After market customisation has been around for some years now. Collectors and enthusiasts are no longer satisfied with a 'normal' Daytona, or a 'normal' 5711. It needs to be covered in diamonds or covered in PVD coating so they can stand out from the crowd. Some very clever people, not limited to the three I am going to talk about in this article, have realised this. They have decided to make businesses out of taking run of the mill watches and offering them in different trousers to the manufacturers standard offering. As you will see with the below examples, there are people who do this very well, and other people who should have their watch club membership revoked and should only be allowed to wear Daniel Wellingtons for the rest of their lives as punishment for the utter butchery that they try to sell to people. Yes I know that all of this is subjective and everyone is entitled to their opinion, it it just that in some instances people are just plain wrong.
Bamford Watch Department
Bamford Watch Department were very much the early adopters of this phenomenon. Bamford was started by Mr George Bamford. It is headquartered in Mayfair and was founded in the early 2000's. The story goes that Mr Bamford, having been gifted a Rolex Daytona for his 21st birthday, went out to dinner with a group of friends. Being obviously over the moon to be wearing HIS Daytona, he was excited to show it off to his group of mates. Upon arriving at the restaurant he was disheartened to find that everyone else in the group were wearing Daytona's. This meeting served as his 'apple falling on his head' moment. He realised that why should people have to only own configurations of watches that the manufacturer offer? Why could you not have a all black Daytona? Or a Zenith El Primero with diamonds on? This is how Bamford was born. Since it started, it has exploded. A few years into being up and running, the god of watches, Mr Jean Claude Biver approached Bamford with a partnership in mind. Due to the fact that he is not the biggest pillock to ever have lived, George grabbed the opportunity by the plums, and the duo have been collaborating ever since. The collaboration now includes the full range of LVMH brands, including Tag Heuer and Zenith, as well as Bulgari to name a few. Whilst some of the designs are certainly not my cup of tea, below are a few examples of their partnership that I would actually wear. Blacking out the watches and adding a splash of what is referred to as the 'Bamford Blue' seems to be their bread and butter, and whilst in a lot of instances I feel it misses the mark, these examples below I think are spot on!
Artisan De Geneve
Now, just to get it off my chest, I am not going to have a lot, well any, nice things to say about this next company. And there is one simple reason for this. I would rather be subjected to having tabasco funneled into my eyes than spend my hard earned cash on a watch from Artisan De Geneve. They take the king of watch companies, Rolex, and completely ruin them. It is funny that in the about section of their website, they say "Our craftsmanship is subtle and refined, delicate and elegant." then they produce some of the most horrible Rolex mods I have ever seen. And just to caveat this admittedly quite strong opinion, these guys are very creative and highly skilled, I will give them that. And whether their creations are more of a reflection on the clients who request them instead of their design values I do not know. It is also worth noting that there are a few tasteful projects that they have done, and that I quite like. However, unfortunately, 90% of their watches are horrible. Granted, some of them might tickle your pickle, but I cannot see the appeal. I completely appreciate that Rolex are the most conservative watch company in terms of design, and what Artisan De Geneve offer is a chance to maybe create the Rolex you would want them to release, which I think is brilliant. But if Artisan De Geneve think that their watches are what Rolex should make, they need to close their doors and go and and find a new business, because they clearly no nothing about the 'delicate and elegant' watchmaking they claim to produce. Below are a selection of their watches that made me throw up in my mouth the least, for your viewing displeasure. It is worth noting that I apologise for subjecting your eyes to these monstrosities, and parental guidance is advised.
If you have somehow managed to stem the blood flow from your eyeballs, I would like to now show you a company on the complete opposite end of the Rolex modding spectrum. As far as I am concerned these guys are the kippers knickers, and it is clear to me that they are watch nerds through and through, considering some of the things that they come up with. I am talking about a brand that has been on my radar for some years now, but maybe unfamiliar to some of you. Tempus Machina take modern Rolex models, and give them the look and feel of vintage models of years gone by. They currently have three options on their website, all of which are spectacular. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, all three are well and truly sold out. And frankly it is easy to see why. They offer a truly best-of-both-worlds scenario. Being able to purchase a modern submariner that looks like a 5513 and be able to treat it like a modern sub is frankly the dream. This is more the case with the modern bakelite 6542 GMT that they offer. Bakelite bezels are about as resilient as a chocolate teapot, and not being able to wear them for fear of the bezel breaking makes them somewhat redundant in my eyes. And this is where Tempus Machina step in! They take a modern GMT-Master II and give it a gilt dial, Bakelite style bezel and a custom small arrow GMT master hand, and voila! You have a tough, hard wearing GMT that looks like a 6542! The only slight drawback to these stunning Rolex's is that you need fairly deep pockets... Take the GMT for example. As I mentioned earlier the three watches they offer (pictured below) are all sold out, so the retail price is not visible. However they do say that they have to take a 50% deposit to secure your watch. And this deposit is $17,500. So you are paying 4x retail. Which, whilst being a hell of a lot, I think is totally worth if it you can afford it. These watches are awesome, and I would encourage you to check out their website if you haven't, and keep your eyes peeled for their next release whenever that maybe... These guys really know how to do Rolex modding, and the Artisan De Geneve's of the world should take a leaf out of their book.
So, there we have it! A brief insight into the world of customised watches. Some companies who get it spot on, and others who most definitely do not. For me Tempus Machina, despite having a limited catalogue that is completely sold out, are absolutely nailing it. I would wear any of their three offerings, in particular the 6542 homage, in a heartbeat. Whether they are planning to introduce some more watches, a Paul Newman tribute perhaps, I do not know. But for me these guys are the epitome of customisation. They truly offer the nerds what they want, and I want them.
Editor & Co-Founder
The Young Horologist