about time Luxury

Chasing time in India

Last December, MS Dhoni was named the Indian ambassador for Panerai, the Italian luxury sports watchmaker. Meanwhile, the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup (a sport that draws 93% of sports viewers in India) is working with Hublot — it’s the first time a watch brand is working with the tournament. Bringing these luxury watches to the public consciousness is a calculated effort on the part of these brands.

Despite talk of a declining market, the ground reality looks different. Shilpa Dhamija, former journalist and founder of the Luxury Volt blog, says, “Just look at the investments, particularly the Richemont group, over the last four years. Montblanc has already inaugurated half a dozen new stores and Jaeger LeCoultre opened a boutique in Delhi last year.” Events, like a watch and whisky pairing with Panerai and Pernod Ricard in Mumbai a couple of months ago, are being curated by bloggers like Vishesh Sahni (Vishawatch).

To Sarosh Mody, director/founder of Luxury Watch Works — a Mumbai-based workshop that services and restores contemporary and vintage Swiss watches — the Indian customer is a mystery. “Luxury equates exclusivity when it comes to timepieces, but there is a herd mentality that steers people to wear the same brands as their peers,” he says. With over 22 years of experience in the field, Mody has also noticed that the price-sensitive nature of customers is slowly shifting its focus to value; reliable after-sales service is also an important factor. As for brands, Anish Bhatt of Watch Anish, says that his “Indian audience traditionally prefer Rado, as well as Rolex, Omega, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe”. Meanwhile, newer entrants like the Bangalore Watch Company are giving millennial consumers more options to choose from.

Here, five luxury watch experts talk about what works in India and the micro vs macro influencer debate.

Anish Bhatt, @watchanish (1.7 million followers): After running a successful blog for close to eight years, and monetising his fame through a marketing firm, London-based Bhatt is a fine example of early mover advantage in the influencer space. By co-opting Instagram, he says, “Brands have been able to communicate the beauty of fine watches via a medium that is easily much more frequented by a much younger audience. Because in 2019, it’s less about celebrity endorsements and more about immediate peer group appreciation and recognition.” Since he didn’t study marketing, he credits everything he does to gut instinct — “We look at what we would like to see as consumers and then find a way to deliver that in an authentic manner. With a follower list that includes Trevor Noah, John Mayer and Kevin Hart, Bhatt manages to keep it real for his audience by using a conversational tone. “We also do many offline activities where we get to connect with them in real life,” he adds. He feels that while micro influencers have higher rate of engagement, accounts like his have a wider reach, even outside the direct audience.
Kristian Haagen, @kristianhaagen (108K followers): The Scandinavian watch specialist has written seven books, including two in English: Hashtags & Watches I and II combine his passion for horology with his fascination with Instagram. “Dedicated profiles on the photo-sharing app have had an enormous impact on luxury watch sales. However, true knowledge and a personal insight is needed in order to not just get a like, but rather push towards a sale,” he says sagely. This is where micro influencers enter the picture. “They tend to get better engagement, especially if they answer questions. It also reflects their knowledge, instead of paid posts where the influencer has no real information. These posts often go unnoticed or receive poor engagement.”
Shilpa Dhamija, @luxuryvolt (111K followers): The former journalist feels that there are not many Indian influencers who understand the art of horology, and it continues to be a niche segment. “Brands that sell watches under ₹2 lakh do tap fashion influencers, but mostly sell them as fashion accessories. To be duly appreciated, watches, just like cars, must be understood and studied for their technical prowess,” she says. At the same time, Dhamija is surprised that revered historic brands like Patek Philippe made an entry on Instagram last year. “What might be noticeable in the last three years is that brands that shied away from any online presence are now launching special online edition watches to cater to an audience that is always connected,” she explains. There is no dearth of choice for the Indian millennial who wants to invest in watches. “MB&F (Maximillian Busser and Friends) is an independent watch brand from Switzerland. Few know that the founder is half Parsi! For those with deep pockets, and an appetite for adventure, I recommend their super cool Legacy Machine watches. HYT is another indie brand that uses an exceptional mechanism of liquid in capillaries to tell time,” she concludes.
Vishesh Sahni, @vishawatch (14.6K followers): “Most Indian watch influencers are already collectors, so they have both passion and knowledge. Technically, even I fall under this category, as I started by sharing my stories and experiences,” says Sahni. In the three years that he has been active with his brand Vishawatch, he has conducted several offline engagement programmes, like the watch and whisky pairing with Panerai and Pernod Ricard in Mumbai a couple of months ago. He says that microinfluencers might work for brands like Daniel Wellington (which does not fall under the luxury category), but larger brands have to be more targetted and engage with an audience that will translate to sales. “Brands like Vacheron are known more for their complications, but the market here is not ready yet to invest based on the technical aspect of a watch. Rolex will always lead the pack, while a brand like SevenFriday has connected well after launching earlier this year,” he explains. Photo: Harsh Khaneja Photography
Sarosh Mody, Director/Founder — Luxury Watch Works: “Though generic luxury brands like Rolex are still popular, Indian consumers are now a lot more savvy and informed, and are looking for brands which are not just commercially popular but are more deeply entrenched in the craft of watchmaking,” says Mody, adding that Oris, Nomos, Bovet, Ressence, A Lange Sohne, Jaeger Le Coultre are some of the names which are quite sought-after by watch aficionados. In India, brands are now trying to connect with their audience through events and other engagements. “The vice president of Bovet, a Swiss brand, travels to India once a quarter and meets with clients one-on-one, taking them through all the novelties, high complication watches and customisation possibilities like special engraving and miniature hand painted dials, before their watch is created. It’s a truly bespoke experience,” he says.
Related Topics