WORDS BY NICK CARVELL
Some might think it’s mad to take a watch worth tens of thousands of pounds and rework it with precious stones and new finishes. And yet that’s exactly what MAD Paris does. Maybe that’s how the company got its name?
Based in the French capital, the experts in MAD Paris’ lab take the technical knowledge they’ve acquired working at the big watch houses in Geneva and use it to create upcycled, customized versions of some of the most famous, desirable watches on the planet. From a diamond-studded Richard Mille RM67-01 to a Rolex Daytona encrusted with a rainbow of colored emeralds to an all-black iteration of the Patek Philippe Nautilus, these are watches crafted to stand out from the crowd.
The team behind the brand are notoriously secretive because the brand wants to safeguard its supply lines into a watch industry that is notoriously protective over its models. The creative director has never ‘come out’ publicly and the brand does no press whatsoever, so it’s hard to find out more about how, why and for whom MAD Paris does what it does. For that, like a character in a political thriller, you need to go through an intermediary who has privileged access. Mine is Thom Scherdel, who, as the senior buyer at Browns, communicates with MAD Paris on a regular basis over the past two years to source the selection of timepieces you see on site today.
“The thing about MAD Paris is that it’s a real leader in its field,” he says when I speak to him on the phone. “Obviously you have other companies who customize high-end watches, but MAD has really established itself as a global leader due to its technical prowess and service.”
One of the most obvious ways this manifests itself can be seen with the timepiece tinkler’s ‘ghost’ watches: a sexy respray and retrofit that results in all elements on the watch being turned black. Re-colouring a metal watch case is no mean feat. Done wrong, at best it can chip and at worse it can permanently damage the watch underneath. MAD Paris uses a special technique to re-spray timepieces that bonds Diamond-like Carbon (or DLC) to the metal underneath - a type of atomized coating that is reformulated depending on the specific type of metal it is being bonded to. This isn’t just a black paint job, it’s an advanced technical procedure that few others in the field practice.
This desire to stand apart from the crowd in the types of customization the brand does go further. While fitting models with eye-catching stones has become something of a signature for MAD Paris, it’s rare that you’ll find white diamonds as part of the offering - mostly because this sort of option is often offered by the watchmakers on certain models, or can be done by a qualified jeweler if you wish to have them added at a later date. Instead, MAD tends to focus on other precious stones: colorful spectrums of ethically-sourced emeralds, sapphires, rubies and the occasional black diamond or two.
Of course, we’re not talking about the wrist-based elephant in the room here. A reason these watches are rebellious beyond their bold looks is that the act of customizing a timepiece invalidates the original warranty given by the manufacturer. So why do people still pay anywhere from £18,000 to £500,000 one?
“These are real watch collectors’ watches. People who buy them generally already have a decent watch collection,” says Scherdel. “The incredible thing is that everything MAD Paris does is one of a kind. Whatever room you walk into anywhere in the world, no-one’s ever going to be wearing the watch you’re wearing.”
So the short answer is that any potential repair cost isn’t worth half as much to the wearer as having a watch that no-one else in the world will have. Add to that the fact that MAD Paris is always keen to accommodate any further requests for customization on one of their designs - meaning that purchasing one of their watches gets you exclusive access to speak to the hyper-secretive team about any modifications you desire.
“Put it this way, there’s not many brands that you can buy from the shelf and end up having a conversation with the creative director,” says Sherdel. “You can’t go into our store on South Molton Street, buy a piece of Dior and have a conversation with Kim Jones about modifying it to suit your needs. It’s a really unique proposition.”
At their core, that’s what makes MAD Paris watches so desirable. Far beyond consideration of price, their uniqueness is real money-can’t buy stuff. And in a world where even luxury goods can be mass produced, wanting something that no-one else has on your wrist doesn’t sound so mad to me.