Millennials are doing things differently. As well as spending less time in the pub and more time at the gym than Generation X, they are also investing wisely. Celebrities like Eddie Redmayne are aligning themselves with watch brands, then there are stars of Instagram like Louis-Nicolas Darbon, one of the rising number of under 35s fuelling a surge in timepiece investment…
If you are unfamiliar with the terms #watchporn or #womw then you are obviously not spending enough time pursuing tourbillons and chronometers on Instagram. There are millions out there who do, however, and this accessible online platform, coupled with endless digital streams of technical watch data available on the web, is opening up a once high-brow world to the next generation of serious watch collectors.
‘I have never had to study so hard in my life,’ laughs Brian Duffy, who moved over from the fashion industry two years ago to head up Aurum Group, parent company of retail stores Watches of Switzerland and Mappin & Webb. ‘It is limitless what you can learn about watches and the internet is a great medium, whether it comes directly from the brands or bloggers.’
The chief executive says that the entry-level age of those now seeking out luxury watches is dropping rapidly as web-savvy and information-hungry young shoppers find themselves transfixed by the details and in search of what he terms ‘rational indulgence’ – serious purchases that will last longer than a seasonal coat or a two-week holiday.
‘In very simple terms, buying an expensive watch is an indulgence,’ says Duffy, who encourages an active social media strategy across his brands to capture the attention of these sought-after Millennial buyers. ‘The rational part is that they are items that largely preserve their value if you buy wisely. Younger people appreciate watches and value, and those starting to get on in their careers want to know more about the watches they are going to buy.’
The turbulent financial backdrop against which older Millennials have been climbing the career ladder is further cementing this trend towards investment in solid goods. Many in this age group – deemed to be those aged 35 and younger – now find themselves with good salaries but facing an uncertain future, so while they are seeking out investment opportunities, a stock market that has been shaky at best for the entirety of their working lives might not feel like a natural choice.
The turbulent financial backdrop against which older Millennials have been climbing the career ladder is further cementing this trend towards investment in solid goods
London-based Louis-Nicolas Darbon is one of the rising millennial watch stars of Instagram, with nearly 140,000 followers. His account is a stream of sharp shots that show off the 32-year-old’s slick fashion sense and give a glimpse into his collection, which includes a Cartier Grand Solo Tank, Breguet Classique 4940, Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, vintage Rolex Day-Date 1803 and a Baume & Mercier Hampton Classic.
Darbon, who is a successful artist as well as a menswear commentator and blogger, believes the status quo of watch investment being the preserve of the older man who already has everything else, is changing.
‘Some choose to invest in stocks, but personally I’m not into that whole world and I prefer to know that what I am investing in will never lose its value,’ he says.
‘With stocks you can lose it all if you make the wrong bet. But by buying watches like a classic Patek Philippe Calatrava or Cartier Tank, you know that in 10 years’ time it will most likely have increased in value or will be worth exactly the same. Investments of passion, such as watches, classic cars, diamonds and art are fairly new to my generation but this is something we will see more of in the coming years.’
While the catalyst for his own watch journey was very much offline – a trip to a polo match at the age of 15 left him in awe of the reversible case of the Jaeger-LeCoutre Reverso worn by the players – Darbon credits social media with fuelling the passions of other young investors.
‘It’s very aspirational,’ says the collector, who names Breguet as his favourite brand. ‘Thanks to social media we are exposed to all these brands and models quite early so we become more aware of what we want when it’s time to buy our first watch.’
Instagram also gives unprecedented access to the lives of global celebrities, and with many younger stars aligning themselves with watch brands – such as actor Eddie Redmayne’s partnership with Omega – the addition of a watch becomes a staple of a lifestyle
Instagram also gives unprecedented access to the lives of global celebrities, and with many younger stars aligning themselves with watch brands – such as actor Eddie Redmayne’s partnership with Omega – the addition of a watch becomes a staple of a lifestyle.
‘We find our younger customers are focusing on creating an image,’ says Nicholas Hickey, whose store Luxe Watches serves a cash-rich younger clientele. ‘The image they are looking for is influenced by factors such as celebrity lifestyles and brand ambassadors.’
The price of entry to luxury watch collecting has risen, according to Hickey who says that Millennial investors now regularly shell out at least £10,000 for a decent watch whereas once £3,000 would have done the job. ‘They have realised that watches tend to keep their price so are better investments than new cars or designer clothes.’
While the rise of millennial investors might require the old guard to raise their stakes to stay in play, a rush of fresh blood and the inevitable innovation the watch industry will deliver to court these new players should lead to an exciting new era for luxury watches.