With all the entrepreneurial prowess of his JCB-founding grandfather, George Bamford identified a considerable gap in the market in the early-2000s, which led to the launch of his watch customising business, Bamford Watch Department (BWD). BWD’s raison d’être ever since has been to “jazz up” treasured timepieces by blackening the cases, colouring the dials and adding all manner of special symbols and characters to the standard aesthetic of everything from Rolexes to Audemars Piguets and Patek Philippes.
While after-market alterations are nothing new – Rolex co-branding, for example, is something that has existed for decades – Bamford has managed to upset the great and the good from Switzerland’s fourth-biggest export industry, leading to much hand-wringing, foot-stamping and tearing up of warranties. All of the official opposition, however, has only served to make the products of BWD more talked-about, more desirable and, increasingly, more expensive.
Recent months have seen a new direction for Bamford with full-on collaborations between established brands such as Master & Dynamic headphones, ic! berlin glasses and Bentley Motors. But later today (30 June) there will be an announcement many thought they would never see: BWD is going legit and will be authorised for the first time by a Swiss watch brand to customise its watches, as well as sell the customised pieces through the BWD website (bamfordwatchdepartment.com) and authorised retailers including Dover Street Market in London and Colette in Paris.
Unsurprisingly, the brand in question – Zenith – is helmed by one of the watch industry’s true visionaries, Jean-Claude Biver, a man who appreciates and applauds innovation and who refuses to attempt the impossible and turn back the tide, preferring to dive headlong in and swim with it rather than against. The new partnership will see BWD acquiring timepieces from Zenith (Tipos, Pilots and El Primeros only, the Defys exempted due to their skeletonisation and highly technical nature), as well as spare parts and supplies. Going forward, BWD will only work with brands that authorise and support the customising of their watches and, in the process, will become the first British customiser to be officially approved by the Swiss watchmaking industry.