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The Black Mystery

It is the pleasure to own something beautiful and bespoke that commands such a premium. MB Watches in France prides itself on this very fact…

It is the pleasure to own something beautiful and bespoke that commands such a premium. MB Watches in France prides itself on this very fact…

Some things don’t need colour to jazz them up. All they need is internal beauty to make them a force to reckon with. That’s exactly the motto of MB Watches, a unique brand making only custom watches on demand.

Everything at MB Watches, starting from their watches to their communication material, is only in black and white. Mr Mikael Bourgeois, the owner and creative brain behind the brand, understands that it’s the mechanism and technology in a watch that needs to resonate with the consumer. Rest all is circumstantial…

Time is precious. And when it is expressed by a custom made watch on the wrist, it becomes even more precious. It becomes a reminder of where you were and where you are at the current moment in life. Nothing better than an haute couture timepiece to excite that feeling… “We never look for something easy to make and this influences and gives a very distinctive signature to all our creations,” says Mr Bourgeois. 

It is imperative that we would love to know more about and understand the mysterious MB watches and the man behind it…

Veronique Poles: How did you get your true calling to become one of the top haute couture watchmakers?
Mikael Bourgeois: It happened by chance. Following my studies, my desires were limited to create and invent professionally. In 1999, with my father (who had been dismissed after 25 years of experience in a research and development company), we started our own R&D company, specialising in high precision engineering industry (Haute Horlogerie is a part of this specific sector). Hence, very quickly, I started working exclusively for the watchmaking sector. I was immediately fascinated and fell in love with the blend of traditional know-how, technology and aesthetics.

And then I got the chance to meet big names in the Haute Horlogerie sector. Those craftsmen, watchmakers and masters trusted me and encouraged me to forge ahead with my creativity.

VP: Can you tell us about your specific qualifications and professional experience, and how did you start?
MB: I haven’t studied specialized watchmaking or design. I attended general studies, then went further with higher technical studies in an engineering program in the fields of micro technology (watch making was part of it). I should say that what I know, I learnt it from the ground! Luckily, I had very strong fundamentals in technical skills. Hence it was just a matter of deepening it step by step to master the art of watchmaking later on. As for design, let’s say I have a lot of imagination and I know how to transcribe it in a technical product such as a watch.

VP: It’s a long way to become a watch craftsman. How many years does it take to become one of the best of them?
MB: It takes time! In fact, I was lucky enough to be independent and work for many famous brands, each one with their specific know-how, image and codes. Not to mention that I was always given the most delicate projects to work on. After 10 years as an independent watchmaker, I had designed nearly 300 models of high-end watches.  However, even today, I can spend days to find the solution to a problem. And to be honest with you, this is also what motivates me to always look further!

VP: Can you tell us which was the most memorable timepiece you originated while freelancing for 10 years?
MB: There were so many! But all this is confidential! Of course, in the Haute Horlogerie sector, everyone knows the watches I’ve worked on, but I’m not allowed to disclose information on them. Projects that made a mark on me were where I had to invent complex assemblies and which I continued to think about even in my sleep! And then there were watches with a lot of craftsman work, like engraving, the setting of precious stones, hand decorating the box and intricate details on the mechanical movement. Nowadays, these are the techniques on which I emphasize and concentrate on.

VP: You started your own brand ‘MB Watches’ in 2008 and as master watchmaker, you decided to design bespoke watches. What was the key factor that led you to this decision?
MB: There were two key factors that led me to create MB Watches. First of all the desire to offer the finest, the most perfect, the most finalized watches for people who share their dreams, tastes and desires with me. Also, there’s the passion, the desire, to keep alive the know-how and values of watchmaking. My greatest reward is when a client marvels at a mechanical movement or gets impressed discovering all the intricate details of his masterpiece.

And there was also a sad event (my father passed away) which made me realise that it was the right time for me to come out from obscurity, be on my own and bring my expertise to those who need their dreams to come true…

VP: What fascinates you about creating unique timepieces?
MB: The design, engineering design, prototypes, choice of colours and materials, manufacturing, decorating, finishing, assembling, adjusting and even the packaging! So many steps have to be implemented to finalise a masterpiece! The number of hours and the number of people that are a part of the process of developing a made-to-measure watch is incalculable. Everyone is deeply involved with his best to give birth to this haute couture watch…and I am endlessly fascinated!

VP: What is the most important to master an haute horlogerie timepiece?
MB: I have always emphasised on quality. To me, the meaning of creating an Haute Horlogerie timepiece is to make a watch that remains timelessly beautiful and is designed to live much longer than us.

VP: Your workshop is a laboratory of ideas and there is no limit. What is most stimulating and challenging?
MB: The pleasure of creating!
The joy of seeing a client getting a watch completely matching to his wishes!
And the fact that we never create the same watch twice!

VP: Can you share with us one of most awesome and outstanding dreams you made come true?
MB: The most beautiful request came from a man who just became a father wanted us to create a watch for his son, who was born a few hours earlier. In such projects, we forget the technical aspects, the calculations and theory. Suddenly, everything just becomes emotional. Wondering what that child will think about this watch in 18 years is my biggest question…
VP: What is an average budget to get a bespoke watch? What is so far the most expensive timepiece you have created?
MB: The average price for having a made-to-order watch is € 30,000. The most expensive masterpiece we have designed is the watch named ‘Vanity’, which is a part of my 2010 collection called ‘7Sins’, and is priced € 122,000. I should also mention another one which unfortunately did not happen. It was a bi-axial Tourbillion plus chronograph in a platinum box set with baguette diamonds, with an estimated of production time of 12 months, and priced at € 750,000.
VP: What drives collectors or enthusiasts to have a custom made timepiece?
MB: We live in a world where everyone follows trends and fashion statements. Nevertheless, many are back to the need of having a watch designed specially for them, like it was the case in the 19th century. Besides, in addition to the pleasure of having a timepiece that no one else will have in the world, there is also the satisfaction of giving  birth to your ‘guardian of time’, the pleasure of choosing even the most intricate details of it, the pleasure to know the ‘made in’ and quality origins, and above all, to have a personalized background on your watch as you know who designed and created it.

Nowadays, the watch sector is fragmented into two worlds. One is more ‘industrial’ and the other is the craftsmen world. The craftsman watchmaker is an artisan and an artist. He is the only one who can take care of stages where the industrial sector will never be able to be involved in: listening, offering excellence in quality and guaranteeing a watch which will always remain in perfect condition.

VP: What about new emerging markets and their demands?
MB: So far, MB Watches does not have many customers from the emerging markets. I do not understand why, because French luxury is an ideal for those countries. Maybe they prefer to indulge themselves with timepieces from better known brands?

VP: How do you get the best relationship and synergy with your customer to create the piece of their dreams?
MB: It’s not so complicated. Nowadays, when we start a project for a person who lives at the other side of the world, the main way to communicate is to use online medium. Basically, we are contacted by email. To be able to give a quote, we email back a short list of questions. This is the starting point. Of course, the best is to have direct contact. Some of our customers take opportunity of meeting us if they are travelling to France or Switzerland. Sometimes we travel and meet them at their place. When it comes to some countries where we don’t know the language, we come along with a team of interpreters.

At the stage of designing, we email the sketches to the customer. When everything is confirmed, we start processing the timepiece. Moreover, we are very pleased when our customers come to the workshop, and we unveil to them the different stages of the process. We always deliver the watch by hand. It is never couriered. Wherever the customer is in the world, we never ship an order. We have learned how to work in situations of long distances as we need to be in contact with our customers to be able to meet their expectations.

Our watches are serviced in our workshop only. Therefore, we keep a close relationship with our customers. We also keep them updated with events and exhibitions we are part of.

VP: You have also created your own collections. What inspired you to design your first collection ‘7 Sins’ (launched in 2010), followed by Thunderbird, a sober, elegant and timeless chronograph, unveiled recently (8 numbered pieces worldwide)?
MB: People often ask me where I find my inspiration, and I never know how to explain it. Often it begins with a theme or subject, and the way it will affect/touch me. Inspirations come from what I like, what appeals to me or from subjects on which I am questioning myself. Then from this step, it becomes a timepiece with its shapes/designs, functions and features. Each design has a meaning and a reason to be. The first sketches are drawn by hand. Then once I have a general design, I work on the computer and start designing in 3D.

Rest is less poetic and more technical. We have to take in consideration so many components for every stage – manufacturing, decorating, assembling and sealing.

VP: So far, you have mostly dabbled in the masculine arena. Do you plan to have a limited edition collection for women?
MB: Yes, I am working on a limited edition for women. This will be the 2012 limited collection. Also we have decided to launch every year a limited edition, always 10 pieces per set. And it’s not a man’s world! We also design masterpieces for ladies, and it happens that sometimes they are even more intricate than timepieces for men!

VP: What is luxury for you?
MB: Luxury is, above all, excellence and mastery of a product. In addition, in our case, it is also about the attention we spend to listening, which is a kind of service that goes beyond mere creation. Our creations come alive once they are on the wrist of our customers. We accompany our clients throughout their life and take care of maintenance, at any time. Thus, we are a privileged partner for our customers!

Véronique Polès is a freelance fashion and luxury consultant based in Mumbai, with more than 15 years of extensive experience with luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Givenchy and Waterman/Gillette Pen Company just to mention a few. Bespoke creations, however, are her first love. For LuxuryFacts, she unveils some of the best-kept secrets in the sphere of ‘word of mouth landmarks’ for connoisseurs of products with substance. They are greatest creations, made by artisans of excellence and guardians of tradition, who work with passion for details and quality to make your dreams come true.