Swellboy on… customised watches

The watch and gun industries could make sweet music together

Image: Brijesh Patel

I have been asked to interview Roger Moore before an audience at a dinner in Geneva hosted by legendary Christie’s watch auctioneer Aurel Bacs and his chairman David “the hardest working man in royalty” Linley. Christie’s in Geneva will auction a blackened Rolex created for the legendary actor and longest-serving 007, with proceeds to go to Unicef, of which Sir Roger is an ambassador. Apparently I was asked to do the honours – and it is an honour – because I know a bit about watches; a long time ago I edited and wrote a few chapters of a book about James Bond; and I have a dinner jacket that fits. It appears that my expensive education was not wasted after all.

Provided I do not make too much of a hash of it, I will tell you about it in due course.

Anyway, it just goes to show how far the after-market customisation of Rolexes has come. I first became aware of what is now a market sector of its own a few years ago when George Bamford started offering blackened Rolexes. The other operators are Pro-Hunter, which is predicated on a macho Ernest Hemingway persona, and Project X, which designed the Moore Rolex that will be auctioned in Geneva.

What interests me about George’s watches is that he is constantly looking for new techniques and inspirations; he has worked with the sort of Japanese designers that I have never heard of but who are incredibly important to people who dress in selvage denim and plimsolls, and funky-sounding artists in California. And then, just as I think I have got a handle on where he is going, he surprises me again.


The other day he invited me over to his new HQ and showed me a watch over which I literally went nuts. He had asked a gun engraver to get to work on the case of a Rolex and the results were astounding. It is difficult to explain the look, but with its foliate and memento mori engraving, it was halfway between Guns N’ Roses and Edward Fox in The Shooting Party, only in black and on a watch. I told you it was hard to define.

This is not the first time I have seen gun engraving transferred to a watch; Purdey made a series of hunter-cased (ie, with lids) Panerais that were beautifully engraved, and years ago, while visiting Hublot in its pre-Jean-Claude Biver incarnation, I saw a gun engraver in the Brescia region working on a watch.

So all in all it is high time the gun industry started thinking about borrowing something from the trend for customised Rolexes. Besides, it would not be entirely without precedent – after all, I remember hearing that during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Purdey was in the habit of sending guns out “in the black”, ie unengraved and not case hardened. It was originally anticipated that the customers would return the gun at the end of the season, to be finished and engraved. Purdey’s records tell of many guns that went out “in the black”, including one built for the ultimate game shot of the Downton Abbey era, Lord Ripon, in 1894.

As is becoming customary in such cases, I have immediately hooked George up with Franco Beretta (for whom I really should be a non-executive director by now!) and look forward to seeing what they come up with.


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