The Bamford Watch Department’s (BWD) unlikely rise to legitimacy has certainly turned heads over the past year, with the aftermarket bespoke customizer of luxury watches now the official customizer for LVMH brands, Zenith, TAG Heuer and BVLGARI. In fact, we at Revolution have been so impressed with founder, George Bamford’s work and the dramatic turn of events his company has experienced that we gave him the award for Revolutionary of the Year 2017.
Continuing on the path that company began, BWD introduces today, in collaboration with Dover Street Market, the new BWD x Fragment Zenith El Primero, designed jointly by BWD and Hiroshi Fujiwara of Fragment, the famed street-wear design company.
As a piece of design, it is stunning, and clear evidence of how a designer’s touch can elevate the blank canvas of a regular Zenith El Primero into something transcendental. While the watch retains its original steel case and bracelet, it is the design on the dial that turns the watch, aesthetically and emotionally into something of a vastly different character.
We speak to George Bamford, founder of the Bamford Watch Department on how the collaboration came about, and what his vision of the company will be in the era of bespoke luxury.
You been moving closer and closer to what we call the establishment of the watch industry. How do you see your role in it now?
What I will I say is this: the writing is on the wall. Luxury and bespoke will as time goes on, become more intertwined. Look at luxury shopping now. Just go down to most luxury boutiques and most of them will ask you, “Would you like this personalized?” You know, I could name 20 brands that have some kind of offering where they will add your initials, or change colors to suit you, the customer. Personalization will happen more widely and the good thing is, I don’t think that personalization will cost a fortune. That’s why when you look at our pricing, it’s actually at a level where I would go and buy a watch myself.
Roughly how much above a brand new watch will you be offering your watches?
I mean look at this watch. This is our Tag Heuer Monaco and it goes for 6,000 CHF or roughly 8500 GBP. A new unmodified one is about 7000 GBP, so around 1.2 times the price.
That’s very good. Previously your watches were about 3 times over the price of an unmodified brand new one. How are you achieving this more affordable level?
We’ve professionalized the whole team and our process has gotten better and better. We spent lots of time and money perfecting what we do to a quality we are happy with, to a point where we can take on more and we can do more projects that work like this one, the BWD x Fragment Zenith El Primero.
This is a stunning watch. I didn’t expect this.
We designed this with Hiroshi Fujiwara and his design team at Fragment, and he’s worked with plenty of famous brands like Louis Vuitton, Beats and Nike. We wanted a pared down dial treatment and Zenith came in to help us with removing the indices on the dial during our process.
I think its amazing that you’re using what the watch brands create as a basis for its transformation, and your job is to only think of how to use the form they give you to express your creativity. You’re doing what the watch brands cannot do because their job is to produce in volume and for a large market with a mass taste. I don’t think that the design studios at Zenith would ever even move in this direction.
I know this sounds strange, but do you know, I don’t need to get their approval, but I send every design I do through to Zenith. When I sent them the Fragment watch, they were hesitant. But I told then that I would produce one piece and send it over to them. And they just went wow and loved it. Look at how subtle it is, how it is simplicity exemplified and it all just works.
I also love that it changed your mind. For me, that changes my mind, because we’ve been sitting on this for maybe 10 months in my safe. It’s freaking cool, seeing your reaction to this.
How many pieces is this limited to?
Below 20, and in some places, like Dover Street Japan they’ve pre-sold what they ordered and they’ve only got 1 left. I’ve just got a message from the big boss in Dover Street Japan saying that they want more and I said that you guys have got to order them.
How has it been since you started this collaboration with Zenith, how have things changed?
Well, I won a Revolution Award. That blew me away. I was not expecting it at all. For me, I hold it with total pride; it’s one of those things that astounds me when I look at who else has won it.
The thing is that we’re still doing things that are revolutionary; we’re still doing things that people don’t expect. You didn’t expect me to show you the Fragment watch and you were surprised to see it. That’s what I want. I want you to be still surprised by us.
You might have told this story before to other people but I haven’t heard it at all, so maybe you can tell me. How did this whole thing with Zenith start?
Basically, I got introduced to Jean Claude Biver through a friend of mine. Two years ago he came into my office, and he just came up to me and said, you should work with us.
Just like that? But why was he there?
A friend of mine was having supper with him, and they were talking about watches, and he said, oh you know, a good friend of mine owns Bamford Watch Department and Jean-Claude said, “I’d love to meet him.” And so the next morning Jean-Claude came into the office and basically came to me and said, “you gotta work with us”, adding “we will love you, and we will embrace you.”
So he had already seen what you had done and was familiar with it?
Yes. But even though there wasn’t any need for me to convince him, it was a year and a half before we started really working with them. There was some back and forth discussion on, how we would work together, and what the processes would be like.
Did you ever ask him why he made his decision so quickly?
I have talked to him, and he was also talking about personalization in watches, that it is the future of how things will be, exactly the same thoughts that I’ve been having. But you know, he’s been someone that is so inspirational to me and I’m lucky to have someone like that in my life. When I met him, I think the stars aligned and everything just went, boom!
Editor’s note: The new BWD x Fragment Zenith El Primero will be available in Dover Street Market stores in London, New York, Singapore and Tokyo from the 7th of Febraruy 2018.