Bamford Watch Department is the most influential brand in watch customization.
The beginnings of Bamford Watch Department
George Bamford has always been an avid collector of vintage cars and sports watches. He is particularly fond of sports chronographs such as the Breitling Navitimer, which started his passion for watchmaking. His collection also includes some rare pieces with rather quirky designs, such as an Heuer quartz watch with a digital display.
After being offered a Rolex Daytona for his 18th birthday, he went to a dinner party and found out that half of the guests were wearing the same watch. Looking for something more personal and exclusive, he asked the family business if there was a way to change the steel color on his Rolex, and as a result applied a DLC coating to his watch. DLC coatings have been used in various fields since the 1970s, but it was almost unheard of in the watch industry.
As he found out, applying a DLC coating on steel turned the watch totally black. While on holidays in the south of France, his black Rolex got a lot of attention and George came back to the UK with 25 orders. Bamford Watch Department was born.
The brand’s take off
George Bamford started off by working alone in a co-working space but soon had to hire a team to cope with the high demand for customized watches.
The company’s motto has always been the following: “if you can imagine it, we can create it for you”. From case coating to dial designs, every cosmetic modification is achievable. For example, Bamford Watch Department designed a bespoke dial for a client who wanted to match her watch to the exact color of her Chanel lipstick.
By customizing the most prestigious watch brands such as Rolex, Audermars Piguet or Patek Philippe, the Bamford name quickly took the world by storm.
Bamford Watch Department was also one of the first brands to design watches in partnership with artists or fashion houses. The company who does everything differently has made the interesting choice to use concept and luxury department stores as retailers.
It’s no secret that the world of watchmaking is inherently conservative. Even today, a lot of watch enthusiasts think (rightly or wrongly) that customizing a watch is nothing short of a sacrilege. This opinion was shared by Rolex, which consistently refuses to provide any kind of after-sales service for Bamford watches.
While most manufacturers have always made ultra-high end bespoke watches, many have recently developed customization programs for their more affordable models. For example, the Richemont Group created in 2018 the brand “Baume”, selling exclusively personalized watches.
The success of the Bamford Watch Department was not lost on Jean Claude Biver, who was in charge of LVMH’s watchmaking division until very recently. Thanks to him, Bamford Watch Department has signed a partnership with the group and became the official “customizer” of TAG Heuer, Zenith and Bulgari since 2017.
As a result, watch manufacturers are now sending their watches directly to Bamford Watch Department, who take care of the customization without voiding the warranty. This “official” recognition undoubtedly confirms the brand’s know-how and ensures its leading position in the field of watch customization.
“The Hive”, a headquarter like no other
The company’s headquarters, a five-storey house nicknamed “The Hive”, is located at the heart of London’s upscale Mayfair. Nothing distinguishes this building from the others except for a black door handle in the shape of a watch crown.
The company’s premises fit entirely into the brand’s philosophy, and could undoubtedly be used as a set for the next James Bond movie. As secure as a bunker, the house includes two rooms designed to welcome customers and also offices and workshops where the watchmakers work.
The decor has been chosen with great care and reflects the passions of George Bamford. Among other things, there is a beautiful collection of clocks and vintage chronographs on the walls, a library filled with books about watchmaking and several references to the automotive world. In short, it is an ideal place to discover the watches made by the brand, or creating a watch with the help of Bamford’s designer’s team.
Customer care is one of Bamford Watch Department’s strong characteristics. The Bamford team is very easy to reach and friendly in its approach to watchmaking, without prejudice or snobbery of any kind.
DLC coating, at the heart of Bamford expertise
DLC coating or “Diamond Like Carbon” involves applying a specific type of carbon to the watch and cooling it very quickly in order to make the coating stick to the steel. DLC coating improves the hardness and abrasion resistance of a piece. For example, it is regularly applied on drill bits, bearings and race car engines. Of course, all DLC treatments are not created equal, both in terms of rendering and longevity. The brand has been working in partnership with a company specialized in DLC coating since its inception.
Bamford Watch Department owns two proprietary technologies, “MGTC” and “GPC”. The MGTC (Military Grade Titanium Coating) allows you to choose between a matte black and a gloss black finish. GPC (Graphite Particle Coating) adds color pigments such as light gray. The rendering of the GPC is very interesting because it removes the shiny side of steel and offers a unique texture to the touch.
Bamford Watch Department provides a 5-year guarantee on all DLC coatings.
Bamford watches in 2018
Bamford Watch Department offers four major types of watches.
The most accessible are the Bamford Mayfair and GMT, made under the Bamford London brand.
The Bamford Mayfair was originally a replacement loaned to the brand’s customers while their watches were being serviced. After loaning, a lot of customers wanted to keep the Mayfair and the idea of selling it quickly became apparent. Inspired by vintage diving watches, it features an asymmetrical 40mm case, a sapphire crystal and the brand’s own MGTC coating. Waterproof to 100m, the watch is powered by a Miyota quartz movement. Priced at 425 GBP, it’s a good choice for those who are into the Bamford look and looking for a watch that can be worn every day without fear of damage. Three limited editions of the Bamford Mayfair created in partnership with The Peanuts Global Artist Collective are also available for sale. The dials representing the iconic Peanuts characters were imagined by Mr. A, Kenny Scharf and FriendsWithYou.
Earlier this week, Bamford released the GMT.
This mechanical watch is powered by a Sellita movement with a 42 hours power reserve. Its 40mm cushion shaped case is inspired by the 1970s. The GMT function is very legible, which is really important for a travel watch. The GMT is available in 5 different colors variations, including a limited black and yellow limited edition sold exclusively at Selfridges.
The customizable TAG Heuer, Zenith and Bulgari watches can be found on the online configurator available here. Playing with the configurator allows you to try different renderings, going from something subtle to a flamboyant design.
The rendering of DLC coating creates the possibility to use very bright colors on the dial without compromising the end result. It’s not a coincidence that Bamford chose the “Bamford Aquablue”, a bright light blue, as a signature color for the brand.
If the online configurator is not enough, it is possible to go to the next level and personalize your watch directly with the designers of the brand. In order to do this, the best option is to make an appointment at the company’s headquarter which has specific tools to display the rendering of the watch in real time.
All kind of customization is achievable, and there are no limits but the client’s imagination. If Bamford Watch Department makes all kinds of cosmetic changes, the brand’s principle is never to alter the movement; whatever the type of customization, the mechanism remains untouched. The watch customization and delivery is usually completed in less than six weeks.
Finally, there are the limited editions developed by Bamford Watch Department in partnership with other brands. The most emblematic is without doubt the TAG Heuer Monaco Bamford, with its forged carbon case that was released last March.
More recently, the brand has created a limited edition Zenith Heritage 146 with the online store Mr Porter.
What about the future of Bamford Watch Department?
If Bamford Watch Department still divides opinions in the world of watchmaking, no one can deny that the company had anticipated before everyone else the customer’s appetite for personalization. Since its creation 15 years ago, Bamford Watch Department has managed to develop its know-how while staying true to its original philosophy.
Today, the brand remains the undisputed leader in the field of watch customization. With 20 employees, Bamford Watch Department keeps its options open and grows according to the opportunities that arise.
The company is very successful, especially in the American and Asian markets. Bamford’s clients have very different profiles but share the same common point: wanting to acquire a timepiece unique to them.
Some questions to George Bamford
What do you think about creativity and design in the watch industry?
I think the most creative time in the watch industry was in the late 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s and I feel that the inspiration that existed back then is coming around again. From looking at MB&F, the TAG Heuer Connected watch and the Zenith DEFY, you can see how design is the focus for the years ahead. The digital revolution is having a similar effect to the Quartz revolution in pushing designs forward.
What is your definition of luxury in 2018 ?
Time. Having time to relax and do the things you love and to clear your life of things that can take your time away.
What kind of customer experience are you providing at Bamford Watch Department?
A personal one focused on individuality. We love spending time with our clients in our HQ which is nicknamed The Hive. We have a team of designers who are available to design with clients and really explore the different options. We have a phrase which is ‘If you can imagine it, we can create it’ and we always love a challenge and when someone asks us for something a little unusual.
Are you inspired by “new” materials (such as carbon, ceramic, aeronith) and innovative technologies ?
Yes definitely I think the development of new materials has really helped the future of the watch industry. Light-weight and special gold alloys, like those developed by Hublot, really push the boundaries and of course inspire me every day.
Where do you see Bamford Watch Department and the watchmaking industry in the future?
Personalisation and the watch industry is becoming more hand in hand nowadays and you can see it in a number of brands who are personalising straps, cases and dials. The relationship TAG Heuer and Zenith have with us is trail blazing the future of the watch industry.
What do you think about women’s watches and their taste for personalization?
I think women’s watches is an untapped market and I think personalization is one of the key ways to tap into it.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have got some great new projects coming up with some amazing brands. For me my biggest highlight this year has been our first official in-house built collaboration watch with TAG Heuer. We designed a brand-new interpretation of the iconic Monaco with a solid carbon case, an elegant full black dial and signature Bamford aqua blue accents. The case is incredibly lightweight and it comes on a great black alligator leather strap. It was an amazing experience to launch this limited edition watch with TAG Heuer at Baselworld.
Thank you very much for your answers and for welcoming me.
For more information : bamfordwatchdepartment.com