This story originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Elite Traveler.
In the past, if you wanted to customize an aspect of your watch, your options were limited to specially ordered engraving or hand-painting on the dial or caseback. Now, thanks to new technology, some savvy watch brands are taking customization to all new levels.
A few years ago, I penned an article for Elite Traveler focusing on watch brands that offered artistic customization of their watches using engravings, enamel work or gemstone setting. While those personal styles of customization remain highly in demand in haute horology, a handful of top brands are offering a new wave of customization that enables watch lovers to select their own case materials, dial colors, accent colors and sometimes even the colors of movement parts.
This bespoke service has been made possible for a number of reasons, not the least of which is consumer demand. As more and more customers search for a watch that suits their personal taste, yet differentiates them from others, brands are seeking ways to deliver uniqueness. Additionally, technology has advanced to the point where certain brands can embrace a combination of high-tech online services with specialized craftsmanship.
For small, independent brands that create limited numbers of watches, personalization is slightly easier because they can make one-off changes without too much retooling or refitting of machines. For larger brands, specialization usually comes in the form of selecting the type of metal for the case or bezel, color or coating choices (black PVD gold, for example), or dial and strap choices. In most instances, as you personalize the watch online, a three-dimensional rendering depicts the different color choices, finishes, etc., so you can see the process in real time as you go along.
Among the brands that excel at the personalization process is Armin Strom, which unveiled its watch configurator concept to much customer acclaim more than a year ago, and has since enhanced its offerings. In fact, this independent Swiss brand touts its configurator as a way for clients to create a timepiece that no one else owns. Without leaving the comfort of your home, you can go online and select everything from the watch model and movement (including tourbillons and a basic power-reserve model), to the colors of the rotor and other movement components. For design, Armin Strom offers different colors, engravings and even the skeletonization of the caliber, as well as choice of case materials, dials, hands, clasp and strap — right down to the color of the stitching on the strap.
At the ultra-luxury level, Parmigiani Fleurier offers personalization of its new Bugatti Type 390 watch (made in honor of the new Chiron car) via a customization app. Because of the unusual case shape of this watch and its multi-part case structure, you can select the case material (including a choice of carbon fiber), color and material of the side inserts, sapphire crystal colors and, of course, the strap, stitching and even the inner strap lining color and material. Parmigiani says its color choices are endless, as the brand allows you to select not only from its offerings, but also from the Pantone color palette or by bringing in an item to color-match.
Just as Richemont-owned brand Jaeger-LeCoultre began its personalization of the iconic Reverso in a dedicated Atelier program two years ago, sister brand IWC Schaffhausen unveiled a program earlier this year that enables clients to create their own IWC Ingenieur Chronograph, and we expect more models to follow soon. The configuration program, the IWC Style Visualizer, allows the selection of everything from case materials to dial color to caseback engraving. The time of order to the time of delivery is approximately 12 weeks, which includes having the watch undergo the brand’s vigorous 500-hour testing.
While the luxury timepiece offerings on the market are already vast, sometimes the look just isn’t quite right. Personalization of this nature allows you to achieve your own exact, on-point statement. With the sheer number of options available, the chance of running into someone with the same watch are incredibly slim.
Images: Top – Armin Strom Mirrored Force Resonance watch with hand-guillochéd dial, $59,000, configurator.arminstrom.com; Middle – Parmigiani Fleurier Bugatti Type 390 watch, from $275,000 in titanium or $295,000 in 18K white or red gold, available for customization at Le Studio Parmigiani Fleurier in Miami, +1 786 615 9656, parmigiani.com; Bottom – IWC Custom Ingenieur Chronograph from $7,250 in stainless steel and $18,600 in 18K red gold, iwc.com