Q&A with the King of Custom Rolexes

The crown jewels of our latest Olivia Kim-curated Pop-In Shop, GIFT & GO, are a series of five blacked-out Rolexes customized exclusively for us in collaboration with Bamford Watch Department.

Make no mistake: Each watch is literally the only one of its kind in the world. Through advanced technologies, our friends at London-based Bamford take brand-new luxury watches, custom-color each individual component, and reassemble the watch to its original premium-grade specifications.

Keep reading for a closer look at our custom Daytona, Milgauss, Explorer II and more—and to hear the backstory of the brand from founder George Bamford.

Note: Our five custom Rolexes are housed at Nordstrom Bellevue Square.
Call 425.455.5800 for more information.

[Rolex Explorer I—by Bamford Watch Department for Pop-In@Nordstrom]

MEN’S SHOP DAILY: How would you describe what Bamford Watch Department does?
GEORGE BAMFORD: “Bamford Watch Department is the world’s leading luxury watch personalization company. One of our business mantras is, If you can imagine it, we can create it, and applying this to bespoke luxury products is something I love and something we hold dear as we are being challenged on a daily basis to make something unique for our clients. We can do things like match a lady’s shoe or lipstick, or the color of a pair of Nike sneakers, or have the panel of a car copied as the color of the dial—the options are endless.”

Why, in your opinion, would a person want a one-of-a-kind, customized watch?
“Personalization of your watch—having something one-of-a-kind and being individual—is about finding something unique to you, which will have you looking at your wrist with pride. When I started Bamford Watch Department, personalization seemed a long-forgotten art, which was slowly sneaking back into our world and into our lives. We are all individuals, and I believe that our clothes, our jewelery and our watches should scream that we are individuals. I feel as though the concept of luxury has lost its way and that, like the needle in the proverbial haystack, we are all striving to find that true luxury item in a mass-market world. I feel that personalization of mass-market products is one way to find that item.”

[Rolex Daytona—by Bamford Watch Department for Pop-In@Nordstrom]

What inspired you to create this company and this service in the first place?
“The initial catalyst for founding Bamford Watch Department was when I was given what I considered the holy grail of watch collecting. I was given a steel, black-dial Rolex Daytona Zenith movement with inverted 6/9 sub-dial by my parents. It was really the pinnacle, and for about six months to almost a year, I was showing it off and doing something called shooting the cuff. This means shooting out the watch from under my jacket and showing it off to everyone. Then, I had a moment that felt like how a lady would feel if she arrived at a party wearing the same dress as everyone else; I turned up to a dinner party where there were a lot of cool cats, and everyone was wearing the exactly same watch as me, with either a black or white dial. I felt disheartened and felt like what I had considered as my holy grail had fallen flat, and so I thought to myself, how could I create something unique?

“At the time, there was Jacob the Jeweler who was all about bling, and I wasn’t a bling person. So I thought we could look at using the color black. I spoke with the designing and engineering department at my family’s company, JCB, and we found a process from the mining industry, which was a DLC process (diamond-like carbon)—an anti-friction lubrication system for drill parts. I tested it on a vintage GMT Master and a Submariner, and in turn I gave one to my father, and both of us wore the watches during the summer. That summer, I received 25 orders from people we met. It dawned on me that this was serious, and I knew I had to take it further.”

[Rolex Explorer II—by Bamford Watch Department for Pop-In@Nordstrom]

How did your watch-collecting journey begin?
“I started collecting watches in 1992, and my first-ever watch was a Breitling Navitimer with a domed glass. This was given to me as a gift from my parents and cost them about £200-300. The hands were wrong, and I probably broke the dome on this four or five times from wearing it to death, but I loved it, and it ignited my passion for watches and started my collecting journey. I started collecting Breitlings, TAG Heuers, Omegas, Datejusts and just simple Rolexes that I could afford.”

How many watches do you own today, and is there one you can name as your favorite?
“I will never give away how many I own, as there are too many and it is probably embarrassing, and therefore it is difficult to list just one. But I love my 1980s Rolex Milgauss Reference 1019 with a blue dial. I believe watches represent a part of your life, and this simple but striking watch was on my wrist when proposing to my wife, the day I got married, and for the birth of my two children—so this watch holds many happy memories for me. This is why we do personalization, as it creates a unique personal experience, and you can credit the dates similar to a Submariner we’ve created, which shows a heart on the date wheel for special occasions like anniversaries.”

[Rolex Milgauss—by Bamford Watch Department for Pop-In@Nordstrom]

This marks Bamford’s second collaboration with Pop-In@Nordstrom. How has it been working with Olivia Kim and our team?
“I love working with Nordstrom as I always feel they push us further than we have gone. My first collaboration was last Christmas and the team are wonderful. They create brilliant designs and I think it is a great idea for such a big retailer to do unique, customer-focused products.”

What do you enjoy about this latest batch of designs?
“All of these watches are beautiful. The juxtaposition between our signature black stealth design on the dial and the Viper Green, Flame Orange or Bamford Yellow or Blue colored hands makes the design pop off the dial and wonderfully unique. The stealth design has become a very big seller for us, and Nordstrom’s use of the colorways creates striking timepieces.”

[Rolex GMT Master II—by Bamford Watch Department for Pop-In@Nordstrom]

Besides a great watch, what are three things every man needs in life?
“I am a sneaker pimp and love my trainers, so a great pair of shoes is crucial, as well as very cool sunglasses and an excellent scent—the absolute essence of a man.”

Same question, but for our female readers (or the men buying them gifts for the holidays). What are three things every woman needs?
“When I asked this question to my wife, her response was ‘Accessories, accessories and more accessories,’ and I totally agree. It’s the small items that add a unique twist, so a great coat, a pair of killer heels and an amazing bag are three of many items that every woman needs.”

What do you feel has been the key to your success thus far?
“I believe in investing in my team, and as a result, I have a very good team. From the team to our services, we want to be the very best. Another mantra of ours is Jamais contente. I interpret it as never content, but always striving for more. With that devil on your back, we must always be striving to go further, which is why I developed the coating from what we originally had. It went from DLC (Diamond-Like Carbon] to PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition) and now to our own MGTC (Military-Grade Titanium Coating).”



[Still-life photos by Robin Stein. Styling by Ashley Helvey.]

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