Wristwatches are sentimental items, popular as gifts and natural candidates for personalization of all kinds. Beyond the engraving of initials or messages on a case back, however, more extensive customization has often meant a consultation between a watchmaker and a client who can afford such a special service. The internet and globalized production, however, have begun to offer more options to more people.
Depending on the type of features and level of customization, watches can entail a lot more complexity than, say, printing your selfie on a t-shirt or coffee mug — though there are indeed services offering to put your own picture on a watch's case back or even dial (not that we recommend it). Somewhere between engraving your initials and commissioning a bespoke one-off piece by a high-end independent watchmaker are online configurators that allow users to mix and match existing components and colors.
Just like many websites allow customers to see a watch with different strap combinations, some also apply the same concept to other components. However, watch parts are usually a lot more complicated to swap than straps, often requiring special training and skills. Making these watches to order also means that they might not ship right away and can take longer to make it to your wrist. But the prospect of having a watch that's unlike any other and made special by your own touches and taste is an attractive proposition.
To be clear, we're speaking here specifically about websites that make their models to order (certain websites such as Rolex and Oris offer a "configure your watch" button or something similar, but this is really more of a way to search through existing models based on their features). Below are examples of companies offering online configurators, and we recommend trying them out for yourself.
Timex offers the nominal customization experience of choosing the case you prefer, matching one of various dials to it and then choosing a strap. The dials come pre-designed without the option of changing specific elements. Like every other configuring program, you start by choosing the base model. Timex offers eight existing models to customize, and we messed around with the Scout 40 with a "silver-tone" case and matched it to a blue dial from among seven options. Pairing it to a gray strap, the result would cost the same as one of the pre-fab Scout 40 models at $75.
Announced this year, Porsche Design is rare among luxury watchmakers not only for offering a an online configurator, but for the extent of customization options it offers. The brand says that the combination of elements amounts to 1.5 million possibilities. It's all built around the brand's famous Chronograph 1 watch, which you begin customizing by choosing a natural titanium or black-coated case finish — signature features of the model.
With a base price of $5,150, certain options command a premium: a black case is about a $300 bump in price, and going for a full titanium bracelet in black with a fine-adjustment mechanism is another $1,250. You can choose a black or silver bezel with either a tachymeter or timer scale, as well as a couple handset options, but the dial's "colored ring" is where most of the fun and distinctiveness is — it's available in a wide range of colors that can further be matched to the strap, stitching and even certain rotor options.
Hong Kong watch company Undone offers such a wide variety of base models that its customization tool seems to offer significant creative possibilities — the majority of the models listed on their site have a "Customize" button alongside the standard "Buy Now" button. Further, the brand is known for offering well built products (using the same Chinese suppliers that work with major Swiss brands) for quite reasonable prices. Go ahead and have some fun mixing and matching everything from dial configurations and colors to handsets and more. Best of all, you're looking at very reasonable prices if you like the look you come up with.
Bamford Watch Department
Though Bamford now has their own (relatively affordable) watch collections, the British company is best known for aftermarket customization of big brands' watches — a relationship with LVMH means there are many options to customize TAG Heuer, Zenith and Bulgari watches. Like many sneaker manufacturers, Bamford allows users to select a range of colors for just about every element. Bamford's online tool was the most extensive and easiest to use of those we tried, offering the most freedom — even resulting in combination possibilities that are perhaps ill-advised. Many of Bamford's colors are quite loud and vibrant, so you can end up with something that stands out and truly reflects your own taste.