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20th Anniversary
Trend - Customisastion the new normal

Trend Customisastion the new normal

Many collectors are keen for their timepiece to include a detail that marks it out from more widely-available models, such as a secret signature, initials, a modified dial, or special jewel settings. However, for the best part of 20 years now, some firms have also been offering their regular customers a small number of customisation services. The groundswell for personalised watches has probably only just begun.*

The reason why limited editions are doing so well is that they provide each individual with something unique – in the form of a number. The idea itself is nothing new; it dates back to well before the industrial era of watchmaking, to a time when the likes of Breguet, Leroy, Nardin, Chopard, and Berthoud designed each pocket watch for one specific client.

Paradigm shift

Nowadays, there are basically three different ways watches can be customised. One is to place a special order with the brand, which it may accept – or decline. The historic Manufactures may not always admit to this practice, but have always engaged in it, as is clear when you take a look at some of the watches sold at auctions: a one-of-a-kind piece made for a sultan, a pocket watch for a Head of State, or a complication developed for a high-ranking collector. Certain Manufactures have even made it something of a speciality, such as Blancpain with their erotic watches and Ulysse Nardin with jacquemart watches.

Customisastion the new normal

Villeret Métiers d’Art (2015) © Blancpain

Between 2000 and 2020, though, emerging independent brands brought about a paradigm shift by publicly announcing customisation services, automatically offered to any customer. Kerbedanz, Romain Gauthier, Czapek, Louis Moinet, Ferdinand Berthoud, and Golay Spierer are just a few examples. Some brands have gone even further, offering an organised programme (such as HYT’s Bespoke scheme from 2016 onwards) catering to virtually every whim. ArtyA, the Geneva-based brand founded by Yvan Arpa, is another case in point, designing almost every single watch as a one-of-a-kind piece, numbered 01/01.

Customisastion the new normal

Vatican (2018) © Kerbedanz

Straps and engravings: Customisation as (almost) standard

The second trend is for simple, affordable, and almost instantaneous customisation. Over the first 20 years of the new century, a craze for interchangeable straps has emerged. Cartier, Montblanc, TAG Heuer, Michel Herbelin, Poiray, and the Fossil group are just some of the scores of firms to have taken this trend on board – even the Apple Watch sported a Hermès strap in 2015.

Engravings are another avenue for customisation. This service is available as standard for most Baume & Mercier models. And it’s the perfect finishing touch for certain pieces, such as Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Reverso, of which the protective side has been engraved or painted as per customer specifications for 90 years.

Get someone else to do it for you...

The third and last trend is the use of third-party providers. This phenomenon was a particular hallmark of the 2000s and the years immediately following. Firms sprang up for the sole purpose of customising watches that had already been purchased by collectors. Fancy a Rolex Daytona with a black dial, a different set of hands on your IWC Portugieser, or giving your Cartier Ballon Bleu a facelift? Outfits such as Titan Black and Blackout Concept were set up to do just that for you. These small providers took their place alongside other institutional players such as Bucherer and Bamford Watch Department. One important difference, though, is that these latter two firms work directly with brands, as exemplified by the Bucherer Blue editions: timepiece sets produced exclusively for Bucherer since 2016 and sporting blue dials that can’t be found anywhere else.

*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English.

Order now

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