While many high-end brands have always offered a certain amount of bespoke tailoring of timepieces for the discerning customer, this has usually been in the form of a specially painted dial, or an engraving. Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Montblanc have stunning examples of their custom work in their archives. In fact anyone lucky enough to tour the Montblanc Minerva workshops in Villeret, where the handcrafting and custom work is done, would be amazed to witness just how extensive the custom department is. It takes about two years for a customized watch to be made there, starting with a drawing and then executing the painting, carving, engraving or other bespoke method of personalizing the dial or caseback. As mentioned, Montblanc is not alone in its ability to work with special clients and create a single stunning timepiece. Other Haute Horlogerie brands have been working with customers to execute special requests for decades.
Because luxury is all about exclusivity, offering customers something no one else has at the high end of the spectrum is a pretty enticing concept.
Over time, this custom métiers d’art concept has evolved to the point where some brands even let customers select the strap color or material, and perhaps even the case metal. However, the concept is fast evolving now. In the past few years, thanks in part to technology and the internet, and in part to brands trying to offer customers that unique experience, several companies have developed and unveiled some pretty scintillating concepts of personalized and customized watches at the luxury level. In fact because luxury is all about exclusivity, offering customers something no one else has at the high end of the spectrum is a pretty enticing concept.
A "watch configurator"
Independent watch brand Armin Strom recently unveiled its Watch Configurator, giving customers the opportunity to create their own Armin Strom watch – basically from inside out. By using this cool new configurator – either in a retail store with the help of the staff, or in the comfort of your home on a computer, tablet or phone – you can customize everything from the movement, including choice of coloration for different movement components, to skeletonization options, dial, hands, markers, case material, straps and more. Using the Watch Configurator is easy and fun – almost like playing a game. You can choose what you want, go back, change your mind, choose again, as many times as you like until you hit the “order” button. Armin Strom is one of the few watch manufactures able to offer such a unique service, as it is one of the few with the ability to create a full watch movement under one roof. Additionally, because the brand is small and privately owned, it has more ability to react to these requests quickly. Once the watch is ready, the customer can pick it up at a local authorized retailer or can opt to visit the factory and collect it in person – receiving a factory tour along the way. The virtual reality build-your-own watch has pretty much come to avant-garde fruition with this ingenious Watch Configurator and Armin Strom’s technical prowess.
Also unveiled at Baselworld this year, Bulgari announced its Serpenti Twist concept of personalization. Using its beloved and iconic Serpenti watch as the model, Bulgari offers customers more than 300 variations by allowing them to choose the strap, dial and bezel. Dial choices include lacquer, mother of pearl, or sunburst guilloche in several colors. Bezels can be diamond-set or plain, and case choices are either steel or 18-karat gold. The strap options alone are dizzying, as the brand offers single and double-wrap leather straps in skins ranging from calf to karung (snake) and others. Colors are widely varied and run the gamut from those with natural pigments to vivid, bright hues to favorites such as black, white, red and brown. The best thing about the strap choices is that the straps can be interchanged thanks to a special system.
The Atelier Reverso
Another brand that offers fairly detailed customization – and has done so for just about a year and a half now – is Jaeger-LeCoultre. Revolving around the brand’s iconic Reverso watch collection, the brand unveiled the Atelier Reverso concept just over a year ago. The idea fast became a reality and is now in full swing, with customers designing their own watch in Jaeger-LeCoultre boutiques or online. Perhaps not as extensive as the Armin Strom Watch Configurator (movement component parts can’t be colored), the Atelier Reverso program lets customers select movement choices from the brand’s existing Reverso movement options, case sizes and materials, dials, hands, strap choices and more. This was no easy feat to achieve because Jaeger-LeCoultre had to cull through its extensive selection and decide which options to make available to the customer. Thus far, the brand has done a great job of offering enough options to make endless possibilities for both men and women. Additionally, the customer can order a special engraving as a further personalization.
Of course, all of this begs a question: does creating your own custom watch bring down the long-term inherent value (perhaps for future sale at auction) of the timepiece (because you selected the options, not the brand), or does it add to its value (because there is most likely only one of your watch in the world)? More importantly, when picking the watch of your dreams, does the long-term value even matter?