You may be familiar with the notion of limited edition, editions made by a brand or commissioned by a group of collectors. The notion of bespoke is on a completely different level. In this article, I will try to make you discover it by going through the stages of the project and the different challenges it represents for a brand.
Let’s start with the definition. Bespoke means made-to-measure. Widely used in the world of clothing, it also finds its place in the world of watchmaking.
The Cambridge Dictionary gives the following definition: specially made for a particular person. For our purposes, this means that a watch was specially made for a particular person.
But then, how is bespoke an art?
A few weeks ago, I went to a small store in Place de la Madeleine in Paris, to get a custom-made suit. A gift from my parents, but above all a dream come true. I finally have a suit as I wish.
The idea for this article came to me as I walked through the door of the store. If I was able to live this experience with my suit, there must be people on this earth who have lived a similar experience in the watch industry. To carry out my investigation, I turned to Speake-Marin to see if they would allow me to dive into this world and this art that they practice for some of their customers.
They were kind enough to allow me to sit and chat with one of their designers. named Gionibek, he shapes and guides clients through their bespoke projects. He sums up his mission perfectly: “I guide clients in what they are looking for. They may have an idea in mind but not know what it will look like on a watch. By working with them on what they like, etc., I can enlighten them. You have to remember that this kind of project has to serve both the customer and the brand.”
If I already had an idea of the main steps that such a project goes through, I was far from imagining all the ins and outs of it.
Before we walk through the door of Speake-Marin, let’s go over what art is. The Larousse dictionary defines it as “a way of doing things that shows taste, a strong aesthetic sense“.
The art of bespoke requires a keen eye to understand the client’s desires and to produce a work that respects the brand’s values. The result must be a watch that, as Gionibek tells us, “fits him. What’s absolutely great about a bespoke watch is that you can make the customer dream. You link the watch to the customer.”
But how do we link the watch to the client? What are the steps of such a project?
It takes no less than 7 steps before the watch goes into production and ends up on the customer’s wrist.
The search for inspiration: the client’s wishes can be more or less precise. This first step is crucial. It allows them to discover the client’s universe but also to know if any watches have already been made in this universe. “For example, for a project, I was inspired and documented on Vietnamese culture and traditional drums. From their materials to their techniques of realization, everything went through it.”
The realization of sketches: Gionibek does not put any constraint and gives free rein to his creativity. Taking into account of the desires of the customer and the results of its research will naturally direct it. A selection will be made and presented to the client. This step allows him to see what his future watch could look like.
The budget: it is crucial. The higher it is, the more creative possibilities there are. Defining it before the project starts allows the teams to be more efficient and to deliver the watch more quickly. It takes about 4 to 12 months per project.
The choice of movement and case material: such a choice does not only have an impact on the price. Each movement has its own constraints, which will influence the work of Gionibek and the creative possibilities.
The first tests: the grounds of the project having been defined, Gionibek can realize the first visuals in 2D. The aspect of the watch becomes more and more concrete for the customer.
Validation of the creative direction by the client: thanks to the visuals that have been sent to him, the client has a more precise idea of the appearance of his future watch.
3D realization and aknowledgement of the technical constraints: the stage of the 3D allows to become even more aware of the constraints given by the movement. “I start the 3D as soon as possible because it is at this moment that we realize the constraints. We adjust our idea according to them, we try to push them back.” This is when good communication with suppliers is essential. The clearer and more fluid this communication is, the faster the project can be completed and delivered to the client’s wrist.
I was far from imagining all these different steps and even less from realizing all the challenges such a project involves. In fact, a bespoke project is a moment of listening and sharing between the brand and the client.
The first challenge consists in finding a balance between the client’s desires and the brand’s values. As a reminder, the values of Speake-Marin are: freedom, independence, respect and authenticity. And within the framework of these values, the brand refuses to carry out bespoke projects of a religious or political nature, for example. This will have a direct impact on the choice of colors for example. Whatever the amount proposed, the independence of the brand gives them this freedom.
The second challenge is to have a well-designed organization and good communication between the stakeholders. Everything must be done so that the customer feels truly privileged and establishes a unique link with his watch and the brand. The success of a bespoke project makes the customer an ambassador of the brand.
The third challenge is perfectly summarized by Gionibek: “The notion of time is important to us. We make a lot of watches in-house and on top of that we give the opportunity to create bespoke. It’s a huge workload. We have to be as efficient as possible.” The bespoke project(s) must not impact the creation and launch schedule of novelties. It’s all a question of balance.
All these challenges and steps of a bespoke project can’t be driven by money alone. Can it?
The more Gionibek introduced me to this art, the more I became aware of the interests that such projects can represent. If the financial aspect and the need for profitability are obvious, they are not the driving force behind such projects. At this level of luxury, the most important thing is the customer experience.
The better the customer’s experience, the stronger their bond with the brand. Feeling considered and listened to are the main and necessary components to establish that same connection.
This link is crucial. It is the source of customer loyalty. This loyalty can only exist if the brand and its products are up to scratch. The quality must be there. By offering the best possible products, Speake-Marin fulfills its part.
One of the interests of bespoke lies in the technical surpassing. Project after project, collection after collection, each watch must be better than the last, creating a virtuous circle.
The second interest of a bespoke project lies in the exploration of new worlds. On this subject, here is what Gionibek told us: “These bespoke projects allow us to do things different from what we do with the collections while keeping the brand’s codes. But they also allow us to do things that we wouldn’t necessarily have thought of and that can give birth to something different later on.“
Bespoke projects are a kind of laboratory of expression for the brand.
It is with stars in our eyes that we took the way back, happy to have learned new things. The watch is the fruit of a human adventure and this is confirmed once again thanks to Speake-Marin.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and that it has been useful to you. Long live watchmaking and its creativity.
So, according to you, is bespoke an art? Does it correspond to the definition given above? I’ll let you answer in comments.