Mod Culture - Artisans de Genève

In a world of serial or mass production, how can you stand out?

Mod Culture - Artisans de Genève

There is a conflict at the heart of watch collecting. On one side collectors want recognisable pieces, which is why there exists a virtuous circle of the best known brands and models becoming the most sought-after, talked-about, and consequently even more sought-after. On the other, collectors don’t want to feel like sheep, they want something special and unique to them. This is when the watch customisers come in. They can take your iconic watch and transform it into a one-off work of art.

Customising watches or ‘modding’ exists at all levels of the collecting community. The accessibility of Seiko dive watches has made them a perfect starting point for DIY modding, whether it is a change of bezel, dial and hands between models, or a fantasy creation with only the movement remaining unchanged. Some, like the ‘Fifty Five Fathoms’ are a cheeky wink to other brands watches, others are simply the embodiment of the owners vivid imagination.

At the other end of the spectrum, jewellers have been adding extra ‘bling’ to watches for years. This may be the addition of a diamond bezel at a cheaper price than the brand would charge or the setting of diamonds where the original model had none. Quality of stones and setting range from the ‘industrial’ to the ‘exquisite’ depending on who is doing the work.

In the early 2000s, a new phenomenon appeared, that of branded modifications. George Bamford’s ‘Bamford Watch Department’ led the way in 2004 with their black DLC coated Rolex sports watches. Since then, a profusion of followers has appeared such as Pro Hunter, Project X, and Mad Paris, to name but a few, all offering their take on what a conventional watch can become. Most of these brands limit themselves to customising the externals of the watch including the dial and hands, but some companies take this far further, modifying the movement and even adding complications. One such is Artisans de Geneve.

Following pushback from brands such as Rolex and Cartier, many modern watch customisers will not sell you a watch. Projects are at the request of the owner, and work is carried out on their personal timepiece. This frees the watchmakers from intellectual property charges or accusations of faking. Artisans de Geneve’s craftsmen offer a wide range of modifications and in consultation with the owner, almost any aspect of the watch can be changed. A browse through the ‘Challenges’ as they are referred to, listed on their website shows what has been done to each watch to transform it.

Dials are redesigned, or skeletonised, sapphire case backs added, and revealed movements refinished to a higher level than before, or even fully openworked. New components are made from scratch, whether a sapphire bezel or a new movement barrel. The process is a lengthy one with a waiting list to begin discussions on your project, and each project taking 12-16 weeks to complete. The result may not appeal to brand purists, and certainly will not be accepted by the original brand for service, but for those searching for the ultimate ‘piece unique’ you will have the perfect mix of familiarity and exclusivity.