Are the problems in the watch industry by design?

Many watch collectors and fanatics feel discouraged about different aspects of the contemporary watch culture and community. There’s the enthusiast who prefers forums over Instagram, the fanatic with nostalgia for the “glory days”, the collector who loathes the secondary market bubble and bundle buying from authorized dealers. There’s always something, and oftentimes, it’s not limited to a single thing. There’s a lot of overlap – these sentiments bleed into one another for many collectors.

I’ve long thought about why we find ourselves in such a predicament. Why aren’t brands listening or responding? Is there a root cause to all of this?

The book, The Luxury Strategy, gives us a hint. Widely taught at MBA programs and read by luxury industry professionals, the seminal book dictates that the marketing of luxury goods is a radical departure from traditional marketing. Rules are bent and broken – in the words of Donnie Brasco, “forget about it.”

The Luxury Strategy lists 24 principles for luxury brands, including:

  • Do not pander to your customer’s wishes
  • Do not respond to rising demand
  • Do not look for consensus
  • Do not test [product]
  • Dominate the client

The book’s anti-marketing approach comes in reaction to the democratization of luxury. Something that’s long been associated with high net worth individuals have slowly become more accessible. In order for “real” luxury brands to differentiate themselves, they must double down on their elitist roots. As one professor summarizes:

“A luxury brand which sought to portray itself as subservient to its customers’ needs would thus destroy the image which caused its customers to aspire to it.”

— Matt Sinclair

To the watch collector and fanatic, now reading this, I sense these five principles digest quite poorly. This is eating sausage after a tour of the sausage factory.

These principles don’t sit well because they reveal an unspoken, but long suspected truth: our gripes exist by design. The biggest burdens to the health of the collector community – never-ending waitlists, limited to zero community input on the direction of our beloved brands, escalating prices – are all an extension of the industry’s modus operandi. Disregard for the customer isn’t an unhealthy and bad business practice, it is the business practice.

It should be noted that there are independent brands that have gone against the grain of the mentioned luxury business principles. MB&F (Max Büsser & Friends), “friends” in the company name, feels like a departure from “dominate the client” vibes. This is primarily because young and fresh businesses don’t have the privilege to refuse to “pander to customer wishes.” It’s tough to make friends this way, and every new company needs support.

At the launch of The Open Caseback, I wrote that watch collectors and fanatics are “stuck in an unrequited love” with many brands. But over time, I’ve realize that it’s more insidious than unreciprocated affection. It’s an abusive relationship, and the community of fellow collectors and fanatics is the only support hotline.

Another day with the beast,

Leave a comment

Or join the discussion on Instagram