How to own a watch that no-one else has
A beautiful timepiece from one of the great Swiss watchmakers feels like a piece of art for your wrist. Yet unlike owning an original and unique artwork, there's the nagging feeling that many others may be beholding the very same view.
Now that personalisation is the hottest ticket in luxury, many of Switzerland's finest will happily build a timepiece to your exact specification.
Vacheron Constantin is one manufacture d' horlogerie at which there is clearly no upper limit on quality, complications, or the price of its bespoke constructions. Witness its recent 57260 model, a bespoke order from a customer whose simple brief was to construct the world's most technically advanced mechanical timepiece.
The result included a world record 57 complications, comprised 2826 components, needed 10 patents, and took eight years to complete. The price? Somewhere beyond $10 million.
The 260-year-old Genevan watchmaker says of its custom-made timepieces: "They are an expression of aspiration, legendary because they are spoken of more often than they are seen.
"A history fan might ask for the reproduction of a painting by one of the great masters in grand feu enamel on the dial; an aspiring Romeo might want his piece to chime once a year on his Juliet's birthday; or a grand complications enthusiast might dream of owning a ground-breaking mechanical masterpiece."
At Girard-Perregaux, an in-house ability to design and assemble timepieces and build movements, means it also welcomes bespoke commissions.
"Thanks to the beautiful tool that is our Manufacture, we have the possibility to create tailor-made timepieces for our exclusive clients," says CEO Antonio Calce.
"This is the responsibility of a haute horlogerie (high-end watchmaking) manufacture, to be able to propose unique pieces upon requests."
A recently completed women's timepiece brought together the company's expertise in haute horlogerie and haute joaillerie. "The result, a manufactured timepiece set with emerald cut diamonds and rubies, is stunning," declares Calce, declining to disclose the price paid by the client.
Roger Dubuis established a bespoke program two years ago, formalising a process it has always encouraged. CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué says in the first year the company worked on more than 100 individualised commissions - one of which was an homage minute repeater perpetual calendar tourbillon with its own customized movement, for which the customer paid 800,000 Swiss francs ($1,079,000 AUD).
"When we look at other industries for benchmarks, we see how much luxury cars, planes and yachts are all open to bespoke options. So the question we ask ourselves is, why not high end watches as well?" Pontroué says.
"And since we have been asked by most of our high end customers to go in that direction, we decided to make it happen."
IWC took a slightly different route, producing a model of its popular Portugieser range, the Sidérale Scafusia, to which it can add several elements of personalisation. A celestial chart on the back of the watch can be configured to show the constellations visible at an exact location of your choosing. In addition, a number of different components can be matched on request to create one of about 200 possible configurations. IWC released the Sidérale in 2011, and describes it as the most exclusive and complicated mechanical watch it has ever created.
"It was our wish to create a masterpiece, both unique and tailor-made," says IWC Schaffhausen museum curator David Seyffer. "And five years after the launch, it became trendy to do bespoke watches. I guess we can say that IWC is a trendsetter."
Others such as Hautlence and H.Moser & Cie will contemplate bespoke designs for "really key collectors of the brand and charge a premium for it", says Marc Rom of Avstev, the Australian distributor for the brands.
In addition, "sometimes we make test (watches) for new collections and we decide not put it in collection. We often use the dial or other parts to make a unique piece."
Alternately, many individual watchmakers will work directly with clients to create a bespoke timepiece. Eva Leube was based in Sydney until recently - before relocating to her native Germany - and hand-builds watches including the Ari, her most famous creation.
Andreas Strehler is based in Switzerland and can speak French, German and English to discuss the needs of his clients, who can collect their watch personally from his Sirnach workshop. Struthers of London offers a bespoke service, in which the customer liaises directly with the watchmaker and is presented a copy of the original hand-rendered illustration along with their completed timepiece.