It was a vintage Breitling Navitimer, a gift from his father Lord Anthony Bamford, which sparked George Bamford’s obsession with design. The bubble glass and extensive text setting the cogs in motion for what would become a highly successful business. This scion of the British family still in command of the JCB manufacturing empire graduated from New York’s Parsons School of Design with a BFA in photography. His eclectic contemporary style led to his work appearing in many publications, but his love of design and vintage timepieces was always lingering and what started out as a hobby is now the well-established Bamford Watch Department.
A Rolex Daytona came on his 18th birthday, but he discovered it was a rather common one too. Having exclusive access to a company that makes the world’s best engineering and construction plant and its engineering expertise has its perks. George took it upon himself to channel the family nous and customise a vintage GMT and Submariner with a matte-black, anti-friction, non-lubricant product traditionally used for drills in the mining industry. And so it began. He gave one to his father and kept one for himself, and after returning from a holiday, found he had 25 watch orders. The Bamford Watch Company, though in its infancy, was born.
As I chat to George, his passion for design and customisation is self-evident. Much gesticulation, occasional raised voices and references to the inspirations for his exclusive watches – from the bodies of vintage cars to contemporary art – are all evidence of his genuine love for his creations.
I ask him who the typical Bamford Watch Department client is, but it’s obvious that discretion is of the utmost importance to him. ‘Let’s just say I have a broad base. From heads of state and celebrities to us mere mortals. Anyone can book an appointment to discuss their personalised timekeeping needs.’
The company mantra of ‘if you can imagine it, we can create it’ holds rather true. It’s not uncommon for people to reference very specific colours and George recounts stories where customers have brought in fairly tricky colours to match – from Chanel lipsticks to shoes, bags and even the needle from a prized automobile’s speedometer. It’s all, naturally, about individuality. Over the years, Bamford has developed some extraordinarily tough finishes, so when I ask him to pick a favourite watch, he hands me a super matte Daytona with an aqua blue dial which hasn’t left his wrist for the past six months. It’s tactile and has a rather ceramic feel due to the ‘MGTC’ – a military grade, titanium coating.
Though extremely costly, the development of this outer shell has been worth it. Scratch and abrasion testing on a Bamford time piece is rigorous to the point of violent. Each Bamford watch comes with a lifetime warranty on the coating alone and even though the original Rolex warranty is void the moment BWD start working their magic, George offers a two-year guarantee, with a direct line to the man himself thereafter. It’s exceptional personal service. He shows me another highly intricate piece where the engraving work has been carried out by the finest of gunmakers. Highly impressive stuff.
Typical turnaround is between six to eight weeks and Bamford now has 39 dealers worldwide with 15 service centres. His recently opened at the Mayfair Townhouse where ‘The Hive’ is Bamford’s main HQ with another in New York. When I ask George how Rolex feel about his work, he responds with a rye smile, ‘It’s a love hate relationship. They hate us and we love them’. The Bamford Watch Department are certainly one of Rolex’s biggest customers though George has cast his sure touch over other high-end tickers such as Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe.
Watches aren’t the only desirable objects to get the exclusive Bamford design treatment. The Bamford Cycle Department has done for bikes what has already been done for timepiece personalisation and individuality. He was asked if he fancied accompanying friends on a bike ride, but little did he know they were actually referring to the London to Paris. After approaching Trek to see if they could provide him with a customised machine for the journey and being told it wasn’t possible, George went ahead and purchased one anyway, did the trip, but hated the fact his bike had Trek emblazoned all over it. And so began again the customising process.
This seems to be a recurring theme with George. It’s about what makes you feel good, makes you smile, not how others may perceive it. By all means, order your high-end, Bamford specialised carbon fibre bike in a shocking pink, just as long as it rewards you. George’s latest venture, the Bamford Grooming Department is another natural extension of the man himself – wanting truly masculine feeling products and scents with a feel, tactility and ingredients of the highest quality. If success is measured by your wife nicking your own products, then George is definitely onto a winner. You can find his range at Mr Porter, Dover Street Market London, New York and Colette Paris.
Being a car man, he has what the vast majority of us would consider a sizeable collection, mostly vintage. And he uses them. These are not ‘show ponies’, he asserts. These are machines that are driven and enjoyed, not cosseted and hidden away. Upon arrival earlier in the day, we were greeted by two very different vehicles. A pretty Bentley Mulsanne with a few tricks up its sleeve and a brute of a Land Rover. One of these would be our ride back to town.
Developed in the late 60s, the Land Rover 101 Forward Control is a military vehicle designed to tow a field gun and a tonne of ammunition. Now heavily (and naturally) customised with all manor of modern engineering under the skin, it’s also extremely effective at ferrying one’s friends across the estate to and from the local watering house. But less appropriate for conducting interviews in. So we took the aluminium bodied 275 GTB back to London instead. Hard times, indeed, from the man with the hardened watches.