Instagram watch craze

PHOTOS: ANALOG/SHIFT, BOB’S WATCHES, SANTA_LAURA,/ INSTAGRAM
PHOTOS: ANALOG/SHIFT, BOB’S WATCHES, SANTA_LAURA,/ INSTAGRAM

Instagram posts of vintage and classic watches are turbocharging the collector's market

On Thursday, it was a stylishly retro 1962 Bulova Super Compressor on @analogshift that won my heart.

On Wednesday, it had been an elegantly understated 1970 Rolex Submariner, courtesy of @jasonheaton, that quickened the pulse. Tuesday had brought its own obsession, a vintage Heuer 3647 Carrera chronograph, regrammed on @hodinkee.

D*** you, Instagram.

Daily, if not hourly, my socialmedia addiction causes flare-ups of a second, closely related, malady: vintage watch deficit disorder, a chronic form of watch envy that inspires thoughts of raiding my retirement savings.

I am hardly alone. Among watch obsessives, the impact of Instagram can hardly be overstated.

Facebook's explosively popular photo-sharing app not only serves to unite members of this fusty, long-obscure subculture the world over, but it has also helped spread watch obsession among the digital generation, turbocharging the vintage market in the process, several prominent dealers said.

"Instagram is absolutely driving the enthusiasm for watches," said Mr Paul Altieri, who runs Bob's Watches, an online retailer of vintage Rolexes, in Huntington Beach, California, a company I have purchased from before.

"It's a major thrust in our business."

In the last three years, his company's Instagram following has surged to over 71,000, from fewer than 5,000. And business has boomed right along with it, with revenue up some 30 per cent this year.

  • Singapore Instagrammers

  • Singapore has its share of Instagrammers who fuel watch envy. Here are two of them.

    santa_laura

    Not much is known about santa_laura except that he is based in Singapore and has a mind-boggling collection of watches.

    Although he has done interviews with horological websites such as Haute Time, he has never revealed his identity. His handle santa_laura is apparently the name of a ship he used to operate. Boasting 172,000 followers on his Instagram account, he owns more than 100 watches. Most of them are from independent labels, and cost more than $15,000 each.


    sjxwatches

    This is the Instagram account of Mr Su Jia Xian, one of the most respected watch journalists in Singapore. It has has more than 67,000 followers.

    He started writing about watches when he was about 17 and started his blog Watches by SJX five years ago.

To Mr Altieri, the twin spikes seem like more than a coincidence.

"We'll post a new green Rolex anniversary model Submariner from 2004, complete with box and papers, and, usually within minutes, people will message me and say: 'Hey, let me know the price.'"

It's a big change for a hobby long associated with panelled studies, elbow patches and discretion.

Indeed, until recently, watch enthusiasts had few opportunities to show off prized pieces aside from dinner parties with friends or geeks-only online forums such as TimeZone or WatchUSeek.

Instagram, by contrast, is everything that traditional watch collecting was not: young, colourful, brazenly digital and populist. (The app has some 700 million users worldwide.)

And showing off? It is the lingua franca of the medium, a wellspring of covetousness that inspires FOMO (fear of missing out) and a gotta-have-it hunger among users regarding seemingly any and all Instagram subjects: travel, food, fashion and, lately, watches.

"Watch collecting is a very tactile hobby and if it can't be tactile, it is visual," said Mr James Lamdin, the 33-year-old founder of Analog/ Shift, a high-end Manhattan vintage watch boutique with more than 72,000 Instagram followers.

Those visuals were once limited on old-school online forums, where "uploading images of watches basically required a degree in coding", he said.

Not so with Instagram, where lovingly styled "wrist shots" of vintage Omega Speedmasters or Heuer Autavias can be enhanced, sharpened and uploaded within seconds for all the world to see.

Images of rare collector pieces on Instagram can create a feeding frenzy among collectors.

Last year, for example, after Hodinkee, the watch site with more than 378,000 Instagram followers, posted a photograph of the coveted 1969 Rolex "Paul Newman" Daytona reference 6241 available for sale on its online shop at around 9am one day, messages were pouring in within seconds.

Five minutes later, a buyer in his 30s snapped up the treasured Rolex for US$175,000 (S$235,600), a record price for the site, said Ms Ashley Kinder, who manages Hodinkee's retail operation.

She added: "Before that, the buyer had only ordered with us once to purchase a $150 watch strap."

Certainly, marketing fine timepieces on Instagram has its limits.

Because most use the app as a forum for sharing photos among friends, many users chafe at overt salesmanship by retailers, said Mr Yoni Ben-Yehuda of Material Good, a New York seller of luxury goods known for its salon-like retail space in SoHo.

That is why his company tends to emphasise arty photos celebrating the lifestyle associated with fine timepieces (say, street shots of fashionably dressed New Yorkers), rather than catalogue-style shots of specific timepieces for sale, he added.

But the landscape could change quickly.

Thousands of apparel, jewellery and beauty retailers, including the likes of Kate Spade, have begun to experiment with Instagram's recently introduced shoppable photo tag, which allows users to buy directly through the app without interrupting their scrolling.

Mr Altieri reckoned things will get interesting when watch retailers start using this technology.

"It's going to be like a tidal wave that hits the shore."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2017, with the headline 'Instagram watch craze'. Print Edition | Subscribe