ntil recently, ordering your very own watch from a manufacture, configuring it according to your own choice of materials, decoration and even motorisation, was reserved for the highly exclusive circles of only the wealthiest watchmaking enthusiasts or collectors… and the most patient.
Apart, that is, from the highly particular case of the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, the only watch to lend itself to personalisation through the application of engraving or enamelling to a virgin case back (undertaken to order by the Atelier Reverso specifically tasked for the purpose). Vacheron Constantin, with its Quai de l’Ile collection, also offers hundreds of possible combinations on demand, thanks to the special construction of its watchcase and case-middle divided into 7 separate, personalisable parts (including caseband, lugs, inter-lugs and caseback). Rarely does one find such structured examples of bespoke offerings in high-end watchmaking.
Are there changes afoot? Recently, several top quality brands launched specific customisation offers. A short while ago, Armin Strom, a modestly proportioned, yet 100% vertically integrated, high-end watchmaking manufacture, introduced its online Configurator, which allows you to chose the movement, the colour of the different components, dial, hands, indices, case material, strap or bracelet, etc…
Armin Strom online Configurator, allows you to choose, among others
• the movement
• its finish
• the colour of the different components • the dial
• the hands
• the indices
• the case material
• the strap
Bulgari also recently offered the possibility of personally configuring its Serpenti watch. Via a dedicated application it offers more than 300 possible combinations including case material, dial colour and treatment, choice of plain bezel or with gem-setting and type, material and colour of strap or bracelet. In another recent offering, HYT also allows you to personalise your watch by choosing the colour of the liquid that flows through its glass capillaries.
But aside from these rare examples, systematically offering owners the possibility of customising their watches is a tricky, if not impossible, task, mainly for logistical, organisational, stock and personnel reasons. What may be envisaged for a small brand or for small quantities is not necessarily possible for the bigger fish in the watchmaking sea. Not to mention the execution time required, which increases considerably with the number of choices on offer.
The customisation solution has now become a way for emerging brands to stand out from the crowd.
With the explosion in the number of watchmaking start-ups born of the great wave of digitisation, the customisation solution has now become a way for emerging brands to stand out from the crowd. Hence the plethora of offerings, mainly in the lower-end segment, but also elsewhere.
Said customisation can range from the simple, commonplace “choose the colour of your strap” to the most sophisticated technical solutions.
The Dutch brand, Holthinrichs Watches, for example, or Synchronos of California are now offering watches that are “anatomically adapted” to their customers, “a benefit linked to the use of 3D printing and digitalisation”. The latter’s creator explained it was his intention to propose “a platform that could enable anyone to design and sell accessories using our technology. Imagine a future where you might design and sell your own watches anywhere in the world!”
Technically, 3D printing in steel or titanium, for example, does not require the manufacture of specific tools. The design, or decoration, of the piece can be directly generated on a computer using 3D CAD software, which leaves the door open to all kinds of possible customisations. Each piece can thus be unique.
The way forward?
But a question arises: are consumers truly intent on customising their watches at all costs? Is personalisation not condemned to exist for the privileged few? Judging by the continuing success of certain models or certain brands considered iconic, the feeling is more that a watch’s value, the very definition of a status object, lies above all in its social recognition potential. “Oh, you’re wearing a Rolex now…”.
Yes, but even a Rolex can be “customised” by Titan Black, for example, or Bamford, which prides itself on being “the first company to offer full customisation for the most iconic watches in the world.” Does the real worth of bespoke watchmaking in fact rely on the ability to recognise the brand in its newly transfigured form? The question remains to be answered.