As the old-ish adage goes, you can tell a lot about a person by looking at their watch. It's a 30-something millimetre personality predicter. Wearing a Rolex Submariner in steel? Basic, plays by the rules. Richard Mille? Likes to think they’re a rule breaker, but in reality, probably not.
It’s this need to express oneself through ones’ wrist attire that has led to an explosion in customisation. We’re not talking about simply changing a strap, these are companies that turn Cartiers into candy-coloured creations or Rolexes into spiritual talismans complete with evil eye motifs on the dial.
Of course, the most well-known customiser is George Bamford who has gone from industry outsider notorious for coating Rolexes in black PVD for barrow boys to being given the seal of approval by LVMH and Kering, for whom he now legitimately personalises TAG Heuers, Zeniths and Girard-Perregauxes.
However, there are now brands such as the LA-based La Californienne and French company MAD Paris who are also doing daring things to pre-owned watches, albeit without Switzerland’s approval.
Maxim de Turckheim
One of the early adopters of these brands was online fashion retailer Farfetch. Having made a name for itself offering discerning shoppers niche brands unavailable elsewhere, it expanded its luxury watch sector, which launched in 2018, with a selection of colourful customised designs.
“We started adding customised fine watch brands quite soon after the category launch, explains Farfetch’s resident watch specialist Maxim de Turckheim. “We always listen to our customers, while ensuring that they have access to unique products, since many of them come to the platform to find what isn't available anywhere else. Customised fine watches were, therefore, a natural fit, with names such as La Californienne and MAD Paris. These brands are upcycling vintage models, which also gives our customers access to more sustainable options, which is important to them and us.”
It’s easy to see why they are so popular with the Farfetch clientele. By adding brightly coloured stripped straps and swapping out the dials for ones in flamingo pink or lush sage, La Californienne turns the sombre, classic lines of Cartier’s Tank into something sunnier, while the PVD and stone-setting skills displayed by MAD Paris strip Rolexes of their run-of-the-mill sportiness turning them into something more moody; it’s the watch equivalent of ditching the high-school jock as your boyfriend and replacing him with Heathers-era Christian Slater instead.
Despite the upcycling element, these watches aren’t designed to be bargains, but de Turckheim thinks that’s all part of the appeal. “Customers buying these watches don't tend to compare it to the pre-customised models, so price does not really come into consideration. The craftmanship involved into upcycling this product into something completely unique is worth the premium!”
And think about all the amazing things it will communicate about your personality. That’s just priceless.
It was launched by husband-and-wife duo Courtney Ormond and Leszek Garwacki and its fabulous vibrant colour combinations are inspired by LA sunsets. Every dial and strap is hand-painted so each one is unique.
Summer lovers. There’s a such a relaxed Angeleno vibe about these watches, they just wouldn’t suit anyone with a more melancholic personality.
From black PVD Patek Philippe Nautiluses to beautifully engraved rose-gold Rolexes, MAD Paris tailors its customising to the particular personality of each watch to make something truly original.
Modern day Byrons and Shelleys. There’s a touch of the gothic romance about these timepieces.
The only customiser officially recognised by (some) of the watch industry, Bamford works with LVMH and Kering to offer personalised version of its watches. So, choose from TAG Heuer, Zenith, Bulgari or Girard-Perregaux and get creative.
Control freaks. You can decide everything from the strap colour to the what shade goes behind the date window.