From the best affordable watches to the horological trends worth knowing; also, what are tourbillons and why do they matter?
IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE INDIVIDUALISATION BROUGHT HOROLOGY INTO THE 21ST CENTURY. THOUGH, FOR ONE MAN, IT’S BEEN AN ONGOING CRUSADE.
George Bamford is different to most CEOS in the watchmaking industry. For starters, he’s a “sneaker freak”, his uniform made up of white designer kicks, jeans, a blazer, shirt and tie. More significantly, until recently, he’d never made two of the same watch. In 2004, after he and a some friends found themselves at a dinner party sporting the same watch, he decided to launch Bamford Watch Department (BWD) – a company whose sole aim was to personalise quality watches into one-of-a-kind pieces. The impact of his inception had BWD immediately ruffling luxury feathers and raising mechanical alarm bells within the horological world. His trademark treatment is to blacken cases and add a luminescent colour to the dials. Though many were enticed by this new way of seeing watches, watch purists loathed such ‘Frankenwatches’, calling them sacrilege, to the point where any Bamfordaffected piece violated the original warranty and lost the right to be serviced. Fourteen years on, Bamford hasn’t changed a bit – but the industry has. “I said, ‘God damn, this guy has something special,’” gushes TAG Heuer’s CEO Jean-claude Biver to GQ. “I’ve always admired him. He can make a boring watch sexy without changing it too much. I said we should also do that. We also make boring watches so we should try to collaborate. I said, ‘Let’s call him’. So I called him and he was surprised.” Two days later, Biver and Bamford met in London. This resulted in an official partnership with LVMH in 2017, BWD as the approved personalisation partner for Bulgari, Zenith and TAG Heuer. Now it’s March 2018 and we are stood in the TAG Heuer Baselworld booth (more aptly, mansion) to witness history. Everyone who’s anyone in the watch media is here. The unlikely duo of Messieurs Biver and Bamford are up on stage seconds away from being live-streamed around the world to unveil the announcement of the TAG Heuer x Bamford ‘Monaco’. This collaboration and how it came to be would become the talk of Baselworld. “The first watch you buy doesn’t need to be individualised. It’s already such an achievement to buy your first Rolex or Hublot or Patek,” says Biver. “But it’s once you buy your second or third one you say, ‘Can I not have something special?’ We’d seen it in the luxury fashion industry and it’s happening in the watch world too. Consumers aged between 35 and 50 are ready to buy something special. “So despite the cost of producing 10 pieces or 50 pieces or 20 pieces we wanted to respond to this wish from the customers,” continues Biver. “We produce about 700,000 watches [a year], so we thought George can do it for us. He said he wanted to do a special ‘Monaco’. Because he loves the ‘Monaco’, Many people think it’s the face of the brand. And that was also his opinion.” It speaks volumes about Biver as well as the hierarchy within TAG Heuer, and exemplifies why TAG is arguably the most innovative and popular watch player in the world right now. Within 15 minutes of the special announcement, we have the pleasure of sitting down with Bamford. Unsurprisingly the 37-year-old Brit is buzzing with excitement. And with good reason.
As we are introduced, the Lara Stoneesque gap in his teeth beams towards us, eyes smiling through his trademark thick black-rimmed spectacles. He is excitable in a way that’s refreshing, not puppy-dog-like, his voice similar to Prince William’s. And anyone whose experienced four days straight of Baselworld will appreciate quite how welcome ‘refreshing’ can be. Here’s what the man of the moment had to say about his shiny new TAG Heuer partnership among other things, including that one time he was in such a hurry to purchase a watch to personalise, that he fell down a flight of stairs. GQ: Why the ‘Monaco’ to launch this special collaboration? George Bamford: I love the ‘Monaco’. As a child I used to sit with my father on the weekend and watch Formula 1 in the crux of his arm. Then when I was at school, the poster I had on my wall was Steve Mcqueen wearing a ‘Monaco’. I thought he was the King of Cool. GQ: Was it your choice or TAG Heuer’s?
GB: They said beforehand, ‘What watch do you want to do?’ I had ‘Monaco’ in carbon fibre and aqua blue as option A with options down to Z. Literally we had documents and documents on how we’d want this. And they just went, ‘Yeah, let’s do a ‘Monaco’.’ GQ: Talk us through your design for this piece?
GB: I love the colour black but I also love the colour blue and our signature colour is what we call a ‘Bamford aqua blue’. I always wanted to use it to create a blue-dial ‘Monaco’ and really play with different shades on the dial to represent my love of this colour. And I love how it all balances out on the iconic square dial. This little step here was the original steel and I said to myself I want the edging to be exactly the same. Even the nod back to ‘The Dark Lord’, with the steel and the black – these are the things that I loved. GQ: We’ve talked about the new collaboration, but what about personalising vintage pieces? GB: Look, I am a massive vintage watch collector. I’m a magpie when I collect things. I go in for very weird watches, be it TAG Heuer, Patek or Breitling from the ’60s, ’70s, early ’80s. It’s when they were kind of crazy with the war on quartz. I just bought a ‘Kentucky’ which is the weirdest, ugliestlooking Heuer. But it’s also beautiful, because of the quartz movement and how it’s shaped, how the case feels and even how the pin works on the brace.
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT George Bamford displaying his customised TAG Heuer x Bamford ‘Monaco’; elements of the timepiece feature Bamford’s signature aqua blue colour; the iconic square watch face; Steve Mcqueen wearing his ‘Monaco’ at Le Mans in 1971.