For both you and BWD, 2017 was a year of major change. Tell me about that.
I think I would say it has been the pivotal moment in my career. Yes, I’ve kind of become official with the customization side of things, but more than that, I am now being embraced by the industry and that feels cool. People are starting to realize that personalization will eventually go hand-in-hand with luxury brands – it has already happened in the car business with everyone from Rolls-Royce and Ferrari to Land Rover doing it. And, as history shows, the automotive industry leads the rest of luxury. A few years ago, people were saying that luxury was dead and it was all about bespoke, but, in fact, they have to go hand-in-hand now. It is not a buzzword. If you don’t do personalization, then you aren’t luxury. Cartier and Jaeger-LeCoultre have been addressing it for years but now other brands are catching up. As it is with tailors such as Huntsman, so it will be with watches – we will have our equivalent of the off-the-peg, made-to-measure and completely bespoke.
Just because we are now working directly with LVMH, it doesn’t mean that the BWD spirit has been diluted. You asked me a few months ago if I was still punk. Well, just look at our Instagram page and you will see that we are still doing wild stuff, still pushing boundaries. But I truly believe that we are better off working from within the industry rather than on the outside. The supply of parts and servicing is the number one advantage, plus I know what they are bringing out so I can prepare and work on things from stage one.
So, the legit life is good?
I have been doing this for 14 years now and I don’t want to be out in the cold anymore. The art of personalization has to grow up and I predict that within five years, every brand will have a customizing service. This is about growing my future. I saw the writing on the wall and I asked myself: “Do you want to help or do you want to be the person that digs his heels in?” I had started looking back and that is not the way I like to do things – I want to always move forward. In the world I was in, everyone was imitating each other and it became a form of bastardization. I knew things had to change.
And LVMH was the right group for BWD to team up with?
We are now working with some of the best companies out there. TAG Heuer has people that make me literally go: “WOW!” And Zenith has a dynamic new team, headed by an amazing person. When I sit in a meeting with these guys, I am sitting with my idols, my pin-ups, only now they are giving me advice and listening to my opinions. I am accepted by them and I have never had this before. Other brands are also coming to us to talk about what BWD can do for them — we even received Christmas cards from many of them last year, which has never happened before.
Most people are welcoming you with open arms, but why do you think the watch world railed against BWD for so long?
I honestly don’t know. I’m sure we’ve rubbed people the wrong way, but never deliberately. From the beginning, the two business models we looked to for inspiration were Bentley and Nike iD and I think we got to the stage where our name was part and parcel of the bespoke watch game. Maybe it was the speed at which we grew?
It has taken a dynamo like Jean-Claude Biver to move the compass needle and I am so pleased with how we sit as a business today. Jean-Claude has opened doors to new contacts like Beretta. In fact, I’ve known Franco [Dr. Franco Gussalli Beretta, president of the 500-year-old gun-making business] for five years, but getting the chance to work with him is amazing. I really got a big kick when Bergeon reposted a BWD image recently – previously it was tough to get them to supply BWD with tools.
I’ve gained access to a world of amazing people that two or three years ago would have said no to working with me but now we have projects moving forward.
Do you think other brands secretly liked being “Bamfordised”?
I don’t even think about it – I don’t need to. To use clichés, you are only as good as the next thing you do, the past is the past and I am only interested in the next chapter. Up until 2017, I launched two new things each year, but last year, I launched my own watch with the Mayfair, introduced partnerships with Zenith, TAG Heuer and Bulgari and debuted a personalization service. Everything has been a learning curve and I have learned old and new ways of doing things. Later this year you will see what this has opened up – 2017 was about what we did to the watches, 2018 is going to be about collaboration and what we can do together.
BWD was successful as an independent company, what does working with LVMH add to the mix?
All of the above. I geek out on stuff and am like a kid in a candy store when I visit the Heuer museum and talk to Catherine [Catherine Eberle-Devaux, head of TAG Heuer archives] and look at her bibles of dials, hands, cases, and so on. I have a need to understand everything and I have equal love for my daughter’s pink Heuer F1, my chocolate-dial BWD Monaco and the digital Heuer Kentucky that I am wearing today. It’s all a voyage of discovery – the history and the design. And, now that BWD is becoming less known for customizing one specific brand, I can rediscover this history in so many watches. I have recently delved into my archive of Enicars, Eberhards, Omegas and Breitlings and I am starting to find things exciting again.
BWD is not a part of LVMH per se, we have signed contracts but remain independent. Unless we do something really wrong, I think our future with personalization and LVMH is all good.
You’ve already mentioned Jean-Claude Biver. What has it been like working so closely with him?
For me, “JCB” are three of the best initials in the world! Jean-Claude’s philosophy is: “Just go and do it! You have to try. You have to push the boundaries.” Every time I’m with him, or get a message from him, it has a positive impact. I have always had a “can do” attitude but he has something different, something extra in terms of what he understands about the industry. I have about two percent of what Jean-Claude has and I find that inspirational. He is one of the most dynamic people I have met – possibly the most dynamic apart from my father.
You’re pretty dynamic yourself.
I try, but I think I owe my work ethic to my upbringing. My father is an amazing man and another one that changed the direction of the compass. But because of this, I always felt that his shoes were way too big for me to fill. He always encouraged my siblings and me to find our own feet but we never got a free ride. If I’d slept in while on holiday, I would have had a cold bucket of water over me – I always had to step up. I am repeating this now with my own children, teaching them that if you make the effort you will have a good response, and may learn something.
Are there any historical Zeniths or TAG Heuer’s you would like to see re-issued?
So, so many! The Zenith Sub with internal rotating bezel, the Heuer Daytona, Calculator, Bund and Carrera in the gold case. I love the re-issues of the Silverstone, the Monza, the Skipper and the Autavia and it would be great to see a contemporary version of the Autavia GMT.
Is there any watch that you wouldn’t touch?
That suggests that BWD is trying to improve existing watches but that is not the case. We are simply making them unique and how individuals would like their own version to be. I guess a few pieces are too perfect, too authentic to change, the Zenith Defy Lab, for example. I may change the strap but everything else is too integral – like the [Monaco] V4. Some watches make an actual jump forward and change the way we see things. Quartz did this and I think the Defy Lab will go down in history as another game-changer.
You have created two Zenith designs with Revolution, tell me about those and why you chose to collaborate with us.
Wei Koh realizes that if he stands still, Revolution will die. There is always someone snapping at your heels and I love that Wei sees this and keeps moving forward. I look at the platform that we have built and there are multiple sides to what we are doing. My team and I have looked at what you guys are doing and what Mr Porter is doing and we like what we see. There is not much in terms of retail platforms where you think: “I want to buy from them”, but Wei and the entire Revolution team is getting it right and I thought: “Why not?” There was no reason not to do it.
Are you excited about the project?
I am super excited. I look at the design and I think it is just so cool. You can’t not like what we are doing. There are two pieces, both based on the Heritage Cronometro TIPO CP-2, the latest addition to the Zenith Heritage collection and a revival of the “A. Cairelli” model from the 1960s. Inside is an automatic El Primero 4069 column-wheel chronograph movement. There is one with green accents and one with blue. I love them both, but the green is absolutely my favorite because it embodies so many other things that I like. This one sticks in my mind and has definitely pushed a button. I am going to keep one for myself.
What is the potential for expansion in BWD? Will we see global “Hives”?
“The Hive” is what we named our London HQ and yes, I think we may well see two more this year – one in Asia and one in the US. I know people question whether bricks-and-mortar is needed in this age of online selling, but I think this type of retail is hugely challenging, and in the luxury field you can get it very right or very wrong. Often, It’s about the conversation not the sale. I had a recent experience at the Private White V.C. boutique where the salesman was so absolutely brilliant that I have spread the message to at least 10 other people. That is retail and you can’t have that online unless you have a first-class service team in place. And that is what I love about Revolution, despite the e-commerce side of the business, there are offices all over the world where visitors are welcomed by a trustworthy, professional and knowledgeable staff. Expansion is a good thing, but never at the expense of the people that count – the clients.