Horology for Millennials — Why Luxury watchmakers should nurture a generation of Digital Natives

The rise of independent designers and retailers within the Artisanal/Avant-Garde niche satisfies an obsession for all things meaningful and handmade.

The luxury watch industry has begun to embrace new technologies that help them connect with millennials, but technology isn’t the be-all and end-all.

Luxury watchmakers should foster this maturing generation’s sense of curiosity and help them understand the value of heritage and craftsmanship, in order to build a meaningful relationship beyond the sake of technology. 

Advances in technology within the luxury watch sector have always been gradual and subtle. At the start of the new millennium, silicon replaced metallic alloys in the intricate parts of the regulator, the crux of a mechanical watch, as the un-reactive material proved more reliable. More recently, luxury watchmakers embrace 3D printing, relying on the process for quickly creating prototypes and tools that would have otherwise taken hours of skilled work to complete—revolutionising the way luxury watches are designed and developed.

In 2015, the debut of Apple’s smartwatch was regarded by luxury watchmakers as nothing to worry about. But not too far down the line, luxury brands such as TAG Heuer, Mont Blanc, and Breitling have introduced their very own smartwatches in attempt to capture a data driven audience. More often than not the millennial generation is seen to don bare wrists, unless it’s a smartwatch that updates them with the latest headlines.

Although millennials don’t yet make up the core of luxury watch consumers, they are the ones to succeed the current crop of luxury watch buyers who have a very different attachment to luxury horology, and a different perspective on luxury altogether. Luxury watchmakers who solely market themselves on traditional craftsmanship may struggle to gain traction with millennials, whose phones and its integrated digital clocks have become extensions of their every day. Technology might be the way to tech savvy, smartwatch loving Millennials but there’s reason to think otherwise.

It’s not that millennials are disinterested in luxury watches, they may just be too young—especially considering that the market for luxury watches is typically in its full force at 30 years plus. But, this generation is maturing. The luxury watch sector needs to start building a meaningful relationship with this audience, and that means understanding their behaviours, which are unique from those of previous generations.

Social media is at the core of connecting with the millennial generation, who express their interests and bricolage their way of living and seeing on platforms such as Instagram. The image driven social platform is predominantly frequented by users aged 18-24. Interestingly, posts featuring the hashtag “luxurywatch” make up more than double of those featuring the hashtag “smartwatch”. Luxury watchmakers should consequently foster millennials’ sense of curiosity, by helping them understand the value of heritage and craftsmanship. Unlike previous generations of luxury watch consumers, the younger generation demands to know the “how” and “why”—they want to understand why something is expensive before investing in it.

Ironically, millennials’ curiosity towards luxury watches could be a backlash against the digitised world that they’ve grown up in. As such, luxury watchmakers have a sizeable opportunity to provide this digitally native audience an escape to the omnipresence of tech by focusing on a return to hand craft and time-honoured techniques. But, in order to do that luxury watchmakers must learn to speak the millennial language, which is centred on social networks, experiences, and intimate connections with brands.



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