On selling luxury watches to Generation Y/Z

I’m a younger millennial and occasionally find myself having discussions with people who are not particularly interested in watches. I want to share this story as it will be both relatable to everyone (in some way) and to offer my take on what can be done.

It was a typical Friday night. I found myself at a house party where I did not know anyone. I quickly struck up a conversation with Hannah (name changed), a 25-year-old working in marketing. Being a watchmaker, the topic of watches quickly came up.

“I have to ask; what is your dream watch?” she said. I became noticeably excited.

“Probably an early brass F.P. Journe Resonance” I quickly responded. Realizing that I might as well have spoken another language, I showed her a picture on my phone; possibly hoping for some sort of approval.

She took a brief look before handing my phone back. “Cool time zone watch! How much does it cost?”

Somewhat offended by the vulgarity of the question, yet sensing an opportunity to spread the gospel, I answered in relative terms “It is somewhat expensive.”

She looked at me with genuine curiosity. The answer had clearly not sufficed.

There was no escape at this point. Either I was going to spend the next hour enlightening her on the virtues of mechanical watches or I was going to have a discussion on the social dynamics of class and social reproduction. The odds were fair – 50/50.

“At least US$50,000 if you can even find one for sale,” I replied.

She raised her eyebrows in disbelief.  “Why?!” She asked. I then proceeded to quickly justify the figure by explaining the mechanical nature of the watch, the story behind the watch, and the ingenuity and design language of Mr. Journe. I may have lost her attention halfway.

“It is a beautiful object!” I concluded.

“Sure but why would anyone ever spend US$50,000 dollars on a watch?! Why not go on a trip around the world? I could take my friends on a trip to see the jungles of the Amazon, experience a sunset in Zanzibar or visit the Taj Mahal. I would rather travel.”

Hannah’s views are far from unusual. In fact, they’re rather typical. Millennials tend to prefer spending money on experiences rather than on things. The experience economy is growing [1].  Perhaps most interesting was not Hannah’s aversion to spending the money on a watch; but the opportunity cost to spend a considerable sum of money on holiday.

There is clearly a willingness to consume, just not material things.

Further, millennials are willing to spend a premium on products that align with their values (e.g. organic food, ethical fashion, fair trade). They want to know how it was made and who made it.

This obviously creates a whole set of new challenges for the future (particularly given the current state of the watch industry) [2]. So with this in mind, how do we sell luxury watches to generation Y/Z?

In short, this is what I think needs to be done:

  1. Tell genuine stories
  2. Create watches that speak to our time
  3. Show them how and who makes the watch
  4. Improve the overall sales and after-sales experiences
  5. Encourage “meaningful purchases” that correspond to a meaningful life experiences
  6. Discourage speculation

And maybe, just maybe, someone like Hannah might purchase a luxury watch. Until then, maybe I may try to get a side gig in the travel business…

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