We’re really not the target audience — reflections on watch collecting

“[F]or a collector—and I mean a real collector, a collector as he ought to be—ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in [the objects].”

– Walter Benjamin

For watch collectors, our knowledge and patronage of the craft makes us feel powerful. Yet even with the feeling of power that knowledge provides, it’s difficult to find a collector today who isn’t disenfranchised by social media hype, the secondary market bubble, and never-ending waitlists. The truth is, we feel the pang of reality because we’re really not the ideal consumer for the watch industry. We’re stuck in an unrequited love.

Collectors almost never buy “product” for the object alone. We’re interested in both the tangible object and the intangible that surrounds it: the history, the craft, and the community. To modern marketing departments, we’re a sort of nightmare. The more they focus on product, the more we dig in, meticulously analyzing, contemplating slowly with like-minded fanatics, and resisting thinking of watches as Veblen goods. Fortunately for the marketing heads, we come in small numbers.

This is the crux of the modern collector and fanatic’s despair: the focus in the industry  (including watch journalism and social media) has shifted to wrist-selfies, watch reviews, and interviews with celebrities and industry executives. Whether due to advertising revenues or limited resources, there are too few stories, too little research in the craft and history behind the product. Though, there are exceptions and unsurprisingly, they do very well in their niche.

The father/son duo, @horology_ancienne on Instagram, showcase rare watches from their personal collection, while stepping back to discuss how each piece fits more broadly into the history and values of different manufacturers. With a relatively small following of ~6,000, the average number of comments per post sits right alongside Hodinkee with 100x the following and exceeds that of the big brands with 200-300x bigger followings. The vibrant community surrounding horology_ancienne isn’t a coincidence– the account fills a gap in what exists online for watch collectors and fanatics.

The hope with The Open Caseback is to create a similar niche where watch collectors can engage and discuss unconventional (and maybe heretical) topics in the watch industry.

Keep on keeping on,

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