A watch brand for and by millennials

A prototype model similar to the Mvmt Gotham watch, which sells for US$180 (S$245) with a metal bracelet.
A prototype model similar to the Mvmt Gotham watch, which sells for US$180 (S$245) with a metal bracelet.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK •Watch out for Mr Jake Kassan, 26, who likes to play a little game - ask other 20somethings for the time and see if they glance at their wrists or phones.

"More often than not, they reach for their phone," he said. This might seem like a problem, given that he and his business partner Kramer LaPlante, 26, run Mvmt, a watch company that targets millennials.

But Mr Kassan couldn't care less.

"Watches have evolved," he said. "Our audience cares more about the style of a watch than its function."

Millennials are often thought to be the lost generation when it comes to watches, since they were raised with cellphones.

They are often too busy struggling to carve out careers in an uncertain economy to fritter away money on their yuppie parents' status symbols, so goes the popular opinion.

Funny, then, that a Los Angeles-based watch start-up, founded by a couple of college dropouts in 2013, has become an industry player (the company said revenues were US$60 million, or S$81 million, last year) by selling old-school timepieces to people too young to remember rotary phones.

The business is built on a simple, if implicit, premise: Young adults, with their do-everything smartphones and tablets, may not need another device to help them navigate their daily existence.

But they care deeply about any image enhancer that helps them pop on Instagram.

It seems to have worked. Company research shows that 88 per cent of its customers are under 34 years old and 45 per cent are under 24.

"The belief that traditional watches are relics of the past is false," Mr Kassan said.

"Our consumers may not be the most formal in their attire, but they are very intentional. They think about what they wear, about what is... up-to-date. That may be ripped jeans and a T-shirt, but it's not a baggy T-shirt with stains on it."

The partners, who met in Santa Barbara, California, after leaving college, each had tried his hand at e-commerce and crowdfunding ventures, with middling success.

While neither was what you would call watch-obsessive, both considered timepieces important fashion accessories, but had a hard time finding a brand to fit both their style sensibility and budget.

"You had Nixon which is very action-sports oriented - skater, surfer," Mr Kassan said. "You had Michael Kors which was too blingy." Many entry-level brands were priced at US$400 or US$500, a stretch "when you're barely able to make rent".

They sought to create the kind of watch that they would want to buy. In an era of H&M-style fast fashion, they sought to produce watches that were head-turning, but also inexpensive enough that you could buy four or five.

The strategy was to keep costs under US$200 by selling directly to consumers online, eliminating the standard retail mark-up and relying on social media for marketing.

As the company has grown, however, it has begun selling in stores such as Nordstrom, advertising on radio and television, and has also expanded into sunglasses.

The original Mvmt line, which was introduced on the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform, was tastefully designed.

Watch geeks will draw obvious parallels to minimalist Swiss classics such as the Movado Museum Dial series and the IWC Portofino, which are far more expensive.

The Mvmt watches delivered sleek, hyper-minimalist design for prices that range from US$95 to US$180.

They largely did away with numerals for hour markers or luminescent hands.

To set itself apart in a sea of under-US$200 fashion watches, Mvmt positioned itself as an Instagram-first watch company.

Its Instagram feed for its men's line, for example, which has more than 855,000 followers, is a cornucopia of shots of stylish young lovelies cavorting in exotic locales and wearing cool watches.

While the company experimented with celebrity endorsers, including reality TV personality Kylie Jenner and basketball star Klay Thompson, it found its footing with a social media star known largely to other millennials: Sam Kolder.

The latter is a globe-trotting young videographer and thrill-seeker with more than 590,000 Instagram followers and great abs.

"Our whole thing is, 'Dress with intent, live with purpose'," Mr Kassan said.

"He scales buildings and scuba-dives with sharks. But he's not going to five-star resorts. He's just doing something everyone can do."

And wearing a watch that everyone can wear.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2017, with the headline 'A watch brand for and by millennials'. Print Edition | Subscribe