December 22, 2015
by Ariel Adams
I recently visited the headquarters of London-based “Bamford Watch Department” in order to get a more intimate view of this fascinating company which continues to be so very controversial. A warm and highly congenial man, George Bamford is perhaps one of the world’s most active and ardent Rolex fans and collectors – which is slightly ironic given the amount of criticism he receives for what his company Bamford Watch Department (BWD) does to Rolex timepieces.
I’ve personally never been ambiguous about my appreciation for what Bamford does, nor am I insensitive to those who are not particularly taken with his work. With that said, I’ve never quite been able to pinpoint the issue many (not all) watch lovers have with what Bamford does. That is, until now, as I believe I have solved the problem of “what is Bamford doing that irritates so many watch lovers while at the same time pleasing others.” Thanks to the Bamford Watch Department Commando, I think I have a very good answer – so let me know if you agree.
UPDATE: The pictured watch is actually a pre-production prototype which is not detailed like the final versions will. The image of the watch above with the black background is of the final model. So… one of the newest timepiece collections from Bamford Watch Department are the “Commando” watches (debuted here) which take stock Rolex Submariner or Milgauss watches and modify them with special case coatings (that will come in a few colors) as well as custom dials produced by Bamford. The Bamford Watch Department Commando watches even come with very cool packaging to complete the military watch theme that George Bamford put so much time and effort into.
Hands-on, the Bamford Commando watches are pretty cool. The base-Rolex watches have been given a matte coating in military green (which will also have other colors in the near future) along with “sandwich” style dials which are meant to offer enhanced luminant while also integrating the look of Rolex Explorer watches to these models which are clearly not Rolex Explorers.
Bamford has access to some pretty high-tech industrial coating processes which is how they are able to do things which others cannot. Can you name a lot of other watches with a durable green coating? I can’t. This is, in theory, a sort of big deal, and uses a Graphite Powder Coating (GPC) technique which I find to be quite fascinating. PVD coating, for example, (which is how most metal watches are coated in black) is limited in the colors that it can produce.
This particular model is the Bamford Commando Submariner (which is what I am calling it) because it begins with a base Rolex Submariner 114060 (aBlogtoWatch review here), but makes it look quite different. The case and movement are all stock, while the coating, dial, and elements of the hands’ paint are done by Bamford. To be clear, this is not a timepiece Rolex will warranty or even service. Fortunately, Bamford covers all of that.
The downsides to the Bamford Watch Department Commando watches are their comparatively high prices, as well as some of the detail work around the paint. When we debuted the Bamford Watch Department Commando Edition watches, a lot of the audience correctly pointed out that the red paint applied to the 12 o’clock position on the rotating bezel was done in a manner that had red paint “bleed” outside of the upside down triangle space. This is certainly something luxury watch buyers are looking to avoid, and something Bamford should seek to avoid as well. At the least, it isn’t something you’d ever see from a production Rolex watch.
While the custom dials produced by Bamford are very cool, they can’t directly compete with the often pristine dial quality of factory Rolex watches. Moreover, it is unclear exactly how the green coating for these Bamford Watch Department Commando Edition watches will wear over time, which is a further source of unpredictability. If there is anything that Rolex has tried for years to embody in their marketing, it is that owning a Rolex is extremely predicable – in a good way.
So this leads me to why I think watch lovers are often upset with what Bamford is doing. It isn’t Bamford’s designs, creativity, or concepts which are at issue. What is at issue is how those designs seek to borrow from the Rolex name, and in a way that I believe is beginning to verge on possibly unwarranted. In short, at what point is a Bamford Watch Department customized Rolex, no longer something that should have the Rolex name on the dial?
Bamford Watch Department as well as the other Rolex customizers out there are free to purchase new Rolex watches, offer bespoke treatments to them, and sell them. The question is to what degree can these watches be modified and still bear the Rolex name. Would a Bamford Watch Department timepiece without the Rolex name (even though it is clearly a Rolex underneath) be as successful? Or would removing the Rolex name from the dials fundamentally change the value proposition of these timepieces for the intended consumers?
I want to spend a minute talking about the type of person who buys a Bamford timepiece – of which there are many. I’ve spoken to George Bamford about this on several occasions, and what seems to be a continuing theme among Bamford customers is that they are wealthy, headstrong, independent thinkers, lovers of items made just for them, and those who certainly use their timepieces to make a statement about themselves. These are also individuals who respect time-honored institutions (such as Rolex). Thus, the company’s clients, just like George Bamford, are huge fans of Rolex, but are in a place in their lives where they want their Rolex timepieces to be either completely unique for them, or part of a much smaller production of models that allows them to make a unique statement while wearing a very respected timepiece.