Many names in modern watchmaking have tried to harness the remarkable potential of well-chosen collaboration with a brand outside of the business.
There are many different ways a tie-up between a watchmaker and an “outsider” can take shape, ranging from watches that have nothing more than twin logos on the dial, or the other extreme with timepieces painstakingly designed to look and perform in a unique way that suits the theme of the collaboration. Here are four fascinating watches that represent the best collabs in contemporary watchmaking.
What better to begin with than the partnership between Zenith and TAG Heuer – both brands owned by LVMH – and the horological outlaw: Bamford Watch Department. George Bamford and his company are famous, even infamous, for daring modifications to iconic watches from equally iconic brands, like Rolex, Panerai, and Patek Philippe – without the permission of the watchmakers involved, until now.
Needless to say, his cheerful customisations of some of the best loved watches has produced as many haters as admirers, but that has not stopped the company from pushing the limits both when it comes to high-tech surface treatments or funky dial designs.
TAG Heuer and Zenith are the first brands to start an official partnership with Bamford – a decision that suddenly makes sense when you consider the bold Jean-Claude Biver, who runs the LVMH watch division, and his love for being first, different and unique in the industry.
With the Zenith and TAG Heuer tie-up, Bamford has gone a step further than it ever did. It now offers “ready to wear” watches, and also fully custom creations. Anyone can go online to Bamford’s website and customize well-known models such as the TAG Heuer Monaco, Autavia or Carrera Caliber 5, while Zenith allowed Bamford access to the Zenith El Primero 42mm, Type 20 Chrono, Pilot Chrono and Heritage 146 Chronomaster.
Using the online customizer, one can change nearly every detail of the watch, from the colours of the minute and tachymetric tracks, to different hand sets, or even the position of the brand’s logo – and even add his or her own initials to the watch. This not only allows a client to create his own, perhaps absolutely unique, timepiece, but also provides a glimpse at how challenging it is to design a watch.
While the usual suspects for collaborations are often predictable – typically carmakers, which we shall look at soon enough – F.P. Journe took a different route and teamed up with high-end English gun maker Holland & Holland.
Rather than just printing the century-old British gun maker’s name on the watch, the two have worked out something much more special. The story goes that two Holland & Holland rifles were discovered – numbered barrel No. 1382 from 1868 and barrel No. 7183 from 1882 respectively – and with that the two brands found a way to please the select few who are fans of both watches and sporting guns.
The solution was cutting the barrels lengthwise in half, rolling them flat, thinning them down and then sending the resulting sheets to F.P. Journe’s dial maker, Les Cadraniers de Genève. They then cut the sheets into dials and sent them back to Holland & Holland to be “browned”, or to have a traditional gun maker’s surface treatment applied. The treatment gives the dials a rich brown colour that brings out the marbled pattern of the rifle barrels. The end result is a hand-wound, stainless steel F.P. Journe with the caliber 1304 that comes as a limited edition of just 66 pieces in total, and also one of the few watches from the brand with no seconds hand.
And now, onto the supercars. The partnership between Hublot and Ferrari has turned into one of the absolute greatest collaborations between high horology and high octane. Hublot took on the opportunity in a creative and yet respectful way.
Instead of just milking the Ferrari logo, Hublot has created watches that do genuinely complement the cutting-edge cars that Ferrari has produced in recent years. This collaboration has given us the Techframe, a watch styled in the design studios of Ferrari – and it shows with its use of high-tech materials and so-called “negative spaces” in the skeletonised case, a popular, albeit hard- to pull off design element in modern car design.
The Big Bang UNICO Ferrari recently saw an update that kept this offspring of the Big Bang in tune with the latest creations out of Maranello. All the indices as well as the hands, and even the chronograph pushers, were designed to evoke the interior details of the car, while the beautifully executed titanium and ceramic case with the contrast stitched, quick-change straps make it a complete “Hublot x Ferrari” package.
Roger Dubuis genuinely surprised the watch world last summer when they scored big by signing Lamborghini. The watchmaker joined the small circle of brands that can take on a proudly outrageous carmaker and match the cars’ design, vibe and rarity. While the Aventador S watches by Roger Dubuis were inspired by the V12 engine of the namesake car, the watchmaker, with its well-documented love for multiple tourbillons and balance wheels, as gone even further. Recently it introduced a double balance calibre with a differential as the latest Lamborghini timepiece. The frantic ticking of the twin 28,800vph escapements and the awesome, engine-like execution of the mainspring barrel make for one truly special timepiece that can, at last, be a match for a Lamborghini.
The legitimization of a horological outlaw to the “up cycling” of century-old guns demonstrates that the finest watchmakers of today can take on any challenge.