MAD gallery

Off-the-wall mechanical art and avant-garde horology are the creative cogs of this gallery-cum-watch shop in Geneva

Maximilian Büsser 
Maximilian Büsser  | Image: Anoush Abrar

There can’t be many watch shops in the world where you can also pick up a miniature air-powered engine, a mechanical clapping machine or a futuristic-looking guitar – in fact, there’s probably only one: MB&F’s MAD Gallery in Geneva.

'HB12 Big Power Station' hot-air Stirling engine by Böhm-Stirling, about £217
'HB12 Big Power Station' hot-air Stirling engine by Böhm-Stirling, about £217 | Image: Anoush Abrar

MB&F stands for Maximilian Büsser & Friends and refers to the off-the‑wall watch brand that was established in 2005 by Büsser, the former managing director of Harry Winston Rare Timepieces.

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From the outset, MB&F has collaborated with imaginative designers to craft remarkable-looking “horological machines” in which the timekeeping function plays second fiddle to the aim of pushing the watchmaking envelope. The brand’s unique creations have achieved a cult following among fans of avant-garde horology, and have rewritten the rules of mechanical watchmaking.

AF-1 Ford Model T car with hot-air Stirling engine by Böhm-Stirling, about £381
AF-1 Ford Model T car with hot-air Stirling engine by Böhm-Stirling, about £381 | Image: Anoush Abrar

MB&F watches are now retailed all over the world, but it was not until the end of 2011 that Büsser opened the brand’s first gallery. Naturally, it had to be unlike any other watch shop.

A1 Stirling car with hot-air Stirling engine by Böhm-Stirling, about £327
A1 Stirling car with hot-air Stirling engine by Böhm-Stirling, about £327 | Image: Anoush Abrar

“At the time, we had 20 retailers internationally and it was clearly time to open our own premises,” says Büsser. “But it didn’t make sense for it to be solely dedicated to our watches, because they’re such niche pieces. So we decided to make it a gallery linked to mechanics, time and movement, in which we’d display and sell the work of artists from all corners of the globe alongside our own pieces.”

'Fingers MK III' animated hand by Nik Ramage for Laikingland, about £644
'Fingers MK III' animated hand by Nik Ramage for Laikingland, about £644 | Image: Anoush Abrar

As well as being an attention-grabbing name in the literal sense, the “MAD” title is also an acronym for the type of objects that the gallery focuses on: mechanical art devices. The aforementioned miniature engines, for example, are built by German engineer Hermann Böhm and based on the original hot-air motor, patented in 1816. These exquisitely made desktop engines come in various designs, such as the HB12 Big Power Station (SFr320, about £217) and have now been incorporated into a range of self-propelled cars (from about £276).

Rhodium Prodigy Birdfish electric guitar by Ulrich Teuffel, about £12,706
Rhodium Prodigy Birdfish electric guitar by Ulrich Teuffel, about £12,706 | Image: Anoush Abrar

The gallery also displays the creations of Japanese “art motorcycle” builder Chicara Nagata, who spends up to 15 years hand-finishing his one-off machines, which are based around reworked vintage engines and cost between about £112,000 and £274,000.

Chicara Art 5 motorcycle by Chicara Nagata, built around a 1954 Harley-Davidson engine, about £112,352
Chicara Art 5 motorcycle by Chicara Nagata, built around a 1954 Harley-Davidson engine, about £112,352 | Image: Anoush Abrar

The Rhodium Prodigy Birdfish (about £12,706), meanwhile, is an electric guitar like no other. Said to be one of the best-sounding instruments of its type, its minimal design is the creation of Ulrich Teuffel, whose guitars are used by rock stars such as Kirk Hammet of Metallica and Billy Gibbons.

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Alongside these finds, a trip to the gallery might also yield Jake Dyson’s ingenious uplighters with telescopically adjusted beams, the gravity-defying “swinging sticks” executive toys that appear to achieve perpetual motion, or Nik Ramage’s quirky animated sculpture, Fingers MK III (about £644) – a cast of the artist’s hand that is created from black iron and can be made to impatiently tap its digits by way of a clockwork motor. It might just be the ultimate trinket for the (intolerant) man who has everything.

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