The watch world is generally a very traditional place. From brands and products to the individuals who are part of the industry, tradition plays a large role in how things are done. Some brands date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, mechanical complications that have been around for centuries are still in use today, designs that are rooted in the past remain popular, and many people honor the traditional values of the industry. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this per se; on the contrary, it gives us the chance to preserve and enjoy the great stories that make the watch industry such a vibrant place.
But when it comes to vibrancy, there are a few younger brands that repeatedly shake up the traditional status quo of the watch world. From small independent brands that find alternative ways to fund the creation of their timepieces and futuristic high-end brands that redefine watch design and technology to brands that push traditional boundaries by targeting new audiences, these watchmakers aren’t standing still. Yet by doing so, many of these brands seem to be frowned upon by traditional watch fans.
Two great examples of this are Hublot and Richard Mille. Both brands have been very successful at pushing the boundaries of traditional watchmaking and finding their way in front of a new audience. In large part, that audience is made up of young people who would love to own a timepiece from either of these brands. The magic of the two manufacturers – aside from making great products – is their marketing strategies, all of which have managed to draw in huge crowds of younger fans. So, let’s take a closer look at what the magic is all about, and find out why it matters that young people are going for these brands.
Let’s start with the older of the two brands: Hublot. Last year, I wrote an article about Hublot’s genius marketing strategy that has made it into the brand it is today. As a quick refresher, the first Hublot watch was introduced in 1980 by Italian-born Carlo Crocco. The Hublot Classic Fusion combined a yellow gold case with an integrated rubber strap, a combination that hadn’t been seen up to that point. Rubber was not considered a luxury material, so combining it with gold was very frowned upon. Nevertheless, this fusion of materials turned out to be a hit with famous actors, sports stars, and royals.
Biver’s Magic Touch
Fast-forward to 2004, when industry veteran Jean-Claude Biver took over as CEO of Hublot. Biver came up with a new “Art of Fusion” concept. The idea was to continue using unexpected material combinations, resulting in unique timepieces like the Hublot Big Bang in 2005. However, Biver’s biggest stroke of genius was not product related. He decided to target a new audience of potential watch fans: the nouveau riche, or “new rich.”
New Role for Traditional Luxury
Biver understood the desires of this new target audience. They were craving big watches with innovative materials, bold styles, and flashy colors. Traditional Swiss luxury brands have tended to steer clear of catering to new money, but Hublot has happily partnered with soccer clubs, rappers, Formula 1 teams, and social media influencers from around the globe – and therein lies their success at attracting a younger crowd. In the last 10-20 years, the younger generation have become less hindered by traditional ideas of how things should be done in the wider luxury industry. We have since seen collaborations that were unthinkable two decades ago: Louis Vuitton pairing up with Supreme, or the Jordan brand teaming up with Dior. The results are especially appealing to those who are ready to break with tradition, and Hublot is very much part of it.
The same audience loves seeing Hublot creations on the wrists of superstars like French soccer player Kylian Mbappé, Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic, and social media star Chiara Ferragni. Social media obviously plays a large role in the lives of many young people. That is where many look to see who’s wearing which models. Eventually, these fans will save up enough money to call a Hublot their own. Traditional fans, on the other hand, shy away from the brand’s designs, often massive sizes, bold colors, and the individuals associated with it. However, Biver also understood the power of limited editions. While Hublot definitely pushes the weight of limited editions to the very edge, their target audience absolutely loves it – exclusivity is key.
Understanding Richard Mille
Speaking of exclusivity, there is no brand that does it better than Richard Mille. Richard Mille is a very different kind of watch manufacturer, but the brand essentially uses the same marketing tactics as Hublot. Pascal wrote a lengthy article about the hype behind Richard Mille that perfectly captures what makes the brand so special. When Richard Mille first entered the market with the RM 001 in 2001, a combination of factors made them stand out immediately. First of all, the watch looked completely unique with its futuristic tonneau-shaped case. Secondly, the level of watchmaking art was incredibly impressive; the RM 001 featured a tourbillon, a complication that isn’t usually seen in sports watches due to its fragility.
The Power of Big Names
Since the very beginning, Richard Mille has created super robust, lightweight, and highly complicated timepieces that can withstand the most challenging situations – think Formula 1, tennis, and football. These are the places where Richard Mille has found ambassadors like Rafael Nadal, Odell Beckham Jr, Felipe Massa, and current McLaren F1 drivers, all of whom have proven that high-end timepieces can be worn in extreme sports conditions. Not long after, famous stars like Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams, Ed Sheeran, and Drake were spotted with Richard Mille watches on their wrists.
These are colorful watches, to say the least. The original titanium case with a black strap was eventually joined by a wide variety of bright colors that define the collection today. What’s stayed consistent is the instantly recognizable style, lightweight materials, and brilliant high-horology watchmaking. As you may have guessed, every model is produced in small, limited batches and costs a fortune. From the get-go, Richard Mille set out to create a luxury segment all its own.
The Six-Digit Brand
Richard Mille is known as the six-digit brand due to its prices. Exclusivity both in price and availability plays a big part in the overall appeal of the brand for fans, many of whom are younger. As Pascal mentioned, people under the age of 35 are responsible for 60% of the searches for Richard Mille on Chrono24, and the success with the younger crowd is immense. Once again, connecting with young people via marketing and the power of social media has made a tremendous impact, but what does this mean for the overall industry?
Importance of Hublot and Richard Mille
Besides the obvious relevance of Hublot and Richard Mille as successful brands with lots of fans, they represent something more important and complex for the industry as a whole. First of all, the brands are attracting a younger crowd who is getting interested in mechanical watches. By doing so, they are planting a seed that could become a lifelong passion for watches. No matter how that seed is planted, it ensures that the passion we all share is passed on to a new generation. There are obviously other brands that also play a large role in attracting a younger crowd. More traditional brands like Rolex, Audemars Piguet, and Patek Philippe are also playing their part in attracting young people. Nevertheless, the tremendous impact a brand like Richard Mille has on young people is quite amazing.
The brands are also influencing the industry. They are shaping the future of watchmaking. By constantly pushing boundaries in terms of using new materials, trying new horological concepts, collaborating with leading modern artists, and breaking from the traditional forms of marketing, both Hublot and Richard Mille have shown that it’s possible to achieve success by changing the formula. While you certainly don’t have to be a fan of what these brands are doing, their cultural relevance and industry influence are certainly impactful. That’s what keeps young people interested in exploring this wide world of watches that we all love so much, and exactly what we need to make sure the future of the industry is bright.