Keeping an eye on the time: new releases and bygone classics
by Richard Holt
Bamford Watch Department
By having ‘aftermarket’ modifications done to your car you can make it faster. But when you come to sell it, the buyer is likely to eye you suspiciously and think how much more the car would be worth if you hadn’t come over all Max Power. With watches, too, keeping things as the manufacturer intended is highly prized.
So it takes a brave man to dismantle watches, customise them and sell them as improved versions of the original. All the more so when they are from giants such as Rolex and Patek Philippe.
But George Bamford, son of the JCB magnate and historic racing car collector Sir Anthony, is driven by a passion for individuality and isn’t afraid to risk causing a few people to drop their monocles in shock.
A long-time watch lover, he once turned up to a dinner party and realised he was wearing the same Rolex as all four male guests. So began a hunt for more unusual timepieces. He became obsessed by a story about a set of black Rolexes ordered by the South African military. When a search for them proved fruitless, Bamford decided to make his own. “I produced two,” he says. “An old vintage Submariner and an old GMT. I wore the GMT over the summer, got 25 orders and thought, ‘Damn, there’s a business here’.”
That was 2004 and the birth of the Bamford Watch Department (BWD). The processes of treating the watches have evolved, and Bamford has developed a process called MGTC (military grade titanium coating), which makes a deposit of 4-5 microns on top of the watch surface, but also penetrates 3-4 microns into the steel.
Using the motto ‘if you can imagine it, we can create it’, BWD encourages people to create their own designs using the online ‘customiser’, or by visiting the client rooms in its brand-new Mayfair headquarters. There are also off-the-peg creations, the latest of which is the limited edition Rolex Milgauss Aftershock, which costs £12,000.
The modifications void the original warranty, but such is BWD’s confidence that its own two-year guarantee can be extended indefinitely for “a nominal fee”. As for that military-grade coating, the colour is guaranteed for life. Modifications, maybe, but none that you are going to regret.
People at the posh end of the watch world tend to use the word ‘fashion’ pejoratively. A fashion watch is for someone who wants a gaudy trinket, not a proper, grown-up timepiece. So when Ralph Lauren launched its first fine watch collection in 2009, it was a bold move for a fashion brand to pitch in with the big boys. Six years on, the company is really coming into its own and launching some of the most exciting new watches around, such as the latest additions to the Automotive collection, inspired by Ralph Lauren’s very own 1938 Bugatti 57SC Atlantic Coupé. A watch with a wooden steering wheel for a bezel sounds like a crazy idea, but somehow it works brilliantly.
This Swiss firm dates back more than 220 years and has a history of being one of the great innovators of the watchmaking world. In 1880 it produced 2000 wristwatches for the German army, thought to be the first large-scale production of wristwatches at a time when it was far more common for men to carry pocket watches. This watch is a modern interpretation of two famous pieces of Girard Perregaux history, mimicking the Art Deco styling of a famous wristwatch from 1945, but incorporating a take on the company’s tourbillon with three bridges, that first appeared on a 19th century pocket watch.