Time to refine, with the watch world’s tinkerer-in-chief

For George Bamford, pursuing personalisation is a never-ending crusade. After training as a photographer at Parsons School of Design in New York, the affable Englishman discovered a taste for timepieces, which set him on course for an exciting career in customisation. Now formed into his two eponymous brands, the Bamford Watch Department and Bamford London, we catch up with him for a chat on why the world needs more personalisation.

“The strange thing is, I look at my career and I wonder how to describe something that you actually enjoy every minute of,” Bamford begins, sat at his desk in his Mayfair headquarters. “Then to think you’re actually doing it as a career is just amazing.”

Once freed from the restraints of full-time education in England, Bamford set his sights on the Big Apple, where, alongside his studies at Parson’s he spent most of his waking hours at flea markets, trading unique and obscure timepieces and learning the ins and outs of what would become his trade.

“This was back in the day when there was virtually no internet - I had a Hotmail account and that was about it,” he explains. “Since then, it’s changed a lot. We were never officially working with the brands and now we work right alongside them, which is brilliant.”

From nothing but an email account, Bamford formed the foundations of what would become his own watch customisation empire. Now working alongside big brands, Bamford’s business has changed considerably from those early days in New York City.

“In many ways, my life has got easier — to work inside and understand the watch world is a great thing. Before I was a pariah. But now we’re working with LVMH and the Caring Group, to name a few. And we launched Bamford London, which is my outlet for designing the watches I always wanted to design.”

While Bamford’s family link to the JCB empire is well stated, the son of JCB Chairman Lord Bamford and businesswoman Lady Bamford has worked to carve his own career path based on his lifelong penchant for personalisation.

“Everything in my career has been happenstance all the way through,” he admits. “But you do make your own destiny — of course you do, because you have to work your ass off — but if you’re doing something and you’re enjoying it, then you’re in a good place.”

While Bamford always knew he wanted to work with watches, it was in 2002 that he created his first custom timepiece. “It was a Tag Heuer Monaco that I wanted to make look like an iconic vintage watch called the ‘Dark Lord’,” he recalls. “Then, a year after, I started my watch personalisation company called the Bamford Watch Department, to personalise watches for other people.”

“Personalisation for me is all about individuality. The last bastion of design for people with money is personalisation in yachts and watches. Back in the day, people used to build their palaces when they’d made some money. But now yachts have taken their place. There’s no planning permission involved and yes, there are boat regulations, but everything else is down to you and I think it’s the same in watches. They’re items that say ‘this is me.’”

From those early days in the Big Apple, Bamford returned to England, purchasing a townhouse behind the Dorchester hotel in Mayfair 6 years ago. “It’s where we’ve got our watch makers, our designers and we’ve got 2 client rooms, so it’s an all-encompassing building — it’s a mecca of my excitement and I’m really enjoying where my team and I are going,” he says excitably.

Of course, what Bamford and his team have set about doing is nothing revolutionary — personalisation has been around for as long as humans have existed. But as the avenues for crafting truly bespoke items have narrowed over the years, businesses like Bamford’s have become all the more relevant.

“You think about cars, clothing and the 1920s; suits, top hats - everything was personalised to you. Then we became mass-market luxury people. We just accepted that we’d spend an exorbitant amount of money on something and still have no individuality.”

“Humans tend to conform. If you think about nice watches that you put on your wrist, most people have seen them before. But, with that, you’ve lost that ‘wow’: that wonderful factor that it’s yours. And you’re still spending a fortune.”

With more regulation, and consumers’ appetites for craftsmanship growing at pace, time will tell what the future of luxury looks like — and, more importantly, how personal it is.

“We have to move to more personalisation,” insists Bamford. “We’ve become a disposable world, where products have built in obsolescence, and we always want the latest and greatest model. But, even down to trainers, where you have a level of personalisation with Nike IDs, for example, people will hold on to them for much longer because they’re designed by them.”

“People are not throwing them away and they’re not ending up in landfill. So, I think there must be more of holding onto things for longer,” stresses Bamford. “For me, personalisation goes hand in hand with sustainability.”

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