Men's Watches | Van der Postings

The dark art of watch customisation

Luxury timepieces strikingly redefined by George Bamford

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The dark art of watch customisation

January 25 2013
Lucia van der Post

Bamford watches are to be found on the wrists of some of the most powerful and influential people in the world, from heads of state to stars of stage and screen. Those blackened, customised Rolexes, Patek Philippes (Nautilus Chrono 5980 in first picture, from £25,000) and Audemars Piguets (Royal Oak Day Date in third picture, from £23,000) are immediately recognised by those in the know. They show that the wearer is part of an elite club whose members buy into the idea that, while they love the technical brilliance of the great brands, they’d like a personal touch on top, something that makes the watch their own. George Bamford is their man.

“I’m trying to inject personality into luxury brands,” he says. “Individuality used to be what they were all about. Bentley, Ferrari, couturiers, jewellers, all used to develop and adapt products to customers’ specific tastes. That’s what I’m trying to bring back.”

It all started when his father gave him a Rolex Daytona for his 18th birthday. “I thought it was the coolest thing, until I noticed that quite a few of the people I met had the identical watch. So I took a vintage Rolex GMT-Master and a Rolex Submariner, and I blackened the steel to make them look different. I did one for myself and one for my dad, but then friends wanted them, too, and soon the whole thing snowballed.”

Today, Bamford Watch Department takes high-quality steel sports watches from some of the world’s best-known brands and personalises them. Just as Brabus might customise a Mercedes-Benz, so Bamford will ensure that your Rolex or Audermars Piguet is like no other on the planet. Firstly, it uses a PVD coating to blacken the steel, which is what attracts most people in the first place, but then it might install a vintage dial or create one that reflects the new owner’s life or interests. For presidents he has put flags on the dials, while for others he has incorporated special colours or particular motifs.

Bamford began by buying vintage models, but these days he uses new watches – for instance, he has recently created five limited editions of the Rolex Milgauss (developed in 1956 for scientists and engineers, and so-called because it can withstand magnetic fields of up to 1,000 gauss). Each collection is customised differently, and prices range from £10,000 to £56,000 (example in second picture, £10,500).

Since the original warranties are no longer valid once a watch is altered, Bamford offers its own two-year guarantee, which includes all servicing. For a while the pieces were sold in the late, lamented Bamford & Sons shops; now they are stocked in some of the hippest boutiques in the world – including Dover Street Market in London, Colette in Paris and Maxfield in LA. If you want to commission your own design, you can do so via one of its stockists or make an appointment through the website to visit its London atelier.