The Modifier’s Series – Bamford Watch Department, the big dog in the modding space

The Modifier’s Series – Bamford Watch Department, the big dog in the modding space

Fergus Nash

When browsing through high-contrast, black-coated, neon-highlighted luxury watches, it shouldn’t be too long before the name Bamford crosses your path. The origin story of the Bamford Watch Department starts with a Daytona. Taking advantage of his father’s corporation, JCB — which specialises in manufacturing equipment for construction, agriculture, waste handling, and demolition — George Bamford wanted nothing more than for his Rolex Daytona to stand out a little more. After consulting with JCB’s engineering department, George had his Daytona murdered-out in the Diamond-Like Carbon (DLC) coating, which has become one of his signatures, adorning customised Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe watches around the world.

Bamford Watch Department
A Bamford-modified Rolex Daytona, previously owned by Eric Clapton. Image:

With tensions growing between watch manufacturers and Bamford’s business, given the jumble of legal grey-areas involved in customising brand-name goods, Bamford Watch Department stepped back from tinkering with Rolex and other lofty brands in 2017 – a cautious but clever move considering the Rolex lawsuit with customiser La Californienne in 2019. Instead, Bamford-enthusiast and watch industry legend Jean-Claude Biver teamed up with the workshop to produce modded pieces exclusively from LVMH brands such as TAG Heuer, Bvlgari and Zenith. These are some highlights of the journey so far. 

 TAG Heuer Monaco Heritage 

By far the most fun that can be had on any watch retailer’s website is Bamford’s ‘Build Your Own’ tool. Greeted by an image of the watch set to your computer’s time, it even features a beautifully animated sweeping seconds hand. You can truly spend hours upon hours changing every detail of this racing chronograph icon. After obvious choices like case coating and dial colour, you can nitpick the decorative batons, hand in-fills, date window, and so much more.

The stock options for all watches are decked out in George Bamford’s personal favourite black-coated and sky-blue, although my personal favourite (after a shamefully long time of playing around) was a yellow and orange highlights theme with high-contrast white and steel hands sporting blacked-out lume.

Bulgari Octo Velocissimo

Bamford Watch Department

Bvlgari have been making innovative and creative steps forward in watchmaking for many long years now, to a point where the thought of describing the brand as anything but a force in watchmaking seems almost unthinkable. The Octo line, inspired by previous Gérald Genta designs for Bvlgari, is the standout example of this in recent times. Now modified by Bamford Watch Department, the balance between the signature black and blue works wonders for the eye. Almost reminiscent of something out of Tron, this colour scheme is so at home with the blocky, sharp architecture of the case it’s a wonder why it isn’t like this straight from the factory.

Zenith Type 20 Chrono “Ton Up”

Originally a tribute to the style of a Café Racer motorbike and one of George Bamford’s personal designs, this blacked-out Zenith is the union of vintage and modern perfected. The Military-Grade Titanium Coating matches perfectly with the matt gunmetal-grey print on the charcoal dial, giving the hulking 45mm piece the utilitarianism more commonly associated with modern militaries over the WW2 pilots of old. The ghostly appearance somewhat makes the watch more versatile too, as Bamford’s taste for bursting contrast is often anything but subtle.

Zenith Pilot Chrono Tipo CP-2

With this Zenith, George Bamford has plucked a pilot’s chronograph from the sky and thrown it on the wrist of a Le Mans race winner. The racing-stripe adorned white dial with blue accents has already made this watch the archetype of a ’70s racing chrono; adding the Graphite Particle Coating and matching NATO strap is just taking it that one step further. The racing DNA is so strong, you would be forgiven for assuming you were looking at a Heuer at first glance. The main giveaway that it isn’t are the slightly more art-deco hands which give it a much more unique character, typical of a few decades before the 1970s style goal.

Bamford GMT

Well, you may have noticed this isn’t a luxury timepiece. For nearly one-tenth of the cost of the modified Zenith Pilot Chrono Tipo CP-2, you can own all of the typical Bamford character from their own self-titled microbrand. One of the two Bamford London models, the GMT does exactly as the name suggests. Powered by the Swiss workhorse Sellita SW330-1 movement and available in a gargantuan variety of case and dial colour options, the GMT defines the term bang-for-buck.

A 40mm cushion case sits surprisingly low at 11.2mm thick, especially considering the inner-rotating 24-hour bezel to accompany the GMT hand. A quick-release bracelet is particularly innovative here, as it offers an easy path for customers to personalise their watches even more with strap choices. Bamford London are also more than willing to discuss completely unique and personalised colour options, sharing the love for customisation and encouraging people to discover their own tastes.