Casting aside conformity for the custom-built, George Bamford has spent the last decade putting the ‘you’ back in luxury. In the wake of an industry-first agreement with LVMH, the king of customisation has now created a watch of his own, just in time for the festive season
It was at a dinner party that George Bamford realised that his beloved, black dial Daytona, given to him as an 18th birthday present – “yes, I’ll admit it, I was a brat back then” – was anything but unique.
Crestfallen, but determined to pursue something truly singular, George created two blackened watches; a Rolex Plexiglass Submariner and a Rolex GMT – one for himself and one for his father, JCB billionaire Lord Anthony Bamford (his mother, should you have failed to connect the dots, is Lady Bamford, founder of the Daylesford Organic Farmshops).
In 2004, his new timepiece strapped to his wrist, George embarked on a road trip around Italy. “I returned with orders for 25 more.” And lo, Bamford Watch Department was born. “We started by looking at companies that were doing a similar thing,” explains the 36-year-old from the Mayfair townhouse he’s subsequently converted into the world’s most well-resourced man den (it features a wall of vintage stop clocks and bespoke sculptures by Natxo Frisuelos). “There were two businesses in particular that inspired me. The first was Bentley and Mulliner, the independent coachbuilder that made bespoke bodies during the 1930s and 40s. The second was Nike, and what it was doing on a personalisation front. I thought ‘why can’t you do that with watches?’”
Bamford began blackening stainless steel models from the likes of Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Panerai – not, it must be said, always with the blessing of the brands themselves. Coating watches in military-grade PVD (physical vapour deposition), BWD created cases and bezels that were virtually scratch-proof and diamond hard. “My mentality was always ‘how can I make this individual? How can I make it feel special?’”
Bamford’s run at producing one-of-a-kind wrist candy for sports stars and his socialite chums continued until summer 2017, when the modification maverick announced he was changing tack. In June, BWD revealed an agreement with LVMH. Bamford’s had become the first customisation watch company to be officially authorised by a Swiss watchmaker. Rolex-Bamford watches are a thing no longer. Henceforth, the company will only be modifying watches belonging to the French luxury conglomerate.
“I’ve got an Omega Ploprof that makes me smile every time I put it on. I’ve got two or three vintage Cartier’s, pieces that I love beyond belief. I’ve got some great dual-dial Rolex’s, with Cartier or Tiffany & Co signed on the dial. I love Girard Perregaux, I like their SeaHawk watch."
So far, LVMH-owned Zenith has let Bamford loose on its Pilot Type 20 and Heritage Cronometro Tipo CP-2, the Swiss watchmaker guaranteeing warranties even after timepieces have been customised. Similar deals have been struck with LVMH stablemates TAG Heuer and Bulagri. The former has allowed George to tinker with its Autavia, Carrera and Monaco models; while the latter’s Octo Velocissimo, Octo Solotempo, Serpenti and Scuba watches are all now available for personalisation.
“The collaboration with LVMH is one of the most exciting and rewarding achievements we have accomplished as a business,” says Bamford. “To offer our take on these incredible timepieces from Zenith, TAG Heuer and Bulagri – I absolutely could not be happier.”
I first met George several years ago. Back then we had talked the revival of British watchmaking. He’d praised the protagonists of that story, in particular Bremont’s Giles and Nick English, and Giles Ellis at Schofield. I ventured that surely he must be harbouring ambitions of his own Bamford-branded watches?
“I would never produce my own watch unless it was absolutely right,” he had said. “It would have to be the right price, sit within the right market and allow for personalisation. The mechanical movement is also very important. I would want to have something that’s different, something that will make you would go ‘wow, you’ve combined that with that!’”
Grand plans for a mechanical timepiece have been temporarily suspended. Before then we get the battery-powered Bamford Mayfair, a stainless-steel asymmetrical sports watch that evolved from a ‘service’ model that Bamford customers would be loaned whenever their timepiece went in for a check up.
“Clients became besotted with this service watch,” says George. “When I’d wear one, people would keep trying to buy it off my wrist. Which made me think there was something there.” Choose between a 40mm matte black case with a matte ceramic bezel or a matte grey case with an anodised aluminium bezel. Straps come in rubber, nylon or leather. The Mayfair is water resistant to 10 metres, sports LumiNova indices and houses the ever-reliable Japanese Miyota 2035 movement. “Think of it as a holiday watch,” says George. “Throw it on; take it to the beach; go anywhere with it.”
In the flesh, the Mayfair is handsome, well-weighted and reassuringly solid. George says that most of his clients already possess a Rolex or Patek Philippe. For the fun factor alone, expect a Mayfair to join those collections.