An Interview with George Bamford
The Pioneer that Turns Luxury Timepieces into One-of-A-Kind Works
Words | Ztephen Lee
Photography | Kimio Ng
Special Thanks to EXI.T

What do cars and watches have in common? Not only men loves them, they can be very expensive. For many, the love of cars and watches attributes to the appreciation of finely made products; it’s also a representation of an individual’s taste level and social status. In order to differentiate themselves and show off their watch (or car) game, many would customize them to their liking. A few common choices include blacking out the watch, adding a diamond bezel or changing the dial. Hence, It’s no surprise that the demand for bespoke luxury products has been booming over the past few years.  

The first company to dedicate to the modification of on a range of fine steel sport watches is Bamford Watch Department. Established by George Bamford in 2003, the company has become a renowned and leading bespoke watch brand in the industry. George is the son of Sir Anthony Bamford, the chairman of JCB, a multinational agricultural and-construction-equipment manufacturing company. Going against the grain, he started the company after his father asked him to start a business and make a life for himself after his college graduation.

He first got the idea of watch customization in his youth. When he turned 18, He was given his first Rolex Daytona by his parents. In the beginning, he thought it was so rare that not many people owned it but soon after he wore the watch to a dinner party, almost every man wore the same exact watch. It’s then he realized that his “precious” Daytona was not so unique after all, and he began to customize his own watches. In 2003, He bought a vintage GMT and a vintage Submariner from the secondary market, and applied the skills that were used in the mining industry, resulting in a smooth yet durable matte-black PVD coating to the watches. He then gave one of the watches to his father and kept the other one for himself.

Looking back over the past decade, “I pinch myself everyday when I think about how the business has grown.” he said. “In 2003 we were just one desk in a shared office and now we have moved into our Hive townhouse in the centre of Mayfair. Whilst the dynamics of our business has changed, our mantra remains the same that ‘if you can imagine it, we can create it’ and the collaborations and customised pieces we create are still forefront in our business remit.”

Brand collaboration is also key successful factor for Bamford Watch Department. “Collaborations such as fragment design, NEIGHBORHOOD or mastermind JAPAN and any of the businesses we have worked with, are key in our business to of course increase our exposure but also continue my love affair with other design worlds such as artists like Daniel Arsham.” He added, “I started the business because I felt luxury was no longer personal and we live in a mass-market world and it is these unique, customised designs with amazing partners which keep the options endless and that is why I pinch myself everyday.” , he said.

Other than customizing Rolex watches, the company also bespoke watches from brands such as Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Panerai and Tag Heuer, with prices starting from £9,000. The customized watches can also be found at the brand’s online store, and more than 30 retail outlets around the world, including Dover Street Market London, Parisian boutique colette, Lane Crawford and EXI.T in Hong Kong.

For growing businesses like Bamford Watch Department, the major challenge can be just staying relevant in the industry, which he feels the key to success is customer service. “Luxury is only personal if you are treated as an individual and therefore providing a unique experience for each customer is my priority. Our business motto is that ‘customers can get on without us but we cannot get along without them’ and I truly believe this.”, he said.

After the success of Bamford Watch Department, competitions began to pop up, with companies such as Rau-Tech, Project X and Pro Hunter starting to provide watch customization services, how would the company beat out their competitors? “I always welcome competition as it makes everyone step up their game and push the boundaries. I do feel that with more people entering the personalization world offering the same services, the trust in the product starts to erodes and that is why I ensure customer service and I attend to customers personally.” he said.

To Bamford, he loves to deal with the customers himself, even though his team has grown. “I want customers to know that the service we provide is personally overseen by me on every level and our guarantees such as five years on the watch and a lifetime on the coating will always be honored. It is important to me that we are not a faceless brand and customers know who is looking after them.” he added.

Surely, there are advantages and disadvantages in making customizations to a watch, it is better to evaluate both the pros and the cons before making one. With customizations, you can create a one-of-a-kind watch that suits to your exact needs and specifications, and it is like no other design in the world. On the other hand, the disadvantage of making customizations to a watch is that the factory warranty would become invalid and be considered as a fake watch by the brand.

In Rolex’ legal notices, it says “…any addition or substitution of parts or accessories with those not manufactured by Rolex, as well as any alteration, modification or other material change made to or on Rolex products by a third party not authorized by Rolex cancels the warranty.” With that being said, the customized watches will still be covered by the Bamford Watch Department’s own warranty.

Bamford has recently extended their guarantee warranty on the watches to five years, in order to reinforce his commitment to customer service and to highlight that the customer experience with Bamford Watch Department does not end, once they have delivered the watch. “We love to hear from past customers, and our watchmakers are always available to provide a full service to their watch in our in-house service centre.”, he said.  Bamford also felt highly encouraged by what he has seen at the auctions. “Our watches at auction always increase in price too, such as the mastermind JAPAN watch which traded hands for way over the original retail price.”, he said.

“As a business this is our twelfth year and I hope to be here for the long run.” he added.

Besides Bamford Watch Department, his ventures also include Bamford Cycle Department and Bamford Grooming Department, which provide bespoke cycle service and a range of new male grooming products. The grooming line can be found at Dover Street Market, colette and MR PORTER.  While it is undoubtedly increased the brand awareness, Bamford did not think it that way. “I didn’t see them as an expansion of brand recognition but I felt that these are different elements of my life and I like things that are unique and personalized. Cycles and grooming products were two items I thought it would be great to have personalized so that is how those departments were born.” he said.

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