The power of the story behind the watch
Why exactly do people buy luxury items like high-end mechanical wristwatches? It’s an interesting psychological question.
We don’t really need them, especially in this decade when our smart devices automatically sync the time to the web. There’s no need to wind, and no need to worry. Still, many of these watches fetch astronomical selling prices. What’s the secret?
Over the years watches have been my passion, and through studying them, one thing has become clear to me: Their value comes not so much from what they can do, but from how they make us feel. And furthermore, when there’s an interesting story connected to a watch, it suddenly becomes infinitely more desirable. The most irresistible timepieces are the ones that capture the imagination.
The famous Moonwatch – the Omega Speedmaster – did just that in 1969 when one of the greatest stories in history, the first man on the moon, became a reality. Strapped on Buzz Aldrin’s wrist with an oversize band to accommodate his space suit was an Omega, and that perfect brand positioning catapulted Omega’s popularity. Almost fifty years later people are still talking about it. Because the story is so unforgettable, the watch is remembered too. Now I admit, it’s not a new marketing tactic.
Rolex was one of the first luxury watch brands to play the imagination card. Images of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on the summit of Everest, Mercedes Gleitze crossing the English Channel, or a Rolex diving 10,916 meters below sea level in the Marianas trench were some of the first to catch people’s attention.
During the war years these attention-grabbing stories were regularly found in black and white advertisements splashed across newspapers. Rolex was daring, pushing the limits, and going further.
The “story of Rolex” is one that marketing genius, Hans Wilsdorf, took great care to write. In the popular mind a Rolex was the wristwatch of an adventurer, a conqueror, a hero.
The famous James Bond played a lead role in that same story. Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, was a big Rolex fan too, and the dapper secret agent with his gadgets always wore the finest timepiece. Sean Connery wore a Rolex Submariner, reference 6538 on a leather strap in 1962’s Dr. No.
Magnets and a handy Buzz-saw were hidden in Bond’s Rolex 5513 Submariner in Live and Let Die. Besides saving his life, that watch was also showed its use by unzipping women's dresses from a distance.
Rolex was a regular feature in the Bond franchise, but other brands made their appearance there too, including Breitling, Seiko and Omega, and there’s even a Hamilton Pulsar with an LED display from 1977.
Stories have the power to influence how people feel – and that has been the secret to success for the elite names among watchmakers. They know how to utilise the power of association.
When I see an Omega Speedmaster, immediately I associate it with images of NASA and the conquest of space. The stories tend to stick in our memory, even if the features of the watch are forgotten.
The same psychology is at work when celebrities are seen wearing a particular watch.
When it’s Sylvester Stallone wearing a Panerai, we associate it with Rocky Balboa or even Rambo. When Brad Pitt is seen wearing a Patek Philippe Nautilus, or buying Angelina Jolie a Patek Philippe Minute Repeater ref. 7000 for $390,000, there’s a story. Perhaps it’s a romance, I’m not sure…
One of TV’s most popular dramas of recent times is Mad Men. Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) is the main character of the show and is highly regarded for his fashion sense. The watch that seems to get the most screen time in the series is the Jaeger LeCoultre Reverso.
The stories that surround these watches have the power to tap into our emotions. They’re what make any good watch irresistible.
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