Rolex, whatever the model, Audemars Piguet and in particular its Royal Oak, the Nautilus from Patek Philippe, Ballon bleu by Cartier, not to mention others by Panerai, Jaeger-LeCoultre, TAG Heuer, IWC or Breitling, these icons now come in black, blue or grey, with coloured, redesigned dials and hands in different shades. Just don’t expect your local authorised retailer to have them on display. While personalisation of watches is nothing new – the very earliest timepieces were exceptionally rare and precious objects, produced at their owner’s request – over the past decade a new business has emerged customising series-produced models. Latest in line is Artisans de Genève, which launched this autumn. Somewhere between the desire to stand out and self-staging, this is a rising trend.
The need to be different
“I was so proud of my Rolex Daytona. Owning it made me feel I was someone special, someone different,” recalls George Bamford, who co-founded Bamford Watch Department in 2004. “Imagine my disappointment when I saw other guests at a dinner party wearing exactly the same watch.” Artisans de Genève, in its presentation video, is adamant: “Made-to-measure watchmaking is the future, the only real way to set oneself apart.” Today’s clients clearly feel drawn towards watches which, on the outside at least, have been personalised to their taste. Seen from a different angle, this trend could be a response to the success these iconic watches enjoy. What options are there to restore a sense of exclusivity to a watch sold thousands of times over worldwide?
Colour combinations and imagination
Bamford Watch Department in London, Artisans de Genève and Black-Out Concept, established in Geneva in 2007, all these companies are there to help customers satisfy this urge to stand out. “Our online simulator has registered up to twenty projects a day,” says Gregory Carinci, executive assistant at Black-Out Concept. “Not all of them led to orders, but demand is stepping up pace.” At Bamford Watch Department, in addition to personalisation requests and collections produced in collaboration with contemporary artists such as José Parla, the company also issues limited editions.
These specialised workshops propose surface treatments (PVD, DLC, plus an exclusive formula at Black-Out Concept) and various colour options for the different display elements. Customers can also add text, their initials for example, or artwork to their watch. Exterior and movement are covered by a minimum two-year warranty. As for pricing, Artisans de Genève charges in the region of EUR 1,200 for DLC coating, while a customised Rolex Sky-Dweller in white gold sells for EUR 54,000 at Bamford compared with EUR 39,000 in a store.
The brands whose watches receive this custom treatment take a matter-of-fact view. Provided the “spirit” of the watch is preserved, and changes are executed to the same standard of quality as the original, they generally have no objections. “I understand this need to own a unique product,” says Octavio Garcia, artistic director at Audemars Piguet. “These services have become more affordable too, although a model which has been modified automatically loses some of its value, not forgetting that the original warranty is no longer valid. Of course, all the major brands already propose a bespoke service should customers really express the wish.”
Be that as it may, George Bamford recently announced that two brands, both of whose watches pass through his workshops, had asked him to take the head of a new personalisation department. An offer he declined. To convince, these companies are especially attentive to customer relations, quality of execution, and service. For example, Bamford Watch Department receives its customers in a comfortable lounge, akin to a horological cabinet of curios, while Artisans de Genève concentrates on social media and uses digital communication to make itself known.