One of the good things about scions of the wealthy setting up their own businesses is that, having been used to the best, they usually want to produce the best. This is absolutely true of George Bamford (whose parents have their own highly regarded business empires) and his customised watches. He has a sharp eye for detail and you can rest assured that nothing leaves his Mayfair HQ until it is perfect – and then some. He tells of a client who was not entirely happy with the colour of his dial, but who pronounced the third attempt utterly perfect.
“That’s the satisfaction for me,” says Bamford. “My clients are my advertisers – if they’re not completely happy they won’t wear the watch, so we have to get it exactly right.”
A passionate collector of watches, and other boys’ toys including cars, he started in 2003 by turning sporty Rolex models, such as the Daytona or Submariner, black and adding high-tech case coatings and reimagined dials (first and second pictures), making just one or two of each model. If at first he was regarded with suspicion by the industry, now many brands, including those whose models he reworks, are influenced by his design ideas. He still does occasional non-customisable styles – the newest arrivals in mid-September are 3-6-9 Rolex Milgausses in matte military-grey or a taupe-graphite particulate coating with matching multi-layered dials, the centre one a glowing green luminescence under cut-out numerals – but his main aim now is a unique watch reflecting as much of the client’s personality as possible. A mathematician friend of Bamford has worked out that he could offer up to three trillion permutations, so “unique” is not a word that’s used lightly here. “The watch should tell the client’s story – that’s what makes it live,” he says.
The process for the client begins either online or, preferably, with an intense but enjoyable 90- minute meeting in his studio, a chic and comfortable sitting room in shades of dark grey, stacked with books about watches and a large model of Concorde in Bamford livery – wishful thinking? It’s masculine but not intimidatingly so; he has plenty of female clients, including the woman who helped create for her husband what has now become a popular design – the couple’s initials on the dial and a red heart in the date window.
Picking up on my liking for the green-glassed, blue-dialled Milgauss, Bamford conjures on an interactive screen a black honeycomb dial version with a black case, green details, my initials, minute markers and a signature lightning-bolt second hand in orange. If I give the go ahead, the order goes to the workshop upstairs, where all bought-in models are stripped and prepared for reassembly, with the case coating and dials done in the UK or Switzerland, depending on the requirements. Bamford also has a widening circle of craftsmen – from British gun engravers to Swiss ceramic experts – to fulfil his clients’ detailed demands, whether a uniquely coloured ceramic bezel, inlaid crest or a message in their own handwriting.
A watch normally takes around eight weeks to complete, costs from about £9,500 and comes with a five-year Bamford warranty on the watch and a lifetime coverage on the coating. The bulk of demand is for Rolex models, but other brands, including Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Panerai, get the treatment too – and New Yorkers will delight in the fact that he plans to open a studio in the Rockefeller Center this autumn.