Spike Lee Among Stars Jumping on Luxury Watch Customization Craze
Bulgari, TAG Heuer and other top timepiece companies are embracing “modding” as names like Lee and Lenny Kravitz collaborate on unauthorized Rolex redesigns: “There’s an extra, extra exclusivity because it’s personalized.”
The trend of outsider companies customizing luxury-brand watches has come a long way from the days when messing with an iconic timepiece felt almost like sacrilege. In the past two years alone, aftermarket modification — or watch modding — has gained A-list steam, with director Spike Lee and musician Lenny Kravitz each collaborating with Swiss customization company Artisans de Geneve on limited-edition Rolexes. Lee’s co-design, dubbed Cool Hand Brooklyn ($39,800, in a limited edition of 40), debuted in November, featuring orange and blue details on a Rolex Daytona.
While stars have had jewelers remake watches for decades — Elvis Presley added diamonds to his in the ’60s, and hip-hop artists long have worn iced-out timepieces — a new look kicked off in the mid-2000s when George Bamford of Bamford Watch Department and such companies as Pro Hunter, Project X, Mad Paris and Titan Black started promoting a specific style: a black- on-black look, mostly on new Rolexes, that was created by coating them with DLC (diamond-like carbon) or PVD (physical vapor deposition). The blacked-out watches were discreet enough to be worn in an office and exuded stealth cool: Jennifer Aniston, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Downey Jr., Daniel Craig and Snap chairman Michael Lynton rocked them.
But purists loathed these Frankenwatches, with no brands sanctioning the practice. “For a long time, these companies were the black sheep,” says James Lamdin, founder of vintage watch sales site Analog/Shift. Still, customization was very attractive for high-end buyers, especially creative types. “We cater to whims,” says Ben Waite, director of Titan Black, who notes that hand-painted camo pat-terns are popular right now. The Chainsmokers’ Alex Pall has been spotted in one of 2-year-old brand La Californienne’s “restored and remastered” Rolexes and Cartiers, with hand-painted dials and striped leather straps in West Coast pinks and tangerines, says co-owner Leszek Garwacki.