The art of making a mass-produced product your own is a practice that is not unique to watchmaking. When I was younger, we would dye Clark’s Wallabee boots to match the colors of our outfits. The practice was made popular by the Wu-Tang Clan, and 25 years later, Clark’s has released already dyed and customized models to commemorate this time in history.
Bespoke tailors have long monogrammed the initials of the wearer on shirt cuffs and inside jacket pockets, to offer an extra amount of exclusivity and personalization. These alterations do not change what makes the items a complete product of the manufacturer. They do not remove or replace any fundamental material or alter the overall composition of the product.
In our community, there are several different ways to customize a watch. The easiest and most common alteration is to change the strap or bracelet that the watch was sold with. This action is accepted by manufactures and does not affect the warranty or serviceability of the timepiece. A practice that has been picking up steam is altering the composition of the watch. These changes to hands, dials, crystals, bezels, etc. do change the identity of a watch – fundamentally changing what it was designed to represent. In some cases, these changes also alter the functionality of the watch itself.
Many watchmakers have official partnerships with designers that offer unique takes on popular models. Bamford and TAG Heuer have been doing this for years. What about the smaller boutiques that customize? How do you know if your customized watch is still authentic and that the original manufacturer will honor any original warranty?
Bamford Watch Department (who customizes models from TAG, Zenith, and Bvlgari) does not have warranty information available online. My attempts to reach out and ask about the warranty were not immediately replied to.
Artisans de Genève (famous for their skeletonized interpretations of the Rolex Daytona) state on their website that their alterations void the original manufacturer warranty, but that they replace it with their 5-year warranty.
For good measure, Titan Black also customizes Rolex watches and is the first company listed in the Google search for ‘custom Rolex’. Under their ‘Warranty’ tab, it is explained that the watch is no longer covered by the manufacturer warranty and that the manufacturer is no longer responsible for the service or repair of the watch at all. From the looks of it, customizing your watch is accepted widely as an instant kill switch for your warranty.
These alterations change parts fundamental to the operation of the watch. These are not merely cosmetic changes. It can be argued that after each alteration, the respective models are more along the lines of a new watch than they are to what they began as. Aside from the lack of the original warranty (and not considering the individuals’ right to do with their property as they wish) these modified pieces are no longer an accurate representation of their namesakes and should not be marketed as such.
It is how these items are sold that is the problem. It’s one thing to buy your watch and then send it to one of these companies for work. It’s entirely different to buy a watch directly from said company post customization. I understand that these watches began as, say, a Rolex, but how much of the original watch needs to remain for it to still be considered a Rolex? How do we separate the custom work of an authentic watch, from a colorful fake? Since there is no clear answer to these questions, manufacturers are left to treat all these pieces being marketed and sold as authentic, as counterfeit, and it is only rarely that the brands and in this case Rolex chose to stick their heads above the legal parapet as has been seen here in recent days as Rolex take on laCalifornienne and their colourful take on watches
You have the right to do whatever you want with your property. I do not think that anyone should be allowed to sell products as ‘authentic’ if the parts used in customization are not authorized and/or sourced from the manufacturer. The prices that are being charged are not solely because of craftsmanship and labor. The strength of the name on the dial has just as much (if not the complete and only) reason these models command the prices they do. When the popularity really soars on this trend, I wouldn’t be surprised to see even more counterfeit claims and lawsuits pop up to keep people from capitalizing on brand cache’ to sell cheap items for top dollar.
You can find Sanford at @quest327