This time it’s personal: bespoke watches for luxury clients

Words by
Avril Groom

5th November 2016

With customised designs becoming more popular, luxury watch brands are offering a growing number of ways to personalise your timepiece

The history of bespoke timepieces is a long one. The early artisan watchmakers soon found a demand from collectors for dials with personal details, from simple engraved dates to a full miniature painting of an owner’s house or dog. They would even ask for certain complications in the movement.

BLANCPAIN CUSTOM CASEBACK
Decoration and engraving at Blancpain, known for its casebacks

Decoration and engraving at Blancpain, known for its casebacks

Today, high-end brands such as Patek Philippe and Jaeger-LeCoultre still create special designs for wealthy clients. Yet today’s drive for individuality in luxury goods has given the modern customer expectations even at less exclusive levels and watch brands are happy to find ways to make a watch personal. Rather than starting from scratch, with vast design possibilities needing considerable knowledge on the client’s part, brands now do the hard work, putting forward a range of options from which to choose.

From bespoke watches made to order to customised timepieces, there are a growing number of options for those who want something that is individual and out of the ordinary

At the very top end, Vacheron Constantin offers 700 permutations on its Quai de l’Ile model. You can choose from three different movements with their specific functions and appropriate dial with colour choices, the case and bezel metal, and strap material and colour.

Bespoke Engraving on a Blancpain Oscillating Weight
Bespoke Engraving on a Blancpain Oscillating Weight

Bespoke Engraving on a Blancpain Oscillating Weight

Blancpain also has a long bespoke history, especially in erotic automata, as they showed at this year’s Baselworld watch and jewellery fair. These apparently still have the power to shock, which is probably why the designs are confined to the watch backs. Clients can have a photograph engraved in gold that’s not necessarily erotic (one chose his golf swing) and vary the design of the traditional dials using two Japanese engraving techniques.

Brüggler, launched last year, offers a core range of limited-edition Swiss-made timepieces, as well as customising 14 elements of its 40mm chronograph, from case finish and dial colour to gem setting and lume colour, in a mind-boggling number of combinations. Each watch is assembled and delivered within six weeks, its chosen combinations seldom repeated to ensure each timepiece remains almost unique. Expect to join a waiting list as you design your watch using Brüggler’s online software.

enamelling_at_jaeger-lecoultre
Enamelling at Jaeger Lecoultre

Enamelling at Jaeger Lecoultre

Jaeger-LeCoultre also has a thoroughly modern concept of personalisation. The brand has long offered bespoke engraving on the back of its iconic Reverso watch. It now offers a wide range of design options, which can be chosen from its Atelier touchscreen system in its flagship stores. 

blancpain sketch
A Blancpain sketch

A Blancpain sketch

Legendary shoe designer Christian Louboutin has done a series of designs for the Atelier Reverso’s second dial and the strap, some based on his iconic iridescent finish, others offering cut-out strap designs reflecting his openwork sandals. Each strap is lined in his trademark red.

Male clients, who choose the double-dialled Reverso Classic Large Duoface, can select a deep blue or red lacquer second dial with clous de Paris guilloché work, or select a hardstone dial (back in vogue since the 1970s) in brown obsidian, meteorite or blue aventurine, plus a wide choice of straps. The plain reverse of the Reverso Classic Large can also be engraved, with lacquer or diamonds added if you wish, with a wide choice of initials, dates or motifs such as a family crest. 

H32866781-Jazzmaster-Face-2-Face-II-sketch_Original_14434
Planning sketches for Hamilton’s Jazzmaster Face 2 Face II

Planning sketches for Hamilton’s Jazzmaster Face 2 Face II

More modest brands offer their own distinctive customisation. American-founded Hamilton retains the quirkiness that in 1957 produced the triangular Ventura, beloved of Elvis Presley. Its new Jazzmaster Face 2 Face II boasts a wealth of functions on two swivelling dials, united by a sweep-through seconds hand on each side. Its automatic movement involves layers of crystal discs and turquoise details, set in a wide oval that, despite its size, makes it work for women too. 

The easiest way to personalise a watch is by the choice of strap. Some brands now supply extra straps as standard with a quick, ingenious way to change it, perhaps accompanied by a special tool — the latest must-have accessory.

H32866781 Jazzmaster Face 2 Face II recto_Original_14423
Hamilton’s swivel-dialled Jazzmaster Face 2 Face II

Hamilton’s swivel-dialled Jazzmaster Face 2 Face II

Vacheron Constantin leads the field; its redesigned Overseas collection in steel looks handsome and modern with a trendily blue dial in a particularly lovely shade. Its three strap options — a perfectly matched alligator strap, a bracelet based on the brand’s Maltese cross symbol and a practical rubber strap — each create a different mood while a docking system ensures that they fit smoothly in the lugs. 

“We were thinking about functions other than timekeeping that are useful to the end-user,” says artistic director Christian Selmoni. 

An interchangeable strap system is useful in a modern world where versatility is more and more of an asset, even for high-end brands

Ralph Lauren’s new women’s model, the slim, elegant RL888, has no fewer than 40 coloured strap variants, in crocodile, satin, grosgrain or stitched calf. Featuring the brand’s signature art deco Roman and Arabic mixed figures on a white lacquered dial, the watch comes in two sizes, the larger of which appeals to men, too.

blancpain-factory
The Blancpain factory

The Blancpain factory

It is, according to CEO Luc Perramond, “not a ‘fashion’ watch, but intended to become a stylish, timeless icon. Women also want fun from accessories and each colour gives the watch a new character.” Despite each crocodile strap costing £340, customers are already ordering the whole set in a bespoke black crocodile box. 

The new Selleria Black Edition from Fendi — fast upgrading its watch offer — boasts a diamond-enriched case design, as well as three interchangeable black straps: a Cuoio Romano leather strap with traditional selleria hand-stitching, an alligator strap and a calfskin version with blue stitching. 

Versace, another brand upgrading its watches, offers interchangeable leather straps with a steel bracelet in bronze, black or navy metallic PVD; you can also change the bezel top ring from the brand logo to a tachymeter. And Hublot’s One Click system on Big Bang models enables you to snap straps on and off, though you have to buy the extra straps.

Two of Omega’s eight Nato strap options
Two of Omega’s eight Nato strap options

Two of Omega’s eight Nato strap options

The biggest change in straps is the popularity of the sporty-looking fabric Nato strap, derived from a 1973 military original. It passes through loops so it is simple to change and adjust.

Tudor has offered an extra fabric strap on all its Heritage models since 2010. They are made by a traditional passementerie company in France, with any pattern woven in. Its newest is the faded, fine-striped khaki strap, which comes with the vintage-looking Black Bay Bronze, along with an “aged” leather one. Its Pelagos diving models have an extra rubber strap. 

Omega has also embraced the Nato strap after the runaway success of its special James Bond model for Spectre, with its black and grey striped strap. There are eight strap variants in two sizes, which fit a wide range of models and come with an instruction manual and tool kit. Bulova’s re-edited Moonwatch also has two straps — in black, textured leather and NASA-style nylon based on the original. 

custom-made_engraving_on_a_jaeger-lecoultre_reverso_classic_watchcjohannsauty
Custom made engraving on a Jaeger-Lecoultre reverse classic watch

Custom made engraving on a Jaeger-Lecoultre reverse classic watch

Timex have also responded to the desire for changeability by launching a wide range of cheerfully striped nylon or soft leather straps for their new two-size Weekender model. “We responded to customers’ requests to add a splash of colour,” says UK marketing manager Stephanie Rigby. “This is an affordable way to change your look in a matter of seconds.” 

While the Timex straps are £14.99 each, a bespoke erotic Blancpain creation is well over £300,000. Whatever you desire in a watch, there is individuality for everyone.