July 14, 2022
by David Bredan
In today’s consumer world dominated by hype and branding, it’s impossible not to address the razzmatazz and fanfare as it comes. However, there always is a product lying behind all that, a product that either could possibly justify its asking price on its own, or not, based on its design and quality of execution. Whether said item succeeds at that is a fascinating subject that is often missing from discussions framed by desirability, limited availability, and stratospheric resale value. Behold, the M.A.D. 1 RED watch by MB&F’s Maximilian Büsser, a product that certainly brings not just the hype, but also that other fascinating point of discussion: Can such an outlandish watch be a good watch for $2,900? And for around $14,000?
Let’s clear this up, first. Legally speaking, no, it is not. Neither the watch nor its packaging says MB&F anywhere. Technically, however, in a way, it is an MB&F, because a lot of its popularity and desirability comes from the fact that it was designed and promoted by the man who founded MB&F: Maximilian Büsser. It’s hard to think anyone cares about the watch not saying MB&F anywhere: Everybody, even those only remotely into this scene of watches, will know that this is totally an MB&F creation, designed by the “MB” of the brand and sold and distributed by MB&F’s direct-to-customer network called the M.A.D. Gallery.
There were two ways to get your hands on an MB&F M.A.D. 1 RED watch. You either saw the blue, non-retail version that came before it — a piece that was available exclusively to long-term friends and partners of the brand as a “thank you piece” — and you wrote to MB&F expressing your interest in having one. Their reply almost certainly was, “Sorry, you can’t have one,” but once the RED became a thing, the company did reach out to these die-hard fans and gave them the chance to purchase a RED. The second way to get one was to miss out on the proactive email thing and enter a raffle.
According to the brand, some 25,000 raffle entries have been made, get this, not to win a watch, but to win the chance to buy one at its full retail price.
Exact production numbers are unknown, but a fraction of these applicants were given the option to pull the trigger on one of these and purchase them directly from MB&F, which has, in fact, opened up a third way to get an MB&F M.A.D. 1 RED watch: to buy one second-hand for between $12,000 and $15,000. (Prices are yet to settle, but that’s the range we have been seeing these advertised for.)
It’s simply the first opportunity in the brand’s 15 years of existence — its Horological Machine 1 debuted in 2007, and the company was established in 2005 — to buy an inspired MB&F design for a low four-figure sum, as opposed to saving up for one of the relatively more affordable MB&F watches, like the LM 101, which marks an entry point into the brand with a price tag of around $56,000. Over the years, Max Büsser and MB&F have given an incredible variety of reasons for watch enthusiasts to fall in love with their brand and the scarcely matched creativity on which it is built. We have seen absolutely outrageous timepieces inspired by fighter planes, like the HM4, ones that looked like an owl, and also vintage-inspired pieces that looked like they were conceived by a reincarnation of the great Louis-Abraham Breguet and Jules Verne, like this incredible, hand-engraved, split-escapement Legacy Machine.
We watch lovers have been conditioned by MB&F most gloriously, by being bombarded with off-limit watch designs and mechanical movements, delivered with exemplary consistency. Year after year, and after a while even more frequently than that, we’d see a new Horological Machine or Legacy Machine, sometimes with new dials and colors, and sometimes with impossibly novel concepts. Sure, it’s probably impossible to like all of them, but one way or another, we watch enthusiasts have certainly been awed, or at least entertained, by MB&F for the better part of a decade now. And that, as well as its open approach to transparency and down-to-earth style of communication, have firmly placed Max Büsser’s company near the top of our wishlist of watches.
This, in essence, should help explain the hype. In stark contrast with its shaky beginnings — having been on the brink of bankruptcy and extinction a few times early on — the MB&F of today is a well-known and established name that people trust, even if they have never spent a penny with the brand. Over this time, others have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sometimes even more, and they are usually not the type of customer who’ll hesitate to ditch a brand if they are not taken care of properly or if the quality is consistently bad.
Mix this level of trust with that aforementioned level of enticement, and what you have is a flock of customers-to-be, ready to buy once something becomes available that is affordable to them. Add to this the fact that the M.A.D. 1 RED is the first-ever opportunity for all these masses to get their hands on an MB&F creation without having to mortgage their home or sell an organ they hope they won’t need any time soon, and you land with 25,000 entries, all eager to be given to chance to get an MB&F creation – again, at full retail price. This should explain the hype around the M.A.D. 1 RED.
The front of the M.A.D. 1, as is fitting for the name, is completely absent from any indication, other than the balance wheel beating away, that you can take as an indication of your watch still being operational. Much like on so-called “driver’s watches,” the time is displayed in the side profile of the case, specifically between the lower two lugs. Hours are on a black disc while minutes are on an anodized red aluminum ring just below it, with a lumed and, in fact, rather nicely made triangular marker pointing at the actual time. The marker is on the outside, carried by an extension of the caseback — an elegant solution compared to simply putting a sticker or a glued marker on the outside of the crystal.
It’s taken all of 10 times to read the time before it became instinctive and while some of the to-the-minute legibility has been sacrificed through the absence of individual minute markers, telling time from the M.A.D. 1 RED isn’t bad at all. The rings are rather large and that gives plenty of room between the 5-minute markers — with so much space in between them, it’s easy to estimate whether it’s 10:12, 10:13, or 10:14, for example. And if you miss your tram because you couldn’t read the time accurately enough, you can just play with that huge “blade rotor” until the next one comes!
Apropos of the triple-blade, hardcore fans of MB&F will recognize it from the first-ever creation of the brand, the HM1 or Horological Machine 1. It’s one of those trademark MB&F visual elements that has, from the start, symbolized Büsser’s approach to watchmaking and watch design: fearlessly demolishing established “rules” and the design etiquette of luxury watches by giving way to his inner child’s creativity. To have it displayed so prominently and in such an unusual location winding — rotors are usually exhibited through the back of the case, if at all — is another nod not just to MB&F’s incredible story, but also to those fans who have been along for the ride.
Because the Miyota 821A movement of the M.A.D. 1 RED is equipped with a uni-directional self-winding system, the rotor loves to spin frantically in its clockwise direction, free from any load from the mainspring. It’s easy and fun to make it spin with the flick of the wrist, as the white and luminous parts blur into a continuous white line thanks to the immense rotational speed. Crafted from titanium and tungsten, it’s huge and heavy with tons of inertia that definitely plays a role in making it perform its high-rpm show. The movement runs at 3Hz and offers but offers an extended power reserve of 60 hours, thanks to a quiet update to the movement by Miyota. Its main feat, however, is that it can drive those two rather large discs for the time. A peek through the sapphire crystal caseback — which actually appears to be the same piece of sapphire that gives the side of the case — reveals a few spokes in red and black, connecting the discs with the movement. Given that the 821A isn’t a highly accurate movement (rated between -20 and +40 seconds by the honest Japanese), the potential drag of these discs and their consequent effect on accuracy will hardly be noticeable. The movement is secured by a dark gray plate that replaces the traditional movement rings found in, you know, traditional watches with traditionally mounted movements. Around it is a “cherry red” ring with M.A.D.1 written on it. Despite the entry-level movement, these bespoke and nicely made rings, the huge and luminous blade, and the beautifully made case all help the M.A.D. 1 exude quality.
The answer to both those questions is: It depends. For some, spending $2,900 on a watch without a full bracelet, proper water resistance, and a more modern movement in terms of power reserve and operating frequency, is unimaginable. No hype and no appreciation of one brand or another will deter them from “getting their money’s worth” in terms of cold specifications. However, once you have a more open mind to what an expensively made watch can be like and what it can deliver outside the established points of reference in watch performance, you’ll probably be happy to trade a run-of-the-mill, three-piece steel bracelet for a bespoke, part-sapphire case construction and a novel way of reading the time. And wow, are you in for a treat if you do!
The M.A.D. 1 RED is basically a sapphire crystal bowl that is beautifully smooth to the touch and complex in its execution. This sits in between four metal claws – these would be the lugs –, set under a mysteriously floating metal bezel and topped off with an upside-down movement and an enormous winding rotor like you’ve never seen before. There just aren’t that many (if any) watches out there in this segment that could boast such an outlandish description. Then, the whole thing is matched to a fantastic strap that’s soft calf leather on the inside and thick rubber on the outside, with red contrast stitching and easily the nicest clasp at this price point – but also pretty much anywhere under $15,000.
The whole thing looks like a computer-generated image of a watch that somehow became real. And that, achieved in this small production run, at this level of quality, and at this price point, is precisely the work of magic one can only expect to see from industry veterans like MB&F. To push a case maker, a sapphire-crystal producer, and even a strap and clasp supplier to this level, while keeping costs at bay, is one heck of an achievement and a testament to how Max Büsser and his team have learned to collaborate with specialized watch industry suppliers.
On the wrist, the 42mm-wide case wears with a level of comfort entirely unexpected from a watch shaped and sized like the M.A.D. 1 RED. How can a watch that is 18.8mm-thick wear so nicely? The trick lies in the geometry of the strap, case, and clasp. It’s a point we have made to many brands over the years and, without wishing to take credit for it, some of them have actually begun to focus more on the shape the watch takes on when the clasp is closed.
Here’s a trick for you if you wish to rather accurately assess the long-term wearing comfort of a watch you’re just handling for the first time. Put the watch on and set the length of the strap as is comfortable for you. Remove the watch, do up the strap and buckle, and look at the shape the watch takes up naturally. Far too many watches still try to return to what could best be described as a “U” shape, which is the exact opposite of the cross-section of the human wrist. Our wrists are flat on the top and the bottom, and not on the sides, like the letter “U.” For optimum wearing comfort, a watch should be a 90° rotated version of that, where it’s flat on the top (at the caseback) and at the bottom (by the clasp), with both straps following the curvature of the wrist, as opposed to squeezing against it.
Whether by chance or by thoughtful design, MB&F has nailed the shape of the M.A.D. 1 RED. It’s one of the most comfortable watches I’ve ever worn long-term. It goes to prove that just because a watch is of a novel design, it need not — and, in my opinion, should not — be uncomfortable. A watch that’s painful to wear is a terrible watch. And because so much of the 18.8mm thickness comes from the highly domed crystal, and since the watch sits securely against the wrist, the only thing to look out for when wearing the M.A.D. 1 RED watch is not to bang it against things too much.
The question stands because that’s where the MB&F M.A.D 1 RED watch has landed in terms of resale value. Given the low production number and the huge interest in owning the first four-figure priced MB&F watch, the race to the top has naturally begun. In fact, at the moment of drafting this review, prices on Chrono24 go all the way to $22,000, although the average is settled around $14,000-$15,000. That’s a ton of money for a watch with a Miyota movement, but then again, those early six-figure priced MB&F creations with their base Girard-Perregaux movements (found in watches sold for literally a tenth of the price of an MB&F) weren’t purchased and celebrated for their bespoke base caliber, either. And, as we have said countless times, for some, the enjoyment of luxury watch ownership comes not just from horological one-upmanship, but rather from the experience of actually wearing and interacting with the watch.
And the M.A.D. 1 RED is one super-interactive watch. Sure, for this sort of money, you can buy a nice chronograph and be pressing buttons all day, but the time display, the crazy rotor, and the various unique details in cold metal and smooth sapphire crystal make this a watch-wearing experience like few others. You see, even shelling out well over $10,000 is no guarantee for a lasting, unique, and fun experience, which is no surprise, really, when so much of the luxury watch industry is occupied with fighting on the battlegrounds of technical specifications, past-century achievements and, well, simply offering the same few styles of a watch in different flavors. Just think of the endless integrated steel bracelet watches, all the chronographs and dive watches – amazing products, a lot of them, but very few reach the levels of excitement and fun that the M.A.D 1 RED does. If you’re a fellow car enthusiast, you’ll know that the car world has a “smiles per gallon” way of looking at things. Apply that to watches, and you’ll surely see what I mean.
How well the M.A.D 1 RED will hold its value, especially if purchased for high teens, remains to be seen, but we certainly wouldn’t rank it as a super-safe bet. MB&F has confirmed on its website that, “Given the incredible demand and raffle registrations received (+25’000), we have decided to relaunch another batch of M.A.D.1 REDs for early next year. This new batch will be allocated on a raffle basis only. To ensure fairness, please refrain from contacting us asking for exceptions, as there won’t be any waitlist or special treatments.” Given the absolutely immense demand posed by the second-hand watch market, there is a chance that M.A.D. 1 RED values will remain high, but a larger quantity of new pieces made available or interest dying down might affect that. On the other hand, given that luxury watches from established brands remain as tame as they have been, five-figure resale prices for MB&F’s most affordable piece will remain the norm.
In conclusion, MB&F’s M.A.D. 1 RED never needed to say MB&F on it anywhere. We, watch lovers, all recognize it for what it is: An entirely unexpected chance to own a Maximilian Büsser creation for a fraction of the cost of your average Horological Machine or Legacy Machine. And, despite the lower price, we well and truly have not missed out on any of the fun and excitement. Although powered by a low-tier movement, the M.A.D. 1 RED offers a case, crystal, time display, and strap combination that would be easily worth $2,900 even without the MB&F connection. It’s tremendous fun and yet usable, comfortable, and easy to read — what more is there to ask for? Apparently, not much, not even for 14 grand. Keep following aBlogtoWatch and checking the MB&F M.A.D. Gallery website for more details on the next relatively affordable Max Büsser creation.