Bespoke Timepieces are Standalone Symbols of Sheer Luxury 

Watch customization has become a heated subject of discussion among the rich and famous who also happen to be big watch enthusiasts as they delve into buying coveted timepieces that are reflective of their personalities. But most importantly, they desire to stay one step ahead by buying one-of-a-kind timepieces hardly available to others in the same league. 

If that’s not enough for them, then they’re getting their watches completely modified according to their preferences, which only a select few high-end watch brands, renowned independent watchmakers, or highly recognized bespoke watch companies can deliver without a glitch. This is where things are getting really interesting. All in all, it has opened a whole new plethora of possibilities for luxury watch brands to experiment with and make the most of this vast bespoke watchmaking market. Before we go further, one thing is quite clear bespoke timepieces are rare, exclusive, and extremely costly, which only the super rich can afford. Also, such one-off creations are centered around the emotions of these people.            

 Art Deco soldatExclusive factor underpins the world of bespoke watchmaking 

There are several watch brands out there producing bespoke timepieces where they adorn only certain parts such as the dial, case, hands, crown, lugs, or bezel with precious gemstones at the request of their clients. In some cases, the clients just want the dials, hands, straps, or colors of the watches to be made more specific according to their taste whereas some want their watches to simply reflect their individuality by getting unique engravings on the dials.  

As mentioned earlier, the brands that are fully equipped with all the tools to create bespoke watches can only make it happen exclusively. Thus, brands like Jacob & Co. are famous for producing diamond-studded custom timepieces with insane complications and bold aesthetics for their celebrity customers from scratch. And its customized timepieces are very much exclusive and therefore they’re always replete with new parameters for watch collectors to take note of concerning designs, materials, and intricacies. The brand already boasts having created an Astronomia Skywatch for Leonardo DiCaprio’s charitable foundation and designed a bespoke Five-Time Zone watch for the late designer Virgil Abloh including the Caviar Tourbillon Tsavorites timepiece for the Portuguese soccer icon Cristiano Ronaldo and Hermes Bugatti Chiron watch tailored for the Iranian-American entrepreneur and car enthusiast Manny Khoshbin in line with the features of his Hermes Bugatti Chiron car. It’s another great feat by Jacob & Co. in the field of fine watchmaking as the case back of this bespoke piece comes embellished with detailed horse patterns whereas all the pistons on the dial are shining in rose gold with other components steeped in silver, craie (chalk) and red colors. Most importantly, it’s Bugatti Chiron and other collections are never-before-seen pieces that never fall short of turning heads in the industry while Patek Philippe shows the marvelous world of complicated watches through its Rare Handcrafts Collection. These brands know what it means to be exclusive since being exclusive is a hard nut to crack. 

Vacheron Constantin. Photo Courtesy of the Brand
Vacheron Constantin. Photo Courtesy of the Brand

And this trait comes naturally to Vacheron Constantin which is considered one of the finest watchmaking Maisons when it comes to creating bespoke watches which are supposedly very complex yet sublime in the eyes of its clients. With this in mind, in 2006, it created a whole new creative unit “Les Cabinotiers” tasked with producing one of the most unique custom timepieces in line with the intensifying demands of its clients whose loyalty to the watchmaking Maison is considered paramount. 

Vacheron Constantin. Photo Courtesy of the Brand
Vacheron Constantin. Photo Courtesy of the Brand

This high-end watchmaking division was launched by Vacheron Constantin to offer the highest degree of exclusivity to its clients keen to acquire unique pieces. As Christian Selmoni, heritage & style director at Vacheron Constantin said, “We’re not offering personalization of existing watches in the collections of Vacheron Constantin, which we assume can’t compare to the ultimate level of exclusivity that comes from owning a unique timepiece that is brought to life at our atelier.” 

Vacheron Constantin. Photo Courtesy of the Brand
Vacheron Constantin. Photo Courtesy of the Brand

Since its inception in 1755, the Maison’s work has been celebrated for producing exquisite timepieces (not to mention métiers d’ art pieces) that have symbolized its foundation. This bespoke department is best known for its work in the field of high watchmaking. “Even if unique pieces or made-to-order timepieces exist in other Maisons, Les Cabinotiers by Vacheron Constantin is a specialized department within the manufacture, with designers, engineers, watchmakers, and other specialists working relentlessly in the creation and development of special pieces at the behest of its patrons,” he said. 

Whatever bespoke timepieces the brilliant team of Les Cabinotiers creates, they’re never the same. Depending upon many demands and orders of its clients for highly complicated watches often with multiple complications, they can be of various expressions. “No wonder our decorative crafts are also much appreciated, particularly hand engraving on watch cases and enameling for dials through various enameling techniques such as champlevé enameling, cloisonné enameling, and miniature painting enameling. Finally, our clients often get intrigued by the uniqueness of such timepieces fitted with grand complications,” Selmoni said. 

Blancpain too is a major player in terms of producing customized pieces for its elite clientele thanks to its Le Brassus workshops where their dream watches are brought to life using various traditional methods such as enameling, shakudo, damascening, and marquetry. 

At the end of the day, the custom timepieces created by these high-end brands are examples of mechanical prowess and delicate artistry. These pieces are reserved for their top clients who want their timepieces to be the best reflectors of some of their unforgettable moments in life. It’s no surprise that Louis Moinet and H. Moser & Cie are also big contenders when it’s all about designing intricately complex handcrafted watches.  

Bovet’s bespoke watchmaking tradition

The heritage of Bovet is closely linked to producing bespoke watches. “Making bespoke timepieces has been part of Bovet’s heritage since the founding of the House in 1822. Keeping this tradition alive has been one of our primary missions since I took over in 2001. It represents 30% of our overall production today. We love to work directly with collectors to make their timepiece dreams come true by combining art and engineering for this very purpose,” said Pascal Raffy, the owner of the Maison. 

In today’s world, luxury is construed as something that only the privileged have the means to access. However, according to Raffy, it also means having something that no one else has. As he explained, “For us, bespoke comes naturally because every timepiece goes through the human touch at every step of the way. There are no assembly lines in Bovet since every component is inspected, finished, and worked on by human hands – we even cut our own teeth in the wheels and pinions, and we make the hairsprings and regulating organs – and every movement we make is put together by one watchmaker from start to finish. As a result, we welcome bespoke orders of any kind because we can simply do it.”    

Dos Ji-Ku fond noirBanking on their long-standing heritage

With a 267-year-old heritage behind its back, Vacheron Constantin boasts of having made numerous bespoke timepieces of grand complications for famous and passionate collectors in the past such as James W. Packard, Bhupinder Singh (Maharaja of Patiala) and Henry Graves Jr. just name a few. “Today, bespoke timepieces created within Les Cabinotiers are the result of a client’s specific request – designs, movements, functions, and materials – that our specialists will be able to bring to life,” Selmoni said. “Speaking of our legacy in bespoke Vacheron Constantin watches ordered by the clients, we could only quote ‘the sky’s the limit’ as we’re able to develop even a watchmaking movement from scratch! Probably the best and most famous example in my view is the Reference 57260 from 2015, a bespoke pocket watch that took 8 years to develop and counts an astonishing number of complications: 57 on the faces of the timepiece.”  

Thus, he gladly admitted that it would be hard for him to pick his favorite timepiece of all the pieces created within the workshop. Nevertheless, he still has quite high praise for a small series of unique pieces whose dials were enameled with ‘the Grisaille’ technique based on the theme of wild animals. “As part of it, the Elephant timepiece made in 2019 was particularly impressive,” he said. 

Ji-Ku _Soldat Ji-Ku fond noirAnother challenge that Les Cabinotiers often comes across is how even its most complex pieces are wearable. “This is one of the major challenges for the designers and the technical team. Some Les Cabinotiers watches can incorporate more than 20 complications. So, we must conceive watches that could still be comfortable to wear on the wrist despite their extreme complexities,” Selmoni added.  

Likewise, Bovet has been adhering to its bespoke legacy in fine watchmaking from the start. Its human element combined with the highest level of attention to detail is another strong area the House is highly renowned for. “We can do anything from a special color of the sugar dials of the Miss Audrey Sweet Art to the fully bespoke tourbillon movements, cases, and métiers d’art dials of the Rolls-Royce collaboration, and everything in between. And, of course, all the engravings are completely unique as they’re done meticulously by hand,” Raffy said.

Shedding further light on the Rolls-Royce partnership, he pointed out, “While working on the tourbillon timepieces for Rolls-Royce, we were told to design a system that would allow them to be worn on the wrist as well as mounted into the dashboard of the Boat Tail bespoke car. For this project, we had to design the timepieces from a blank sheet of paper, integrating the patented Amadeo system to match all the requirements of Rolls-Royce because they effectively became part of the car itself.”

Bespoke Timepieces are Standalone Symbols of Sheer Luxury 
Bovet’s collaboration with Rolls-Royce Bespoke timepiece. Photo courtesy of the brand

“I love all the bespoke watches produced by Bovet, but this one would certainly be close to my heart as all the components that went into the making of the Rolls-Royce timepieces had to pass through crash testing and it took us three years to accomplish this project as a result,” he said. “This is how the bespoke world of Bovet tends to work where the rule of ‘no limits to innovation’ is revered and strictly followed. And we’re always curious about projects involving miniature painting and hand engraving since we’re experts in these two areas.”     

Aki timepiecesIndependent watchmakers are also on a roll

If we’re talking about bespoke watchmaking, then it would be incomplete without the inclusion of a legendary watchmaker Kari Voutilainen whose supremacy in making bespoke timepieces is undisputedly incredible. It’s the quality he is primarily concerned with while creating bespoke pieces for his special clients. No wonder Voutilainen’s designed pieces speak volumes about his innovative creativity that’s hard to beat. “The reason my brand stands out from the rest is because I keep my production exclusive. I’m not interested in increasing the volume even though we could do much more. We simply do anything related to our watch creations in the workshop rather than purchasing parts from the outside. We do so to keep an eye on quality because we do produce this ultimate marvel by ourselves,” he said. 

Since his bespoke timepieces are highly expensive and rare, it’s quite plausible that he gets orders close to producing 70 pieces a year which, though, depends upon his willingness to accept how many orders he wants to take in the first place. 

However, for him, it simply means meeting his target first and foremost. And most of the watches created by his brand are customized, mainly their dials. Voutilainen’s timepieces have real aesthetic value designed with intricate, technical precision — all the more so thanks to his collaboration with Kitamura, a living Japanese legend in lacquer art. “These bespoke pieces are a gateway to our watchmaking paradise where ideas are being stamped on the real precious metals which ultimately become finished products of absolute magnificence. All in all, our journey is a motivating one and gives us immense satisfaction,” Voutilainen said. “On top of it, it becomes even more rewarding to know that our work is gaining recognition as the trend of custom watches continues to grow. Most importantly, we’re into it with a long-term view.” 

Aki timepiecesKnown for his superior bespoke timepieces in the industry, it was a foregone conclusion that various luxury watch brands would call on Kari to render his intriguing touch of craftsmanship to their watch collections. In June last year, Zenith invited Kari and Philipps to work on the revival of its vintage wristwatch with a modern outlook in mind: the Zenith Caliber 135 Observatoire, and only 10 pieces of it were produced as part of this unforgettable collaboration. This caliber from the 1950s holds a record of being the one and the only movement in the history of watchmaking that has stood out against all the odds, surpassing 230 chronometry tests. All these ten pieces come with black guilloche dials, thus giving them a contemporary twist.     

New bespoke watchmaking master 

George Bamford, founder of Bamford Watch Department, is a big force to reckon with in the field of bespoke watches at present. In a short period, his personalized designs on watches, especially Rolexes (which he used to do without the brands’ permission) have made him a sought-after name in this segment. Not to mention, luxury watch brands such as TAG Heuer, Zenith, Hublot, Bulgari, Franck Muller, and Girard-Perregaux are all his official partners today, seeking out his personalized approach to their bespoke watch collections.  

“We offer a fully bespoke service on some of the most iconic watches of these brands. Our clients want something unique on their ultimate timepieces and we’re very lucky to have clients who ask us to push the boundaries and put our ‘if you can imagine it, we can put its motto to the test. From changes on date wheels or matching preferred colors from racing silks to car colors, we love to create a unique piece for our clients. We just want to create that sense of true luxury with our bespoke services. Or from colors to crests to initials, anything the clients want in their unique pieces, we can do it,” he said. “Making items extremely personal is what real luxury is all about.” 

Carl F. Bucherer Individualized Manero Double Peripheral Tourbillon Design
Carl F. Bucherer Individualized Manero Double Peripheral Tourbillon Design

The future of bespoke watchmaking is as bright as ever   

In the past too, there was no shortage of famous clients with a vast interest in ordering bespoke timepieces for themselves. And now its present and future are both secure as today’s young consumers are no less passionate about bespoke pieces as part of their watch-collecting hobby. As Selmoni put it this way, “Since made-to-order creations represent the ultimate luxury and exclusivity, bespoke watches for avid collectors and watch lovers will certainly be the highest expression of haute horlogerie. So we’re devoted to fulfilling the desires of our most demanding clients for their ultimate expressions in watchmaking. Without a doubt, Les Cabinotiers will remain relevant in the future as it is today.”

Similarly, sounding upbeat about Bovet’s future in the making of bespoke timepieces for the next 200 years, Raffy said, “For this to continue as it has been, we also depend heavily on our retailers who are the best in the world and have amazing relationships with their collectors. They’re in a perfect position to educate them regarding Bovet’s bespoke capabilities.”

Carl F. Bucherer Individualized Manero Minute Repeater Design Carl F. Bucherer Individualized Manero Minute Repeater Design

In recent years, two other big names in the watch industry Armin Strom and Carl F. Bucherer have joined in with their separate bespoke watchmaking units as they’re serious about meeting individual demands on a large scale. Ever since Armin Strom got into the business of watchmaking, it has always championed the concept of designing bespoke timepieces looking at the high demands for such custom services. So the brand launched a digital watch configurator in 2017, giving direct access to individuals to personalize their watches. 

Moving along the same lines, Carl F. Bucherer unveiled its own online CFB Mastery Lab this year to broaden the scope of individualization with no holds barred. “Doing it secretly for so long gave us the motivation to take this bespoke program forward internationally. We visited various places straightaway from the brand’s home in Lucerne to Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland, then to Munich, London, New York, Paris, and Costa Mesa, California to show our expertise in this particular field with the help of our CFB Mastery Lab and to our surprise, it was extremely well-received,” said Renato Bonina, CSO at Carl F. Bucherer. “I would like to add one very important point while we’re offering individualization services, this comes with strict conditions. Our focus would rather be on providing flawless finishes than making any changes to movements. However, we’re open to discussing whatever wishes our customers may have regarding watch designs since they will be directly involved in the personalization venture.”  

With the program offering 1000 different combinations, customers can select what material they want to be used for the case and dial where the possibilities are limitless. They can even go for special colored parts that the movements should be made of, including straps of their liking. “We’ve designed a custom watch face for one of our customers displaying lyrics from the Swiss national anthem in a phosphorescent finish. We’ve also created meteorite dials for timepieces and this is a time-consuming process,” he said. 

The CFB’s watch customization services are tailored for those customers who purchase timepieces featuring the brand’s peripheral technology such as its Manero Minute Repeater Symphony, Manero or Heritage Tourbillon Double Peripheral, or Manero Peripheral Perpetual Calendar among others. 

Interestingly, Piaget also has its feet in the world of designing bespoke timepieces thanks to the amazing features of its “Infinitely Personal” configuration program which the brand offers on just two of its models—the Altiplano Ultimate Concept and the Altiplano Tourbillon. Piaget’s watch lovers can avail of this facility at the brand’s boutiques across the world. Or for that matter, H. Moser & Cie also takes orders for creating genuinely high-end custom pieces. 

In a nutshell, the interest in personalization in the watch industry will only grow more intense as the quest for seeking bespoke luxury among watch lovers is an endless one. After all, making items extremely personal is what real luxury is all about.

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