Watch Review : Bamford Mayfair or NoFair?

This article was first published on Scottish Watches on February 17, 2020.

Bamford Watch Department is one of those companies I’ve been interested in for a few years. They’re very much a chalk and cheese company that people either seem to love or hate. The murky world of watch customisation is at best controversial and at worst illegal. Rolex have been cracking down on some watch customisers. The line between customised, franken-watch and counterfeit can get a bit blurry if brands are not careful. The ongoing LaCaliforniene saga is a prime example.

For quite some time Bamford have been one of the biggest players in the customisation game. If you wanted your Milgauss coated black and to have a purple lightning bolt hand, they were the guys to send it to. Sure, it would invalidate your warranty, but you could have something totally unique, modified to your requirements, with a distinctive Bamford look. Predominantly dealing with high end watches Bamford have had to ensure that their modifications are high quality, using the best materials, tools and techniques. I’m an electrical engineer, not a metallurgist, so I’m not an expert on the materials and techniques but I do have a friend, Dennis, @rpm_london on Instagram, that used to own a Bamford modified GMT master and he said- “I had a Bamford GMT master and wore (it) constantly as my only watch for about 5 or 6 years I traveled a lot then with it also was never overly precious with it. One of the very early ones they did (they did some GMTs and some Subs, all on black Nato straps). The finish was just incredible! A beautiful satin very dark grey and felt like the watch was made of it rather than coated. I knocked it and made a big ding in a lug (from a GT3 roll cage) scratched it and it gained a lovely patina but never did the coating rub off and you could never see any shiny steel through a scratch or even the big ding. Lovely watch, great finish and miss it!”

In more recent years Bamford have moved away from Rolex and they have partnered with the LVMH group, so they now have a range of Bamford TAGs, Zeniths and Bvlgaris on offer. Much like the relationship between AMG and Mercedes, they have gone from totally independent modifier/customiser to approved partner.

You have the option to “build your own” on their website. At the time of writing, there are about 30 models from across the LVMH group that you can choose to modify. The options are all the things you would expect when customising a watch – special coloured coatings, dial colours, logo colours, minute markers, adding your initials etc. There are also a number of fixed design limited editions, again featuring LVMH watches.

So what about the Mayfair? Where does this fit in, in the world of Bamford Customisation? The story goes that when a customer left their watch with Bamford Watch Department, for customisation, they would be loaned a service watch to wear. In much the same way that you might be given a courtesy car to use when your car is in the garage for repair or customisation. Customers liked the service watch and they kept asking if they could buy one. So eventually George Bamford and the team decided to develop and sell their own watch based on the service watches. This resulted in the launch of the Bamford Mayfair in November 2017. The Bamford Mayfair is sold by Bamford London, I think the Bamford brand has tried to separate out their high-end customisation from their own line of watches by using two separate companies, although there seems to be a considerable amount of overlap between the two.

The Bamford Mayfair is a 40mm tool watch with a Benrus style asymmetrical case, rotating ceramic bezel, and a Miyota Quartz Calibre 2035. If you want to find out more about the Benrus Type I and Type II there is an interesting article on Worn and Wound

As you would expect there are a number of different case finishes, colour combinations and customisation options, such as engraving. The stainless steel case is finished with a military grade titanium coating, and in addition to the ceramic bezel the watch features sapphire crystal. So in theory it is a very tough and hard-wearing package. The watch is water-resistant to 100m (10ATM) which is more than adequate for any weather or a dip in the pool. The combination of no-date and quartz would make this watch a good grab and go option.

I have been interested in the watches since the launch. The specification combined with the distinctive Bamford look has a certain appeal for me. I had been thinking of reaching out to Bamford to see if they would lend me a watch or two to check out and review. Whilst I was contemplating this a couple of the Bamford watches appeared in a Mr. Porter sale. So I made a spur of the moment decision and I ordered one. Based on the options on the Bamford London website I think my first choice would have been the matte black predator black dial with solid black accents and black rubber strap. Essentially the black on black on black look. I think that it is stylistically bold and distinctly “Bamford” being all black, my only concern would be legibility, so it would definitely be a watch that I would like to see in the metal before purchasing. My second choice would be the all black option with the blue hands and indices. This would be a safer choice in terms of legibility and I like the distinctive neon blue. Unfortunately neither of these options were in the sale so I opted for the matte grey with white and BWD (Bamford Watch Department) aqua blue accents on a black leather strap. This would have been my third choice on the website. I think it is a safer choice overall but it still has the distinctive Bamford look.

Bamford have chosen to use a 12 hour bezel on this watch which to my mind makes perfect sense. Like many people, I like the look of a dive watch and the robust build, but I have never been diving. The closest I have got to diving is snorkeling. Learning to dive is something that I would like to do someday. A 12-hour bezel is a great feature because it allows the wearer to tell a second-time zone. It might not have the same functionality as a true GMT complication in terms of showing whether it is AM or PM but it is still a useful feature if you are traveling, or have family abroad, or are arranging conference calls with colleagues overseas. The bezel on the Bamford Mayfair is unidirectional which, for a 12 hour bezel, is unnecessarily restrictive. Depending on where you are travelling or what you are doing it would be advantageous to be able to move the bezel in either direction. I also found the bezel action to be a little loose compared with many of my other dive watches. It is hard to describe, but the click as you rotate the bezel just doesn’t feel as sure as most of the other dive watches I have handled. The bezel also has almost a minute’s movement when it is in a position. This isn’t the end of the world with a 12 hour bezel but would be concerning if it was a 60min dive bezel.

The matte grey military-grade titanium coating on the watch looks darker in the metal than it did on the website. Personally, I think this is a good thing. Part of the appeal of the Mayfair for me is that it is a stealthy, under the radar, tool watch that you can wear anywhere without drawing attention to yourself.

The caseback of the watch is stainless steel and the contrast with the colour of the case is striking. Yes, I would still love to check out the all black version but the matte grey is still wonderfully subdued.

The watch features luminova on the indices and hands. The lume plots are black, so I wasn’t expecting much from the lume, but actually, it is okay. It is not in the same league as my dive watches with their large white or off-white lume plots, but it is okay. I think the aqua blue hands stand out well against the black dial and legibility is generally good. The sapphire crystal doesn’t appear to have an anti-reflective coating, which results in lots of reflections when trying to take photos and can also have an impact on legibility in certain light and at certain angles.

The 20mm handmade leather strap seems to be reasonably good quality. The aqua blue stitches match the hands and Bamford logo on the watch and the buckle has the same coating as the case. All in all, it makes for a coherent package. I am slightly surprised that Bamford have not chosen to use quick release spring bars. I would have thought that a company that is known for its customisation would be keen to sell extra straps and give customers the option of further customising their watches. It could be because they are very confident in their overall designs and that they do not think people are likely to want to change the straps or maybe it is because their target market is not the watch geeks that like to change straps on an almost daily basis. It would be interesting to know if this was a conscious design decision or if it something that they are likely to change in the future.

So, where and when would I wear this watch? I think this would make a good everyday watch, especially if you travel or have family or colleagues abroad. Personally I would use it as more of a weekend or holiday watch because I prefer to wear a watch on a bracelet during the week for work. I would probably take it on holiday as a second watch. If my main mechanical GMT happened to stop working it would make a good backup or if I was going somewhere where I was more concerned about damage or theft, then I would go with this option. It is tough, understated and will work with most outfits.

In terms of price I think that £425 is at the higher end of the spectrum for this specification of watch. Especially considering the choice to use quartz rather than a mechanical movement. I do not know how much of the cost goes into the specialist coating. Based on the specification alone there are a lot of other good options at this price point or lower. Take the new Seiko 5 range for example, it has a lot of interesting colours, at a lower price point. But I think this misses the point of the Bamford Mayfair, it is a distinctive design from a company best known for its high-end customisation. It is Bamford on a budget, but in a good way.

Now for a little rant. The watch I bought was on sale on Mr. Porter. It was 40% off which obviously makes the watch considerably more affordable and quite a good value proposition. When I first received the watch I made an unboxing video, which I uploaded to Instagram.

then started to take some photos with my macro lens and I noticed a couple of flaws on the ceramic bezel. Both Bamford Watch Department and Bamford London had reposted a couple of my photos on their Instagram stories so I messaged Bamford Watch Department to say that I had noticed a couple of flaws on the bezel.

Their initial reaction was to suggest that it was a trick of the light. I pointed out that you could see one of the marks in the photo that they had reposted and the unboxing video. They said that I would have to contact Mr. Porter because the watch was purchased through Mr. Porter and they gave me contact details for one of the BWD members of staff in case I had any problems. The next day Bamford London asked if I would send them copies of my photos to use, I said yes and I also made them aware of my conversation with the main Bamford Watch Department account. I think that either account could have been a bit more on the ball with their customer service but I do understand that the watch was purchased through a third party and that in the first instance I need to go back to the third party.

And this is where things started to unravel. I emailed Mr. Porter customer services with photos of the bezel and over 24 hours later I had not heard anything from them. So I phoned them and I spoke with a very helpful member of staff who explained that because the item contained a battery a special department would have to arrange a return. She advised that I would receive an email with instructions. Three days later I had not received any instructions so I phoned them again. I spoke to a second assistant who was also very friendly, she advised that the watch would need to be returned to Mr. Porter, they would assess it and then get in contact with the manufacturer. Because it was a sale item I did not have a return slip but because it was a fault they would accept a return for exchange. I was told to write a note and put it in the box and that I would be sent a link with courier collection details. I was sent a link but when I clicked on the link it referred to a parcel that had already been collected in Germany and that was being delivered to Italy! I responded to the email stating that I could not use the link and again I heard nothing from them. A day later I phoned Mr. Porter again and I spoke to a third assistant, who again was very friendly and understanding. She arranged a courier collection for me and provided me with details for the collection via email.

I appreciate that this is a bit of a rant, but considering that I was dealing with two “luxury” brands it is incredibly frustrating that it has taken over a week, a number of messages, three emails and three phone calls to arrange for the watch to be returned so that it can be assessed and a replacement arranged. It is fair to say that I have had far better customer service at my local Goldsmiths, they are considerably more proactive in dealing with watch purchase and warranty issues (a TAG that kept stopping and the dreaded Black Bay GMT date issue). I currently have no idea how long the issue will take to resolve and when I will receive either a replacement bezel or a replacement watch.

With hindsight I should have probably have tried to arrange to take the watch to the Bamford Watch Department store in Mayfair next time I am in London so that I could get it sorted out quickly face to face.

So, what are my closing thoughts? I like the look of the watch, it is distinctive and bold. I can imagine wearing and using the watch. I think the price point is a little high and, based on the model I received, there appear to be some quality control issues somewhere in the supply chain. Do I like the brand? Yes. Do I like the watch? Yes. Would I recommend them to someone? Based on my experience to date I would be hesitant. It is possible that I have been incredibly unfortunate and that my experience is unique, but based on it I would advise people to check their purchases from Bamford carefully and to seriously consider if Mr. Porter is the best place to buy watches when there are more specialist retailers available.

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