The Artisans de Genève Rolex Daytona La Barrichello You Have to See!
Rolex has always been a rather conservative company, design-wise, and this is probably a trait that plays a big part of their current success.
The fact that it hasn’t really followed any kind of trend, and instead, almost single-handedly created one, has propelled them into watch stardom.
But this reluctance to change their course has obviously opened up several niches that their current lineup does not cover — and probably, never will.
The first one is the lack of a display back. Watch aficionados seem to appreciate much the possibility of watching their watches in operation — something that the company has always had a nice disdain of.
The second is skeletonization, for exactly the same reasons. Rolex movements, while a technical marvel, are not at all made to comply with this peculiar request. Possibly because, and we would like to reiterate this, the roots of Rolex movements lie in the tool watch category, not in the luxury caliber making.
So, as long as you tread between the offerings of the House of the Crown, you will not find any sort of timepiece of this kind, The Oyster case — one of the most notable successes of the watchmaker — has been improved through the years, but has always conformed to its chief tenets, one of them using the water-resistant, full closure back case that you could open up with a dedicated tool only.
This is why a few enterprising small companies have started practicing “modding”: that is, taking a stock Rolex model and modifying to fulfill the demands of their clients. And some have turned this activity into a much appreciated commercial offering as well. In a way, they are doing what the tuning labs do to stock cars: you give them your car, and after they work their magic, you find that the car has assumed a very different personality — apart from its souped-up technical characteristics.
This is exactly what Artisans de Genève does.
Our regular readers might be aware of them, since they are the authors of the La Montoya, that we have published already here.
Well, they must have seen that this trend is quite profitable, so they have recently issued out another Rolex Cosmograph Daytona modding, dedicated to another very famous former F1 pilot: Rubens Barrichello.
So, we find this new watch — presented last June — dubbed “La Barrichello” (not that original, but well, it perfectly explains their craft).
You do not change a winning team, and the Artisans de Genève seem to apply this concept very literally. The La Barrichello, apart from the occasional splash of red, looks like a La Montoya in black and white.
Oh, not that original, I reckon — but without doubts, it is impressive all the same, especially since no watch aficionado is really used at peeking inside an open-heart Daytona.
One of the most famous F1 pilots from Brazil, Rubens Barrichello — who has been also an Audemars Piguet ambassador — discovered racing when he was 9 years old, and eventually became one of the youngest pilots in the history of the F1 championship. He debuted in the F1 world for Jordan, and after some time he became one of the Ferrari drivers.
Even if he did not win any titles, he won 11 Grand Prix and scored 68 podiums during his career.
“I have always had a thing for the Daytona, and I wanted to make it my own way. Thanks to Artisans de Genève, my timepiece is now unparalleled, it bears details that make it unique as a F1 car, like my car.
A unique movement, particular shapes, exceptional curves, and an extraordinary mechanism. I love it! Artisans de Genève has managed to achieve a technical prowess, each detail is perfectly executed with the same concern for extreme perfection that we find in the racing world.”
This is what Rubens Barrichello has stated about the watch that bears his name. Well, we cannot but believe him, even if we really wonder a little bit about his aesthetic choices — heh, maybe he was just understated as a person as he was as a driver (no offense, Rubens — you drive much better than us all).
Apart from this, the timepiece is for sure an impressive-looking feat of modding. As you probably can see by yourselves, the La Barrichello is based on one of the most sought-after timepieces ever, the classic Rolex Daytona 116520 in steel with steel bezel, and the Artisans de Genève have worked, as usual, to characterize and modify every part of it with their distinctive style.
The magic formula they applied to the La Barrichello is the same as the one of La Montoya. The watch has been extensively modified, with some parts been scrapped and rebuilt from scratch to obtain a more sporty and personalized look which is technical, industrial and mechanical.
The intervention on the watch
Virtually no element has been left untouched by the Artisans if we compare the La Barrichello to a standard Daytona. For example, we see that the rotor, which is made from 21k gold and is coated with black DLC, has been totally rethought, featuring a shape derived from Rubens Barrichello’s car trim.
The rest of the movement features — as you would suspect — high-end workmanship and manually-made modifications and decorations, such as hand-chamfered bridges and polished bevels. Altogether, Artisans de Genève quantifies the modding work for each timepiece as 260 hours of work.
Of course, the result of all of this amazing activity is shown in all of its glory through the sapphire case back. The La Barrichello is water-resistant to 100 meters as well. Not exceptional, but not bad for a chronograph with a glass case back like this one.
All the elements of the movement show the results of the manual intervention of some kind (well, you ought to justify the price of the timepiece somehow, don’t you?).
So you find outer rings in the counters which have been totally redesigned, and the hands modified and repainted. All in all, really impressive workmanship has been applied to this (very limited) collection of timepieces, available in stainless steel and rose gold (which looks striking, together with the black and red details).
The case itself and the matching bracelet have been refinished with a different polishing than the stock ones. The case has a matte, brushed finish, quite different from the alternating brushed and polished surfaces of the stock Daytona. And the crown and pushers have been coated in black amorphous diamond-like carbon (ADLC).
The bezel is also completely new — in black ceramic material, instead of the steel one of the standard Daytona. Though it echoes the one you find on the current Rolex models, it displays different markings. The tachymetric scale, for instance, is graduated to “500”, instead of “400” as on the stock Rolex bezel.
The movement, as you might suppose, is a heavily modified Rolex 4130 chronograph movement, which has been thoroughly hand-skeletonized through the savvy experience of two professional watchmakers/craftsmen from the Vallée de Joux, Philippe Narbel and Julien Tixier.
The real issue here, if we believe what the watchmaker says, is that they had to engineer and develop a new steel bridge, and each one is crafted, beveled and polished by hand. It takes about 7 hours to prepare the bridge before it can be mounted on the movement.
And it is evident that the frame of the movement has been not only cut into a more delicate shape but also, beveled all around to give it the end appearance with its softly rounded edges.
As you possibly know, the 4130 is an automatic chronograph caliber with column wheel and vertical clutch, featuring a 72h power reserve and beating at 28,800 vph. The specs have remained the same through the modding of the timepiece, and also the performance — on the high end of the COSC levels — remains unchanged.
While the watch has been extensively modded, the bracelet remains pretty standard, showing only a different polishing of the surface, with a matte treatment.
As you can see, the watch is also supplied with a natural black rubber wristband with a red stripe running over it, which complements the watch style. Even if not that a novelty, it is a nice touch all the same.
The reception from the public. Yay or nay?
The mediatic success of the first edition of the La Montoya, which has spawned a second edition in yellow gold, has convinced the Artisans de Genève that people still require this kind of “service” for their Rolex watches: so, the small Genevan shop is very happy to provide such an opportunity, for a (hefty) fee.
The reception, as always, seen through the blogs and forums of the watch crowd has been pretty mixed, ranging from rave reviews of I WANT THIS NOW to the purists saying that the Artisans have effectively butchered a good Daytona.
We cannot really take a part in the debate, except to acknowledge that the final result might not be of your taste, but is without doubts impressive, and wish that the Rolex mothership should maybe provide some similar alternatives by themselves.
While Artisans de Genève claim that their personalizations have been made in an artisanal way exclusively upon request of their customers, and are not meant to be made again, on the case of the La Montoya they have issued a small, limited edition series of modded watches — so we are quite convinced that “oops, I did it again” might be the theme, here as well. If so, expect to pay for the privilege over the 50k mark.
Over the cost of the watch, that is.
An interesting aspect is that if you contact Artisans de Genève and bring them your watch, well, they might do the same magic over it even if you are not Rubens Barrichello. Yours might not end up on display on their website, but for sure, you will end up receiving a mouth-watering timepiece to display to your horology friends.
A modding panorama: Bamford Watch Department
Artisans de Genève might have taken watch modding to its extreme consequences, but we can assure you, not all watch modding is as extreme — or expensive. You might find other modding companies offering less revolutionary, and a bit more affordable, solutions.
Another very famous modding house Bamford Watch Department launched in 2003 by George Bamford in London.
The idea of launching a modding company came naturally to him when he experienced that frequenting his usual crowd (Bamford’s family owns JCB, one of the world’s top three manufacturers of construction equipment), he found many of his peers wearing exactly the same watch as he did. So, to make himself a bit more distinguished from the crowd, he turned to his parent’s company design and engineering department to find some possible options.
Doing this, he discovered that there is a process used in the mining industry called DLC (Diamond-like Carbon), an anti-friction lubrication system used to coat drill parts and giving them an almost “caramelized” look. So, he had the process applied to a couple of vintage Rolex watches and came back to his father for some testing in the most difficult ambient of the world. Which wasn’t a furnace or a building site: it was their social circles.
They both wore the watches for the summer season, and the results were far over George’s expectations: in one summer, just by showing them around they received over 25 orders. This fact alone demonstrated that watch modding was something serious, and had to be taken further.
So, he set up the company and started offering watch modding.
Between their available services, one of the most requested is the personalization of the dial, often with the initials of the wearer. But it is not so rare that the owner wants to match the dial of the timepiece with the exact color of his car.
Surface treatments are also in high demand. Apart from the DLC coating, the company has also developed other treatments, derived from industrial ones, like MGTC (Military Grade Titanium Coating) and GPC (Graphite Particle Coating).
Generally, BWD reserves its skills to brand new watches coming from the best companies, like Rolex, TAG Heuer, Zenith, Audemars Piguet and Panerai between the others, which they procure themselves, so if you wanted to mod your vintage timepiece, you might be out of luck — but never say never.
Their prices start from around $9,000, upwards.
Some good news: modding is an activity you can try by yourself
If your budget is more limited than this, and you are resourceful and creative, well, there is very good news for you, though.
Watch modding has become a sort of specialized niche among watch enthusiasts, and originating a steady flow of interest between people who like the idea of customizing their watches as they do with their cars.
So, you can find close-knit communities where modding enthusiasts actually explain the recipes for resourceful modding their favorite timepieces, which more often than, not are affordable watches, often turning them into homages to more rare and costly pieces.
And in the same communities, there are people who have carved out a profession for themselves, making the parts and the elements used for modding. You would discover a huge world of possible customizations, turning your Seiko 5 into a Rolex Submariner lookalike, or an Invicta into a Tudor.
Of course, true modders do not help you to make “fake” watches: the homages you can make are easily identifiable as such. Modding is an activity that exalts, apart from the love of watches, your DIY capabilities, and your creativity.
So, how to begin the career as a modder?
First of all, you need to buy the best watch to perform your magic tricks on — and one of the best is the ubiquitous Seiko SKX007, an ISO-rated 200 meter dive watch of excellent value that retails for around $200.
Why modders converge on this model?
The answer is simple: apart from the reasonable cost that invites you to do some experimentation, the SKX007 has a large user base, so, it offers a large support of aftermarket parts that fit, and you won’t have problems in finding them.
The best thing about modding a watch is that you can start to do it, presto. The tools for modding are fairly simple — you can buy them online for a moderate investment, and also, you can receive the support of a large fan base of expert modders.
The largest group of modders gravitates around the WatchUSeek.com forums, which hosts, in its Seiko sub-forum, ongoing threads showing the best modding made by the fanbase.
The recipes for modding are almost endless: but as with every esoteric knowledge, the jargon used might seem confusing at first for the uninitiated. But a bit of creativity certainly helps.
You won’t have problems to recognize some mods, however, like the Fifty Fathoms mod, turning the trusty Seiko into the quintessential Blancpain diver’s little twin.
But more often than not, modding is made to satisfy your personal creativity — that sense of “this watch is perfect except for this little detail…”
Well, with modding you have the possibility of making the watch truly perfect for you.
You do not like the shape of the hands or the kind of bezel? You can switch them with ease. The white date wheel on a black dial bothers you? Simply swap it with another to suit your taste.
As usual, the internet is your friend: YouTube, especially, hosts legions of practical guides to DIY modding, and the forums often are brimming with references to the best resources.
But for the faint of heart, there is always the possibility of reaching out to an expert modder who, for a fee, would perform the modding for you. Most probably you will find them offering their services in the watch forums.