Customising your Rolex

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If you have $20K to spend on a Rolex watch you’ll be happy to know there’s people who can also customise it for you. Like the Bamford Watch Department. Watch expert Norman Burns explains.

Rolex is, indisputably, the world’s most famous luxury watch brand. Engineered to exacting standards, highly collectible and ultra-reliable, Rolex watches are aspirational time pieces — but they’re not exactly rare either. So when young British entrepreneur and Rolex fan George Bamford went to a function where everyone was sporting a Rolex, he got his thinking cap on.

Bamford’s journey as a watch “obsessive” began when he was given a second-hand Breitling Navitimer for his 16th birthday.

“It sparked my passion for collecting and I would visit and trade at flea markets in New York (where I was studying design) to get my hands on different types of watches to learn everything I could about them,” he says.

But when he was 18, his parents (who owned an engineering firm) presented him with his “dream watch” — a Rolex Daytona with a black dial and Zenith movement and that famous five-point crown logo created all those years ago by Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf.

“I was so proud of this watch — until I went to a dinner party and I realised that everyone was wearing the exact same watch as me. I felt defeated. It dawned on me that for a must-have item, it wasn’t rare and I didn’t feel special any more. It struck me how we live in a mass-market world and luxury is no longer true luxury and no longer personal,” says George.

So he got the germ of an idea to take a Rolex and “tweak” it so you have the best of both worlds — a superbly crafted, industry leading wristwatch but one with its own, unique, personal stamp. (Rolex doesn’t release any figures but it is widely believed the Swiss company makes from 750,000 to 1 million watches per year).

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What started out as an exercise in ensuring George’s watch stood out from the crowd soon took on a life of its own.

“I spoke with the design and engineering department at my family’s company and we found a process from the mining industry which was a DLC (Diamond Like Carbon) technique — an anti-friction lubrication system for drill parts. I tested it on a vintage Rolex GMT Master and Submariner, and I gave one to my father; both of us wore them over the summer. We got 25 orders from people we met and I realised that this was serious. The Bamford Watch Department was created,” he says.

Today, customers can either call in to Bamford Watch Department’s London office, one of its agents worldwide, or use an online “customise a watch” feature to create their own personalised Rolex, Panerai or Tag Heuer.

Prices start from around $15,300 (you have to purchase the watch through Bamford first).

Bamford can tweak dials, bezels, engrave straps or add special ultra-hard coatings using Military Grade Titanium or Graphite Particle Coatings.

“We’re very lucky to have clients who ask to push the boundaries and put our ‘if you can imagine it, we can create it’ motto to the test. I’ve matched someone’s exact horse racing colours on a dial and put a horse galloping around the dial on the second hand. Sometimes the simplest designs are best, such as changes on date wheels or matching preferred colours from racing silks to car colours. I’m often asked to put a client’s initials on the dial as it is a subtle change that makes that watch unique to that client,’’ says George.

Of course, anything that is done to a watch outside of the original brief is going to void the manufacturer’s warranty and the like.

“We provide a full five-year warranty which supersedes any manufacturer’s warranty; we also offer a lifetime guarantee on our enhanced coatings,” says George.

He adds: “I believe in personalisation and I hope I’m doing justice to the amazing products that I have loved for many, many years. I am an avid collector of Rolex watches as well as Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet. My inspiration stems from an absolute love of the brands. I love vintage dials, they have always inspired me as you look at the past and then create the future.”

For more information visit bamfordwatchdepartment.com

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