EXCLUSIVE: You Have 999 Chances to Get MB&F’s Jean-Charles de Castelbajac Watch Collaboration

PARIS – The M.A.D. 1 “Time to Love” watch collaboration between Swiss watchmaker MB&F and Jean-Charles de Castelbajac came pretty close to not happening.

When Maximilian Büsser slid into the French designer’s DMs on Instagram two years ago, his first message went straight into the requests filter, where it stayed unread.

But, as for many things, the second time was the charm. “Three, four weeks later, I sent a second message asking to know if he’d at least read my first message,” said the founder and chief executive of the independent Swiss label. “And that’s when he replied and our conversation started.”

That digital ping-pong turned into an in-person meeting, which turned into a two-year process leading up to the Wednesday reveal of this timepiece featuring the designer’s colorful wings set on the triple-blade rotor.

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Maximilian Büsser.

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Maximilian Büsser.

Courtesy of MB&F.

For de Castelbajac, the watchmaker and the subject matter were irresistible. “I’ve always had this intuition and appropriation process that’s part of my appetite for collaborations,” said the French designer. “In Max’s universe, it’s very singular, in the details, in perfection and the first thing that struck me is [M.A.D. 1’s] resemblance to the gyroscopes of my childhood.”

In that, too, their universes dovetail together. “Twenty years ago, MB&F was a decision to create kinetic sculptures for the wrist that can give the time,” noted Büsser. “The baseline for MB&F is that a creative adult is a child who survived and to me, Jean-Charles is absolutely the incarnation of this, a creativity that never stops.”

Büsser felt this was a collaboration three decades in the making, ever since he bought a pair boardshorts from Iceberg, during de Castelbajac’s tenure as creative director there between 1976 and 1987. “I thought I knew Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and for the first past year and a half, I’m discovering that I didn’t even know 10 percent of [him].”

While this is not de Castelbajac’s first time working on a timepiece – there were collaborations with Swatch and Seiko – he felt working on watches was a natural progression for any designer or artist.

“It’s a view on time and the more you advance in life, the more you have it. The only weapon we have against time is poetry and love,” he said, joking that if he had lived in the Middle Ages, he’d have worked on hourglasses.

As an antidote to his impression that we live in a moment where time feels more transient than ever, de Castelbajac went with the angels he’s been sketching for over four decades and which still pop up in chalk wherever he goes.

“I wanted to bring something of the spiritual,” the designer said. “I sketched something poetic to go against the idea of mechanical time, of mechanical perfection.”

And that brought complications, pun intended, for the MB&F team. To stick closely to the designer’s sketches, the wings were worked in volume, sculpted out of polymer, hand-painted and finished with silver details.

That alone added eight to 10 months to the process as the weight of the rotor blades and winding inertia had to be fine-tuned, explained Büsser. But two years after the first sketches, the M.A.D. 1 “Time to Love” is ready for its reveal.

A trio of wings, in primary blue, yellow and red, spin into a rainbow blur that reveals a poetic message on guarding one’s time. Hours and minutes are read on the side of the case, with indices also in the designer’s writing.

On the crown is engraved a profile with a moon, another de Castelbajac doodle that this time chalked on Büsser’s office window. Finishing off the design is an embroidered watchband, another touch brought on by de Castelbajac’s handwork.  

The MB&F M.A.D. 1 collaboration with Jean-Charles de Castelbajac taps into the designer's sketches and handwriting.

The watch’s crown features another sketch by the French designer.

Courtesy of MB&F.

Congruent with the M.A.D. 1 ethos, the watch won’t just be dropped online for sale. Instead, a lottery opened Wednesday for two weeks. Would-be customers can register for a chance to win one of the 999 purchasing codes.

Not only does Büsser find drops unbearable as a consumer, but he wanted a sense of fairness in the process, particularly given the more accessible 3,200 Swiss francs, or $3,522, pricing of this edition.

“It’s something that’s been with us for 19 years,” said Büsser, who launched the M.A.D. Edition line as a way to make the MB&F world more accessible than its usual five-figure price range. “And let’s be clear, for the first 15 years, we didn’t know what a wait list was.”

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