When the great and the good of the independent watch industry gathered for Dubai Watch Week’s inaugural London Horology Forum earlier this week, a number of themes dominated the panel discussions. One of the most prominent was the need for brands to behave authentically.
Consumers, particularly those from the younger Millennial and Gen Z generations, want more than glossy marketing campaigns nowadays. Instead, they want to know where their watches come from and to understand how they’re made and by whom.
“Storytelling has to be real and authentic, otherwise, it doesn’t make sense.”
said watchmaker Peter Speake-Marin.
Mr Speake-Marin recently moved on from the independent brand he founded and that carries his name to found The Naked Watchmaker, an online educational resource.
‘This new generation needs to have it’s own “why”,’ he continued. ‘It’s not about quality or price, but about the “why”. People want to know where a brand comes from.
‘It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s about innovation – it’s about the whole story. To speak to Generation Z, you need education. That’s a key element to assuring the future of watchmaking.’
Stephen Forsey, co-founder of Greubel-Forsey, said authenticity is paramount, whether you’re a young company, or one of the old guard.
‘You have to be really credible and authentic when you start an independent watch company,’ he said. ‘You have one watch when you start – you don’t have 200 years of history and a story about the DNA. Consumers are reacting against this. They’re looking for provenance and authenticity.’
That authentic message then has to be communicated coherently, suggested Dario Spallone, who was born in 1992 and founded the watch brand D1 Milano when he was just 20.
‘It used to be all about product,’ he said. ‘But nowadays, starting with my generation, it’s about the experience and the lifestyle it presents. It’s about the coherence of a brand. At the end of the day there are 50,000 other brands out there doing the same thing. The consumer is very intelligent and understands what’s real and what’s not real.’
Some panelists admitted learning this the hard way. HYT, which began working with high-profile racing driver Jean-Eric Vergne a few years ago, recently stripped back its marketing activities.
‘We used to have typical communications, but we cut it one year ago because it didn’t make any sense,’ said Grégory Dourde, CEO of the hydro-mechanical watchmaker HYT. ‘It wasn’t fitting the spirit of the HYT project. After five years, we stepped back and questioned ourselves – who are we? It’s always important to rethink the project, even when you’re a young brand. The job we do now is to build a brand based on artistic and philosophical content.’
Mr Dourde also said he believes the industry needs to come together to communicate the authenticity of traditional mechanical watchmaking.
‘The way new generations are buying, they expect authenticity and debate,’ he said. ‘That debate builds the credibility of the whole industry. As Swiss watchmakers, we have to think and develop and to defend. And for that we need the strength of everybody.’