December 11, 2016
by Ariel Adams
The latest horological offering from Tiffany & Co. isn’t per se a new watch, but a new way to make one of their watches “truly yours.” Watch personalization and customization services have existed since the beginning of watches themselves hundreds of years ago. Today there are no shortage of ways to make a timepiece unique to the owner, but not all methods are convenient, let alone cost-effective. With the “Watch Workshop,” Tiffany & Co. hopes to offer a meaningful personalization service that is enjoyable for customers, but at the same time something that isn’t intimidating or too time consuming for their clients.
Before talking about the details of the Tiffany & Co. Watch Workshop, and this lovely timepiece I produced as a result, I would like to discuss watch personalization/customization in general. First allow me to distinguish between these two seemingly synonymous terms. Customization is producing something that is actually unique by incorporating something original. Personalization is being able to adapt an item using predefined options and choices. An example of customization would be to paint a unique image on a watch dial, or to make a totally original watch dial. Personalization would be being able to choose from a set of defined choices such as a variety of colors, watch hands, and markers.
Customization typically costs more than personalization, but it is also a lot more intimidating for consumers. The reason is that while some people know exactly what they want and can imagine it, most people only know what they want to feel. This is a very important consideration to make for not only those who want to offer personalization/customization services, but those who want to explore it – especially for watches.
One of the good things about going into a store and buying an “off the shelf” watch from a big name brand like Tiffany & Co., is that you trust them to have made good creative choices prior to the product actually being available for sale. The idea is that the creative people at the company do all the customization of the product prior to you ever having to make a choice. They are doing the “hard work” of thinking about all the details in order to present you with a product that they hope you like. This is in essence, trusting someone with a more skilled or sophisticated mind to make difficult or tedious creative choices for you.
Anyone who has had to choose things like paint or fixtures for a room inherently understands this. The danger of designing something you don’t like can seem greater than the chance of making something perfect. When it comes to luxury, we often err on the side of letting others with more skill than us create those “perfect” things, and as consumers our job is to hunt for the items we like best.
This process that I stated above is the path most consumers take when it comes to most of the things they purchase, as well as watches. With that said, I want to encourage more people to embark on personalization and even customization when it comes to items they are passionate about, such as watches. The joy that you will get from including a part of yourself into the creative process is difficult to discount. The result is not only an item which more authentically comments on your tastes, personality, and lifestyle, but is also bound to have more sentimental meaning to you.
A full discussion on the personalization and customization options available out there for watches could take volumes. It requires a lifestyle to truly understand them, and the more bespoke you go, the more courage you need to feel confident in the beauty of your decisions given what it will cost you. Therefore, I highly recommend that people wishing to slowly begin on a process of adding their own designer touch to the items, start with a sandbox like what Tiffany & Co. offers. It allows for enough customization to make something actually personal, but at the same time, it is hard to screw up.
Tiffany & Co. invited me to their newly remodeled store in Beverly Hills to check out a preview of their CT60 Watch Workshop, and I was rather impressed. Let me explain the basics of how the Watch Workshop, well, works. The entire process is based on customizing the Tiffany CT60 three-hand watch which we debuted back in 2015 here. This is a 40mm wide dress-style watch, whose design was inspired by a timepiece that Tiffany & Co. produced for, and gave to United States president Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. I’m typically not a fan of gimmicks like this, but I have to say that they did a great job with the watch, and it does have a “retro familiarity” to it that I like. It doesn’t hurt that FDR was among the 20th century’s more interesting and influential politicians.
Starting with the Tiffany CT60 base, the Watch Workshop allows you to choose from a variety of elements, and then to have some engravings options. In the video you can learn a bit more about that, but I’ll go over the basics. The most impressive choices are all the various dial colors, as well as the strap and bracelet options.
I want to stop here and return to the matter of courage. To say to yourself that you are qualified to design a high-end watch that you’ll want to regularly wear takes a degree of confidence. It might be easier if you are using the Watch Workshop to design a timepiece for someone else as a gift, but at the end of the day you need to say to yourself “this is good enough to buy and this is good enough to wear.” What Tiffany & Co., along with any other self-respecting personalization provider does is offer you a hand to hold. This means that while Tiffany & Co. could have made the Watch Workshop online and just scaled production, they don’t do that. Rather, you need to visit one of the select Tiffany & Co. stores that houses a surprisingly portable Watch Workshop, and go through the process with a specially trained Tiffany & Co. sales associate.
Tiffany uses an iPad loaded with a special Watch Workshop application that helps you visualize the end result. You can design two different watches using the tool and then compare them side-to-side, while at the same time playing with the parts. You can’t actually assemble mock watches with the pieces in front of you, so a combination of seeing the watch components in front of you, and using the Watch Workshop app makes understanding what the end result can be a lot easier.