There has never before been such a variety of choice available in the watch industry yet, despite this fact, one-of-a-kind timepieces have never been more eagerly sought after. A watch is often an object purchased to mark a special occasion such as to celebrate love, a birth, or as a token of gratitude. Personalising it represents a means of adopting it, of making it testify to a moment that is thus immortalised. Watches lend themselves perfectly to these kinds of dedications, since they make their way through the ages while measuring time. The strap is the first stage, as confirmed by the success of bespoke leather specialists. Engraving is the next step, and when it comes to initials or insignia, the Reverso by Jaeger-LeCoultre provides ideal scope for personal expression. This is however a private and non-functional part of the watch, and the more visually apparent customisation options begin with the dial.
The face of the watch is the domain of the brand, which generally places its name and logo there. Bovet is a specialist of bespoke miniature painted dials, a longstanding Fleurier tradition. The dial is fitted at the end of the production process, a fact that is eminently compatible with the organisational constraints involved in personalisation. Things get a bit more complex with the inside of the case as soon as the movement is involved. Blancpain offers a service of engraving oscillating weights, which it sculpts according to individual requests. Its erotic automaton and minute repeater watches are the best-known one-of-a-kind models in the industry. Another movement component ideally suited to customisation is the tourbillon carriage, and Louis Vuitton allows customers to choose the shape of this extremely refined component.
The heart of the matter
There is however nothing more exclusive than a watch with a movement specifically made to order. Clients are often ‘serial customisers’. Some seek uniqueness for uniqueness’ sake, while others are enlightened connoisseurs and mechanical specialists. They also want to be directly involved in design and production, but this complex process tends to put off certain watch companies which prefer the rational nature of a standardised and easily controllable work-load schedule rather than the vagaries of one-of-a-kind models. It must be said that customers’ wishes are sometimes limitless. Certain brands have felt scruples regarding the Asian trend for self-portraits. There are plenty of strange ideas floating around, but how can one say no to a customer prepared to pay through the nose?
Step by step
Vacheron Constantin has a special division, the Atelier Cabinotiers, which is responsible for all kinds of individualisation. Its mission encompasses every aspect of bespoke models ranging from dial to case to complications… The owner’s wishes are submitted to an ethics committee. If the project is deemed to meet the House standards, it will be carried forward in complete confidentiality. The Atelier has already secretly crafted a watch even more complicated than its Tour de l’Ile model, which was already a towering accomplishment. Patek Philippe sometimes fulfils such orders, but no information is ever leaked. Cartier also remains discreet about these processes, which are necessarily intended for its VIP clients.