Bamford watches signal it's time for unique luxe goods

The high-end watch market craves unique timepieces to suit individual tastes, George Bamford tells Abid Rahman

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 May, 2013, 10:21am

"Everyone wants to have an individual style," says George Bamford removing his Goyard wallet from his jacket and pointing to the painted initials "G" and "B" to emphasise his point. "Luxury has to go down the individuality road. That's why, 10 years ago, I went down that road with my company. It's all about being unique."

The founder and owner of watch customisers Bamford Watch Department, Bamford is in Hong Kong to promote a month-long trunk show of unique, one-off watches at Lane Crawford, IFC, and Canton Road. The show ends on July 16, but a smaller selection of watches will be available for purchase after that.

Now firmly established as one of the premier names in watch customisation, Bamford came into the watch business almost by accident, through his own pursuit of an individual style. "I was given a Rolex Daytona for one of my birthdays and I thought it was the coolest watch ever," he says.

"I was at a dinner party, pulling it out, and kind of saying 'Look how cool I am', but the problem was there were 10 other people wearing the same watch as me. I felt pooped by that."

Cowed but not beaten, Bamford attempted to personalise his watch. He looked to the family company, construction equipment maker JCB, for a helping hand.

"Ten years ago, I produced a plexiglass blackened Rolex Submariner for myself and my father, and that's how it all started. I developed the blackening process with a little help from the guys at JCB; my family are engineers, after all. The JCB research and development team were using this blackening process for hip replacements and things like that, so I had to convince them to use it for jewellery."

Bamford didn't immediately consider starting a personalised watch business. Back then, he was busy running now defunct fashion label Bamford & Sons, which he started with his mother, Lady Carol Bamford. "It was never the intention to set up a watch business. I wanted something unique for me and it all just grew from there. I was in Sardinia in the summer of that year, and the Italians saw my watch. I had 25 orders, just like that."

What started as a small vitrine of customised Rolex watches soon began to grow in significance: "I quickly realised the watches were paying the rent, rather than the clothes," he says.

"The recession hit, so my mother and I made the hard decision to put a wet cloth over the clothes business and focus on the watches. I pulled Bamford Watch Department out from Bamford & Sons. It was the phoenix from the ashes."

Bamford Watch Department has grown steadily over the past decade, but the past few years have seen a spectacular shift, Bamford says. He thinks that's because consumers want something personal in an increasingly uniform world.

Bamford Watch Department creates one-off watches designed by hip design studios such as Fragment by Hiroshi Fujiwara and Darren Romanelli's DRx, as well as contemporary artists like Marc Quinn, who has created a special collection that will be available in Hong Kong. But the real core of the business is individually tailored watches, where the customer picks the colours, designs, and even the features.

Bamford doesn't need much encouragement to wax lyrical about the rights and wrongs committed by the luxury goods industry. But he is clear about what influenced him: "I would love to say I came up with personalisation, but really individuality came back in via the sneaker world.

"NIKEiD is the zenith of personalisation. Everyone saw NIKEiD, and thought, we have to do that. We set up our first website about six months after NIKEiD launched, because we loved what they did. NIKEiD is definitely an influence, along with sneaker culture."

For Bamford, individuality is going to be the key future trend of all luxury goods. He's positioning his company to cater to that demand. "Lane Crawford has the largest selection we've had anywhere. We're establishing more service centres to provide after-sales care. We have eight now, including one in Hong Kong."

Bamford thinks that the pursuit of individuality is down to human nature: "No one wants to be one of 100,000, and now you can be one of one," he says.