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It's hard to overstate the impact of social media on watch culture. The ability to share pictures of our passion, along with discovering like-minded individuals the world over, has been hugely significant in the ever-increasing popularity of fine timepieces and the world around them.
Of course, Instagram is the most entrenched player in the space — the 13-year-old app was designed as a visual showcase after all, and has evolved into a powerful platform for brands to tell their own stories and discover new fans. On top of that, Instagram allowed for marketing strategies like influencer marketing, live product releases and global content to be supercharged and accelerated to a level that is only matched by our hunger for new watches. All this changed how we think and learn about watches — not to mention buy and sell them. But Instagram's grip on watches isn't as sure as it once was. A changing algorithm, more and more sponsored or commercial content, an ageing user base, and a shift to video are all contributing factors to why Instagram has lost some of its shine.
The lifecycle of social media platforms means that as one peaks, another rises, and the rising star is clearly TikTok. If you haven't fallen for the dopamine-inducing power of this video app, here's a quick explainer. TikTok was launched in 2016, initially in China under the name of Douyin — In 2017, it went global under the premise of sharing short videos paired with 'sounds'. Initially, the app was known for music and dance videos aimed at a younger audience, but there's a lot more to the app than that.
Sure, TikTok's capacity for viral entertainment is undeniable — but so too is its capacity for education. After all, TikTok's bite-sized chunks of engaging visuals are perfectly tailored to educational, informative content.
Central to the success of TikTok is the algorithm. This piece of code interacts with users (and the information on their phones) to deliver unerringly targeted content in an incredibly efficient (some would say addictive) manner. Broadly speaking, the more time you spend engaging with particular types of content, the more of that type of content you'll be served on your feed (or For You Page in TikTok jargon). So, watch a video about vintage watches, and sooner or later, that's all you'll be seeing.
So, what sort of watch content can you find on TikTok? Well, first and foremost, there's branded content — which is sponsored videos popping up in your feed or actual brand accounts. Pretty much all of the official blue tick brand accounts are either placeholders with no original content or the content replicates the video content you can find elsewhere. There are also the media sites you know and love who, by and large, are re-platforming their existing media content and not engaging with the platform and community of TikTok too much. Youtubers can sometimes fall into this category, but because they're natively optimised for video and the conventions of the two platforms are very similar, they tend to do quite well on TikTok. One example is Nico Leonard, who is closing in on a million followers on the platform (he's at 1.5 million on YouTube). His hyperbolic hot takes and reaction videos are accessible nuggets of pop culture and are designed to induce engagement. But while there is some actual insight to be found between the yelling, Nico's content, like many TikTokers, is like popcorn: tasty at the time but not very sustaining.
Several creators have found a formula that works particularly well on the app — the 'behind-the-scenes' life of watch dealers. Perhaps the best-known example is the double act of Vookum (Tyler Mikorski) (1.8 million followers) and John Buckley (855 thousand followers). Buckley and Mikorski's appeals on a few levels. There are insights that can be learned about the watch market and vintage watches in general, the voyeuristic thrill of peeking into the world of the New York Diamond District, with its close-knit network of dealers and the fast-paced lingo that goes along with it. We're so used to seeing luxury watches treated with reverence and plenty of pomp, so it's somewhat refreshing to see high-end vintage Rolex being treated like commodities in Ziploc bags. This sort of personality-driven business entertainment was invented long before TikTok, but it works very well on the platform and, indeed, for watches. Mike Nouveau (320 thousand followers) offers a different take on the same formula, swapping out the diamond district for on-the-street deals with plenty of cars and fits thrown in. Nouveau also has a more explicit educational angle, often explaining particular models or quirks of vintage watches.
The common thread between all these creators isn't just their strong personalities but also the types of watches they discuss. Rolex, Patek Phillipe, and Audemars Piguet dominate, and it's rare that they'll cover something too left of centre without a celebrity or pop culture tie-in. That's not because obscure or less popular watches are any less interesting, but rather because fewer people are interested in them, and if these creators want to be popular with the algorithm, they need to cover popular watches in the most engaging manner possible. This brings us to one of the biggest caveats with learning about watches on TikTok (or any social media, for that matter). Everyone on the app is at the whim of the algorithm: if it's not popular, it won't get seen. This leads not just to a limited representation of watches (hello, Rolex) but also a limited type of content — lots of clickbait, lists and hot takes. It is not the best platform for deep dives and rigorous research.
TikTok is great for watch culture. The app makes it easy to discover new content, and there are plenty of entertaining, interesting and educational creators out there. But, because of how the app's algorithm is designed, it is heavily geared towards broadly appealing edutainment rather than more thorough education. It's a great place to spend a few hours catching up with the latest online drama and current market prices, but if you're looking for an in-depth examination of haute horlogerie finishing, you might want to look elsewhere.
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