I’ve not yet owned an Aquaracer, but I’m starting to regret that. TAG Heuer’s long-standing and globally popular diver’s watch collection just got the “Bamford treatment,” which has resulted in this new limited edition of 1,500 pieces TAG Heuer Aquaracer x Bamford titanium timepiece (debuted on aBlogtoWatch here). This reference WAY208F.BF0638 is easily the hippest Aquaracer right now, and it is also among the best collaboration Bamford watches I’ve ever had the pleasure to put on my wrist.
George Bamford started Bamford Watch Department as an early aftermarket modifier of Rolex watches. George started by “blacking out” Rolex watches and got into everything from engraving them to making wildly different dials. British George Bamford himself is a vivid Rolex watch collector and, after a few years of mainly focusing on modifying Rolex watches, he decided to embark on a related but novel creative venture. He would contract with the LVMH luxury group and work on collaboration watches with them. So far this has focused mostly on Zenith and TAG Heuer watches. But at LVMH, Bamford has a lot of ways to add his flavor and charm, in addition to his particular aesthetic. George Bamford’s favorite watches are well-made sports watches with some whiz-bang color added to them. At their best, they look like highly respectable watches that a superhero or spy might wear.
What I like about TAG Heuer’s collaboration with Bamford is that it allows Bamford’s design to be part of the original production, as opposed to aftermarket modification. I think Bamford is correct in feeling that this type of business relationship with strong, popular luxury brands is only going to get more popular in the future. In a lot of ways, Bamford found himself able to be ahead of his time because he saw a direction that a large swathe of the ultra-premium luxury market was going before corporate suits ever could.
In my time knowing George, I can say that the above observation comes from his own voracious appetite for being a picky consumer. George is his first customer with all of his products, which makes him an ideal “idea man.” His entire process could never work if he were trying to answer the question, “I wonder what I think I could sell?” That question doesn’t get you very far in the originality department.
The limited-edition Aquaracer x Bamford watch is the only current Aquaracer watch produced in titanium. George wanted to go for a “retro” look, which is how early mainstream titanium watches were finished during periods such as the 1980s. Today, most luxury watches use grade 5 titanium, which can be cut very precisely as well as brushed and polished like steel. For a long time, grade 2 titanium was used for most titanium watches — which can’t hold a polish as well. Grade 2 titanium is more porous, I believe, and in any event, seems to have only ever given sand-blasted finishes. This results in a rather “industrial” look, but that isn’t a bad thing, per se. Sand-blasted watches made for excellent military or stealth watches and can otherwise be really handsome. The Aquaracer x Bamford fits the same mold as the steel Aquaracer in form and size but is in lightweight grade 2 titanium.
TAG Heuer mills the titanium very nicely for the 43mm-wide case, bezel, and bracelet. Over the dial is a flat AR-coated crystal with a magnifier over the date window. The diver’-style watch case is water-resistant to 300 meters. The most original part of the watch is the dial design, one of the best I’ve ever seen from Bamford, and certainly the best original dial I’ve seen attributed to him (not referring to changing the colors on Rolex dials as that is a different form of art). The dial design is unlike pretty much anything in the Aquaracer collection, which is probably how most consumers will view it. That is not a bad thing at all since this dial seems to fit the case design very well.
The mostly black dial uses small milled pieces of solid luminant material for the hour markers and orange-rimmed hands that match an orange “racing flag” periphery ring around the main dial. A cross-hair through the middle is retro-chic, and the striped end of the seconds hand adds a sense of adventure to the display. To create a sense of texture, the inner dial consists of small, intentional concentric circles that go out all the way to the seconds markers. While the watch dial does have a lot of personality, it is also a very refined tool-watch dial — and for that, it is hard not to really admire.
George Bamford isn’t the type of person to normally wear watches as “accessible” as TAG Heuer. What I like that he has done with his limited-edition TAG Heuer watches is celebrate the core themes of some of the most popular TAG Heuer watches and incorporate them into his personal style. (See our hands-on with the carbon-cased TAG Heuer Monaco x Bamford watch here.) The Aquaracer in titanium is also the most practical TAG Heuer watch Mr. Bamford has come up with. That means you can fully enjoy it without first having an understanding of who George Bamford is or what he has done, given the universally appealing overall look and feel of the watch.
Inside the Aquaracer is the TAG Heuer Caliber 5 automatic movement. This is a base Swiss Made Sellita SW200 or ETA 2824 mechanism. The Caliber 5 operates at 4Hz with about two days of power reserve. On the rear of the titanium case is a diving helmet motif. I’ve always found this amusing because the Aquaracer has always been associated with “fast” activities such as boating, surfing, and swimming. I’ve don’t think there are too many instances of people wearing diving helms doing anything fast — outside of sinking to the floor.
Attached to the case is a matching sand-blasted titanium bracelet with a push-button deployant clasp. The deployant has a stamped metal diver’s extension. Eventually, I’m sure the Aquaracer will get an updated deployant with a micro-adjust system. I also think that this watch would look really sharp on a dark gray NATO-style strap.
It will be interesting to see how quickly this limited edition reference WAY208F.BF0638 TAG Heuer watch will sell. (They all will, for sure). Price is a bit on the premium side ($1,150 more than the stock steel Aquaracer), but it is still in the affordable zone for the target demographic for sure. I hope enough people discover this product and it leaves me wanting more from TAG Heuer and George Bamford. Price for the TAG Heuer Aquaracer x Bamford watch is $3,900 USD. Learn more or order at the TAG Heuer website here.