SO­CIAL MOVE­MENTS

Whether you’re an en­thu­si­ast, an ex­pert or a brand owner, In­sta­gram has proven to be the great equaliser when it comes to re­lay­ing your horo­log­i­cal lean­ings to the world.

The Peak Selections: Timepieces - - The Digital Revolution - TEXT CHARMIAN LEONG

Ad­mit it. When you buy any­thing with a price tag sev­eral ze­roes above the norm, there’s a cer­tain plea­sure when it’s no­ticed. Qual­ity, de­sign and her­itage no doubt play a role, but what’s the point of exclusivity if no­body else knows it? It’s easy when it comes to lux­ury goods like cloth­ing, cars and real es­tate. They’re showy by na­ture. High-end watches, how­ever, are not. In­sta­gram has changed that.

The photo-shar­ing ap­pli­ca­tion was launched in 2010 and the for­mer iOS ex­clu­sive soon ex­panded its of­fer­ings to in­clude An­droid and Win­dows users, as well as a Web in­ter­face. Its grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity prompted Face­book to cough up ap­prox­i­mately US$1 bil­lion (S$1.4 bil­lion) to ac­quire the app in 2012, and it was well worth it: In­sta­gram now has over 700 mil­lion users and is avail­able in 33 lan­guages.

For the ca­sual ob­server, In­sta­gram ap­pears to be just an­other so­cial me­dia out­let with an em­pha­sis on pho­tog­ra­phy – a vis­ual Twit­ter, if you will. It helps peo­ple cu­rate a pic­ture-per­fect reel of their lives and al­lows busi­nesses a more im­me­di­ate mar­ket­ing out­let.

But for watch lovers, In­sta­gram is a god­send. It fi­nally al­lowed their on­ceob­scure hobby, of­ten limited to a small cir­cle of horol­ogy geeks and fo­rums, to be shared, loved and re­grammed with the world. Lo­cal watch en­thu­si­ast Vincent Ng, who goes by the han­dle @horo­bro­mance on In­sta­gram, where he shares snaps of his watches and cars with more than 18,000 fol­low­ers, says: “This so­cial me­dia gi­ant has helped to bring to­gether col­lec­tors from around the world with its ease of use, strong vi­su­als and the abil­ity to search for images of par­tic­u­lar time­pieces with just a hash­tag.”

RISE OF THE WATCH IN­FLU­ENCER

In­deed, some of these afi­ciona­dos have be­come celebri­ties in their own right. Pop­u­lar ac­counts like @wristi and @atom­moore have fol­low­ers that num­ber in the tens of thou­sands. Blog­gers like Ariel Adams (@ablog­towatch) and Louis-Ni­co­las Dar­bon (@louis­ni­co­las­dar­bon) have over 100,000 fol­low­ers, but the undisputed king of them all

“The dif­fer­ence be­tween ‘nor­mal’ me­dia and so­cial me­dia is that we shift from mono­logue to di­a­logue.”

MB&F FOUNDER MAX­I­M­IL­IAN BUSSER

is Anish Blatt, who gained fame through his Tum­blr blog www.watch-anish.com, and has an In­sta­gram fol­low­ing of over 1.7 mil­lion.

Toronto-based pho­tog­ra­pher Richard Er­lich says: “Be­fore In­sta­gram, I felt like there were very few peo­ple who loved watches as much as I did.” He’s bet­ter known in these cir­cles by his In­sta­gram han­dle @pband­watches. His ac­count boasts over 83,000 fol­low­ers, thanks to beau­ti­ful shots of time­pieces (of­ten paired with food props). It was cre­ated in 2013 af­ter a friend ex­pressly said he did not want to see Er­lich’s watch col­lec­tion on his per­sonal feed. “In­sta­gram has com­pletely opened up a new world to me. Be­cause of it, I’ve been to Basel­world twice, had the plea­sure of rac­ing ex­otic cars and pho­tographed mil­lion-dol­lar watches,” he says.

It has also served as an ex­ten­sion of peo­ple’s work. Watch pho­tog­ra­phy has been a life­long in­ter­est for Dan­ish watch spe­cial­ist Kris­tian Haa­gen, who was first in­spired by watch ads that pop­u­lated the first few pages of Na­tional Ge­o­graphic. Though he de­clares him­self a “print ro­man­tic”, his pas­sion has trans­lated eas­ily to the dig­i­tal front, where he man­ages his 89,000 fol­lower-strong In­sta­gram ac­count (@kris­tian­haa­gen), an e-shop spe­cial­is­ing in books, ac­ces­sories and watches, as well as Face­book page Timegeeks.

Un­like re­tail­ers and watch brands, fans and col­lec­tors aren’t pres­sured to post their lat­est and great­est in im­pos­si­bly high res­o­lu­tions and ritzy set­tings. Lo­cal col­lec­tor Kevin Tan, the man be­hind ac­count @horor­gasm, has shot lux­ury tick­ers next to ev­ery­thing from Teochew por­ridge stalls to his of­fice desk, but has more fol­low­ers (42,000) than, say, Ca­role ForestierKas­api (8,929), the head of move­ment cre­ation at Cartier.

NOT JUST FOR IN­DI­VID­U­ALS

Not that that’s stopped brands from launch­ing suc­cess­ful In­sta­gram feeds. In­sta­gram has pro­vided a level play­ing field for all watch­mak­ers, large or small. Breguet, for ex­am­ple, has over 200 years of his­tory and is backed by the mighty Swatch Group. And yet, its num­ber of fol­low­ers trails just be­hind Ur­w­erk, an in­de­pen­dent com­pany that’s been op­er­at­ing for just 22 years.

The key to a brand’s on­line suc­cess has a lot to do with how they con­nect with fans. Roger Smith, a Bri­tish in­de­pen­dent watch­maker, has a size­able fol­low­ing of over 24,000 due in large part to the more in­ti­mate na­ture of his posts, show­ing not just images of watches and move­ments, but also of what life is like on the Isle of Man in the Bri­tish Isles, where his work­shop is based.

“This is de­lib­er­ate be­cause we’re a uniquely per­sonal watch­maker, mak­ing just 10 pieces a year. I pop­u­late the ac­count my­self so ev­ery­thing I share is a true in­sight into our stu­dio and work­ing meth­ods,” Smith says. “The only draw­back is that, like any so­cial me­dia plat­form, In­sta­gram is a hun­gry an­i­mal that needs to be fed con­tent fre­quently!”

It’s not just in­ti­macy fans crave, but trans­parency. Ex­plains MB&F founder Max­i­m­il­ian Busser: “It’s a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity to set the real tone or at­ti­tude of your com­pany. The way you an­swer com­ments shows who you are.

“Most big cor­po­ra­tions in our in­dus­try don’t seem to un­der­stand this, and con­tinue to churn out the same cor­po­rate mes­sages and images that pop­u­late their press kits. The ma­jor dif­fer­ence be­tween ‘nor­mal’ me­dia and so­cial me­dia is that we shift from mono­logue to di­a­logue.”

While all of this is part of a big­ger brand­build­ing pic­ture, it can also have a di­rect ef­fect on sales. In Jan­uary 2017, Omega re­leased a limited-edi­tion Speed­mas­ter, in hon­our of the #SpeedyTues­day hash­tag cre­ated by Fratello Watches founder Robert-Jan Broer. (When he came up with it five years ago, the hash­tag was sim­ply a way to cel­e­brate the iconic chrono­graph ev­ery Tues­day, and it spread like wild­fire.) The “Speedy Tues­day” Limited Edi­tion was an on­line ex­clu­sive, and sold out within four hours of its an­nounce­ment.

For now at least, In­sta­gram is the most buzzing of the so­cial-me­dia plat­forms that have helped a tra­di­tion­ally reclu­sive in­dus­try reach out to a new co­hort of con­sumers. Hav­ing es­tab­lished a pres­ence on plat­forms such as In­sta­gram, Face­book and Twit­ter years ago, Gi­rard-Per­re­gaux is among the high-horol­ogy brands that have in­vested heav­ily in this area. “It’s a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity for us to reach a younger gen­er­a­tion,” says the brand’s CEO, An­to­nio Calce. “It’s not just about tra­di­tional ad cam­paigns any­more. To­day, the world moves very fast. We have to catch peo­ple’s at­ten­tion.”

Af­ter all, good things should be shared, and, in this day and age, shared in­stantly.

01 A blue-strap dive watch-themed im­age by Richard Er­lich (aka @pband­watches).

02 In­die watch­maker Roger Smith likes shar­ing de­tails of his process.

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03 In­sta­gram has given Kris­tian Haa­gen a plat­form to fur­ther his pas­sion, watch pho­tog­ra­phy.

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04 MB&F founder Max Busser be­lieves so­cial me­dia fos­ters di­a­logue. 04

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