Customizing Time
Watch Time|September - October 2020
As more and more of today’s consumers look for watches that make a truly personal statement, the art of customization is in rising demand. Here we offer one of the most comprehensive looks at customizing time.
Roberta Naas

It’s been a centuries-old trend in clothing: bespoke tailoring is all about making a singular suit or pair of shoes designed expressly for an individual. Today, as more customers are looking to express their individuality, the concept of having a custom-made watch is taking on all-new meaning. People are looking for something edgy, different, and expressive of their own thoughts, hobbies or love. But are watchmakers ready to comply?

“A personalized approach through customization is key for high-end clients, and particularly those with a penchant for Haute Horlogerie,” says Julien Tornare, CEO of Zenith Watch Company. “We see high demand for this service, and delivering it is part of our commitment to fulfilling client expectations. We create custom pieces for clients who are not interested in wearing watches generally available to the public; they prefer unique examples of watchmaking, a way for them to be actively involved in the creation of a timepiece. And this trend is not slowing down; on the contrary, it is rising.”

Having a customized or unique watch is not a new concept. Historically speaking, many of the top watch brands made unique watches a century ago for their top clients. Easily one of the most impressive examples comes in the form of a gentlemen’s race between automobile engineer James Ward Packard and financial banker and art collector Henry Graves, each of whom would regularly turn to Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin to have the most complicated watches built for them.

For about 35 years starting in 1900, the two men commissioned watches that took years to develop and build, and that would go down in history as the world’s most complicated pieces. In fact, the Graves Super Complication pocket watch, built by Patek Philippe and delivered in 1933, held the record as the world’s most complicated portable mechanical watch for 56 years.

This is not an isolated example. Many of today’s most iconic watch collections were initially made at the request of clients. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso released in 1931, for instance, was created at the request of polo players who wanted a watch they could wear during play that would not get damaged. The reversible concept was born and the Reverso has been a legendary watch ever since. Similarly, the IWC Portugieser was first built in 1939 at the request of two Portuguese businessmen who wanted a highly legible watch as precise as a marine chronometer for the wrist. The list goes on and on.

In the past, this type of customization was a natural way for a watch brand to grow. However, as time passed and technology progressed, brands became more reliant on machinery and tools for cutting main plates and other components. It became more and more difficult to take on those custom orders.

Today, with nanotechnology high-tech CNC machines and some automated technology (not to mention computer-aided design), big watch brands simply can’t keep up with the request for specially made movements and watches. Just the retooling of equipment to stop producing one watch model and to start cutting parts for another model can take weeks of lost production.

“There are a lot of powerful buyers who would love to get factory-made customized watches by certain brands; they want watches nobody else can get. But most brands can’t do it because they don’t have the resources, or have so many requests,” says Paul Boutros, Head of Americas & Senior Vice President of Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo auction house.

What is Customization

That is not to say that watches customized for individuals don’t get made. They do. More often than we know. Many brands don’t “kiss and tell” about their customization and pieces unique work — often because they know requests would come flooding in if word got out, or out of simple respect for the client.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM WATCH TIMEView All

Sports Cars For the Wrist: Porsche Design Custom-Built Timepieces Program

The user has the opportunity to customize the signature element of the self-winding movement, the new COSC chronometer-certified Caliber WERK 01.100, developed in-house at Porsche Design Timepieces AG in Switzerland.

2 mins read
Watch Time
September - October 2020

Sixties, Meet Seventies: TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Montreal Limited Edition

Named after the treacherous Carrera Panamericana road race, the TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Montreal Limited Edition combines elements of the Carrera with those of the 1970s’ cult classic, the white Heuer Montreal, a cushion-shaped, bicompax chronograph with a colorful dial that was launched in 1972.

1 min read
Watch Time
September - October 2020

Racing Back To its Roots: TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph Collection

Launching over two collections in two distinctive styles is the TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre Heuer 02 collection.

1 min read
Watch Time
September - October 2020

REDESIGN NOW

For 2020, the 55th anniversary of the brand’s first dive watch, Seiko has also been working on another take on two vintage watches from its Prospex collection. We take a first look at both the more classic “1965 Diver’s Modern Re-interpretation” and the “1970 Diver’s Re-interpretation” with its distinctive asymmetrical cushion case.

7 mins read
Watch Time
September - October 2020

Spirit in The Sky: Aviation, Exploration And Historical Design Inspire New Longines Spirit Collection

Many historically minded watch mavens know that Longines timed Charles Lindbergh’s record-setting transatlantic flight in 1927.

2 mins read
Watch Time
September - October 2020

Inspired By Ancestry

Blancpain’s Villeret collection channels the haute horlogerie roots of the world’s oldest watchmaking brand and continues to innovate with an array of grand and practical complications.

10+ mins read
Watch Time
September - October 2020

Postwar And Modern: Longines Heritage Classic Tuxedo Collection

The two new 1940s-inspired pieces called the Heritage Classic Tuxedo Chronograph and the Heritage Classic Tuxedo Time only take their inspiration from the postwar period and the sector-dial designs that were popular at the time.

2 mins read
Watch Time
September - October 2020

Circles of Time

Fifteen years after its introduction, the Lange 1 Time Zone has now been equipped with a new manufacture caliber. The time in two different time zones can be read intuitively from the dial. But this watch offers much more, as we can confirm after scrutinizing one we were able to preview before the watch’s official launch.

9 mins read
Watch Time
September - October 2020

Customizing Time

As more and more of today’s consumers look for watches that make a truly personal statement, the art of customization is in rising demand. Here we offer one of the most comprehensive looks at customizing time.

9 mins read
Watch Time
September - October 2020

BRONZE AGE

Following the current trend, Oris has encased its design icon, the Big Crown Pointer Date, in warm bronze — not only the case but the bezel, the namesake big crown, and even the dial. We tested the watch in real-life situations.

4 mins read
Watch Time
September - October 2020