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Customised Luxury Watches, A Spin On Upcycling, Challenge Norms

The greatest fear for luxury watchmakers is loss of control, says Vontobel’s Bertschy. “The biggest proportion of online pre-owned watch selling is completely uncertified.” For the consumer there’s a risk because of the lack of a trusted guarantee. And once a watch has been customised, the warranty from the original manufacturer is void. A Patek Philippe spokesperson points out that if a watch from the company has been upcycled or customised, then the Patek Philippe guarantee is also lost — with a negative impact on the long-term value of the watch, they say. When Bamford Watch Department first started selling customised high-end watches, many brands were unhappy. “[Bamford] were seen as a nuisance to brands like Rolex and Audemars Piguet,” says Brack. The turning point, however, came in 2017 when Jean-Claude Biver, then president of LVMH’s watch division, which included Hublot, Tag Heuer and Zenith, saw an opportunity with customisation to make hard luxury items more appealing to younger consumers. That year, Bamford stopped customising Rolexes and became official customiser for LVMH watch brands. Most significantly, customers could buy a customised LVMH-brand watch with its warranty and guarantee still intact. Bamford declined to contribute to this story. Rolex prefers to remain king of its own domain. The brand does not support customisation of its watches, making it clear that Rolex warranties and servicing will be withdrawn. “It’s not a part of their business model to have someone alter their watches in any way,” says Brack, who warns that customised watches don’t increase in value. “There’s little to no secondary market for those pieces.” All this puts the onus on customised watch studios to provide comprehensive support. Mad Paris is committed to repairing any faults and issues with its customised watches, which come with a five-year warranty, says Browns’ Petersson. “Our customers will get their expertise if there are any problems. It’s extremely important to give the customer the confidence to buy into [a high value item] that has had extensive work done on it.” Views on the future of customised high-end watches diverge hugely. Brack insists big brands don’t need to get into customisation. “There are enough consumers that want models from Rolex or Patek Philippe — those companies can barely keep up with demand.” Bertschy questions if there are enough of these already limited edition timepieces in supply. However, Hodinkee’s Bateman believes that demand for customisation will build. “If you turn up to a party and you’re wearing the same dress or jacket as someone else, then it’s a bit awkward. It’s the same if you turn up to a dinner and you’re wearing a Patek Philippe 5711 Nautilus, for example, and you realise that everyone else around the table is wearing the same. It makes your watch a little less special. I think that’s where the root of this desire to customise things comes from.” Comments, questions or feedback? Email us at info@swisswatchhouse.com.

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