wrist call it wild and crazy, and more than a few have laughed in disbelief when I tell them how to read the time. Out of all of the watches I have worn out in the real world (where you aren’t surrounded by watch nerds), the M.A.D.1 has received more comments and questions than any other.
I’ve had plenty of people compliment other watches, but nobody showed as much interest as with the M.A.D.1, especially in understanding what they are seeing.
The first thing that attracts almost everyone to the watch is the battle ax winding rotor, as it should. Just like the HM3 and HM8, the M.A.D.1 Red puts the spectacle on a pedestal and watch lovers and watch haters can’t help but be transfixed by the rotor spinning wildly on your wrist. Some have called this a fidget spinner for adults (as if no adults ever bought a fidget spinner, but I digress) and that isn’t entirely untrue.
Justifying personal enjoyment
Let’s say you have no idea who or what MB&F is, and don’t care about watches in general. You can still find this watch fun and interesting because it entertains you, and I see nothing wrong with that.
Is the M.A.D.1 Red my perfect everyday watch, the only watch I ever need to own because it does everything? No, nor is pretty much every Horological Machine made by MB&F, but that isn’t why people like them.
The M.A.D.1 is for people that like watches, like mechanics, like design and aesthetics, and like to keep things from getting too serious. You have to understand what you are getting with this watch. It’s a massively tall 18.8mm of steel and glass that tells time in a less than intuitive way and it sports a very affordable Miyota 821A movement that is relatively affordable and solidly reliable. That decision allows Max Büsser and his team to push the design further on the other aspects while still keeping the watch accessible.
Any person who works in manufacturing or product development knows that costs are often the main killer of creative or innovative ideas. I can’t even count the number of times that I, or someone I work, with has come up with something truly interesting and game-changing, only to be told that it kills the budget and so the idea has to be dropped, regardless of how great or interesting the design was.
It could be argued that a watch with a Miyota movement is never worth more than a few hundred bucks, but that person would be ignoring literally everything else in the watch. A deep mineral glass box crystal is not cheaper than a plain, domed sapphire crystal, and a case that requires atypical machining and custom fixtures for finishing is more expensive than a plain, Flieger-style case.
Details are important
Custom rotors are not super expensive, but one with the detail of the battle ax rotor will be more expensive than average. The finishing on it is mostly machine made with machined bevels with no internal corners, but the result is still visually stunning.
But most clearly, the twin anodized aluminum cylinders for the hours and minutes, each bearing fully etched and lume filled numerals, are clearly a cost driver as the weight and delicateness of such a component fundamentally makes them a special-order part.
I’ve looked at thousands of watches at all different price points by this point, and you start to understand where cost plays a role in pricing and design choices. Special finishes, special components, parts that are not very simple to make, all drive up costs fast.
Looking at the M.A.D.1, it is pretty obvious that it is far from standard in nearly every respect. The construction and design make this a watch that could easily be priced at five times what it retails for, all because of the components involved.
For interesting watches built off base calibers, the movement cost is hardly ever the retail price driver, the modification, finishing, and custom components are what make the whole. It would be difficult for many small brands or microbrands to drop a watch like the M.A.D.1 for the price Max Büsser did because they aren’t used to creating incredibly atypical designs, but Max knows how to optimize aesthetics to fit within production capabilities.
The reason MB&F watches cost so much is because the movements, finishing, and case components are all dramatically more complex and much more limited in production, but the same considerations apply.
As someone that works in product development, loves mechanics, design, and creativity, the M.A.D.1 Red lights up all the right areas of my brain to fall head over heels for this watch, and its relation to Max Büsser and MB&F is enough to make it a grail watch. Does it compare with the ultra-expensive MB&F watches I’ve held over the years?
Yes, but it isn’t a 1:1 comparison, it’s relative. You know the people behind it, the passion behind it, the production limitations behind it, and the fact that it’s rare to be able to buy something from your favorite avant-garde ultra-luxury watchmaker for a price most could justify spending.
Max meant it from the bottom of his heart that he wanted to create something for those that adore his watches but aren’t millionaires and billionaires, which is effectively most watch-loving people.
I struggle with my love for watches that are egregiously expensive because I want to make such watches, but I know that it means the people I would want to make them for couldn’t afford them. Should Max (or I) never aspire to bring incredible ideas to life? No. But he also understands he should use his creativity and relative privilege in the industry to spread the love to all the WIS that want an MB&F but will never be able to acquire one for themselves.
The M.A.D.1 Red is not an MB&F watch, but it is about as close as you can semantically get while making sure you don’t have to sell your kidneys (please don’t sell your kidneys). I still hold that, barring some life-altering event or a very (very) generous work-for-trade agreement with MB&F, I will never own an MB&F watch. But I can find some peace now that I am lucky enough to have a M.A.D.1 Red, a watch that will never leave my collection until I die or gift it to a child.
It may not be the grail I imagined years ago, that unrequited love that never will be, but it is a watch that returns my love for MB&F to me in way I never expected but will graciously accept.
If, like me, you feel that this is the watch for you, the next raffle for the second batch of M.A.D.1 Red pieces runs until the 5th of March 5, 2023, and offers the opportunity to order one of the limited pieces available.
In the video above, Max Büsser explains how the M.A.D.1 Red lottery works.
For more information, please visit https://shop.madgallery.ch/products/m-a-d-1-red-raffle.
Quick Facts M.A.D.Editions M.A.D.1 Red
Case: 42 x 18.8 mm, stainless steel and mineral glass
Movement: inverted automatic Miyota 821A caliber, 60-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3Hz
Functions: Lateral hours and minutes
Limitation: Limited by production
Price: 2,900 CHF
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