The watch world isn’t renowned for its dynamic approach to marketing. It’s an industry that has for hundreds of years stuck to what it does best: creating finely crafted, often innovative and usually elegant timepieces at a price. Sure, these aspirational products may find their way onto the wrist of the odd ambassador or Hollywood A-lister, but otherwise it’s the watch that does the talking.

Which leads us to a very 21st century problem. In its lifetime, horology has come up against various economic crises, the threat of the Quartz watch industry and countless rebranding exercises, but it has never had to worry about a conundrum like social media.

For old-school watch manufacturers this modern channel of communication has represented a big question mark, and is in direct opposition to histories that date back as far as the mid 17th century. Does Rolex really need a Snapchat presence? Is there an audience for Facebook Live watch launches? Do we need watch influencer brunches to tell a brand’s story? In an era where the gap between the consumer and the brand has never been easier to bridge, how to actually do so has left many brands puzzled.

And then Anish Bhatt arrived on the scene – or, as you may know him, @watchanish. In late 2011, this immaculately groomed, stylish gentleman rocked up boasting the kind of watch knowledge usually attributed to hardcore watch collectors. He spoke with passion and insight, but stripped away the elitist overtones of some portions of the watch community. His platform of choice? A fledgling social media app called Instagram.

It’s funny to think about it now, but the candid street shots of him and other fashionable individuals wearing cool watches and great outfits were unique six years ago – and it brought him instant recognition. Fast forward to 2018 and Bhatt has 1.75m followers excited to see what he’s wearing next.

But Watch Anish is more than just a social media account these days. It’s a global brand credited with aiding the watch world’s move into the social sphere. It’s brought watches to new demographics, created pockets of avid watch communities from London to Shanghai, and seen Anish grow into a style icon in his own right. The word ‘influencer’ is bandied around liberally (and often erroneously) these days but, if ever it were appropriate, it’s when talking about Anish Bhatt.

When did you fall in love with watches?

The earliest watch memory I have comes from when I was seven and I’d gone to visit my grandparents in India. I saw an advert on TV for a Timex Indiglo – it had this crazy green glow-in-the-dark dial and I just thought it was awesome. I begged my grandmother to get it for me and she said no because it was too expensive. But on the last day before I came back home she gave it to me as a gift.

Fast forward through adolescence to when I was at university, and I stumbled across a web forum on the Rolex 6263 Daytona. I’d always appreciated a beautiful watch but I started reading about the history of this piece. Then I dug deeper into Rolex, then Panerai, and then I fell into modern watches.

I became fixated with how an instrument that I thought was a practical tool could mean so much more – not just in vintage but also in modern watches. I bought books from Japan (in Japanese!) on vintage watches like the old Rolex Milsubs, Daytonas and Milgauss just because the level of detail they’d go into in these books was ahead of its time. That’s when I fell in love with the micro-mechanics and artistry that went into it.

Was there a defining moment when this hobby became something more?

It happened really organically, to be honest. I was working for different companies in fashion, but I had this passion for watches – and, as with anything you’re excited by, I would just start talking about it with the people I met. You know, if you go to a restaurant and have a really good meal, you’ll tell your friends about that place because you want people to enjoy it the same way that you did. It’s the same thing for me and watches – I wanted other people to enjoy them the same way that I did. I wanted to share that passion.

I think because I was working in fashion, which is such a fast-moving industry in terms of how it adopts different ways of communication and different patterns, it dawned on me over the course of a few years that when I looked at watches – the thing I absolutely loved the most – the way that they were presented to people was very limited.

I became fixated with how an instrument I thought was a practical tool could mean so much more

The language seemed to be directed at people of 60+ who were retired and buying watches for themselves or maybe as an investment for their grandchildren. It wasn’t talking to the guy who’s just sold his tech company for a load of money or the Silicon Valley guy who’s done really well and is financially able to purchase a five or six-figure timepiece and appreciate it. I thought there must be a way to talk to these people, because that’s who I related to more.

It was around that time that street style fashion was taking off and you had people like Scott Schuman (The Sartorialist) and really great photographers like Tommy Ton working for GQ doing these iconic photo sessions with people in the street instead of choreographed photoshoots in studios. I really liked that and wondered whether I could combine something like that with a really interesting timepiece – and not just something that a fashion magazine would put together because it’s the same colour as something else but something that someone could look at and think: ‘Wow, that’s cool’.

I was working in Florida at a fashion company at the time, and I left my job to come back to London. I didn’t have loads of savings, because I was young and careless, but while I was looking for a job back in the UK I thought it was good opportunity to see if I could do something a little bit more serious with this idea I had. So I used whatever savings I had, I think it was about £4,000 or £5,000, found a photographer who had just qualified from fashion college, and taught him how to shoot in the way that I wanted to shoot.

How to buy a watch

The Watch Anish guide

  1. Don’t rush into a purchase – take your time and educate yourself. You’ll always make a better decision from a position of knowledge.
  2. Don’t buy to speculate – buying a watch because you think you’re going to make a profit in a year is a dangerous move. If you end up with an offer of 50% less than you paid for it, that’s not something anybody likes.
  3. Everyone’s personality is different – watches are a very emotional purchase so make a decision on what has meaning to you. I can’t tell you what shoes to wear or what cut of suit to have, because what works for me might not work for you. Buy what makes you happy.

We would just go down to Mayfair, Knightsbridge or Shoreditch on the fly and find people who were dressed in cool outfits, men and women. My special ability is being able to spot a watch from 50 yards away, and I can immediately tell if someone is wearing something interesting. So I started a blog showcasing these people and my opinion on different watches, and it gained traction semi-quickly and then I remember stumbling across Instagram in late 2011 and I found it really interesting. It was such a visual platform that was very much about telling a story through a picture, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Everything started from there. It was super organic – and, honestly, if people told me to repeat it now, I probably couldn’t replicate the growth that we had and the way that we built such a big audience in a short period of time.

What do you think the secret was?

I certainly wasn’t the first watch person on Instagram but I would say I was the first doing it in the style that I was using. I think that resonated with a lot of people – you know, it turned out there were a lot of people that were looking for this kind of watch content that was a little fresher, a bit younger and dynamic.

Our language was very conversational as opposed to the formal and overly technical content elsewhere, but we still had the knowledge. I could still hold a conversation with people about why a certain Rolex Milgauss reference was worth more than another one, or why the Patek 5972 was trading so much higher than 5270 and what should be the next move for the brand.

Instagram enabled me to communicate with a really wide group of people about something that I love – and that’s really, when it boils down to it, what I wanted to do. I won’t say it wasn’t hard work, because it absolutely was, but there was also an element of luck and everything falling into place. It’s about doing things in the right way at the right time.

Over the last few years, the watch world saw declining sales across the industry, but the tide appears to be changing. What do you put that down to?

It was kind of taken for granted in the watch industry that the next generation of buyers were the next politicians or doctors or entrepreneurs or self-made millionaires – but it actually isn’t. That person can now be 16 and really learning about everything in the world. Nowadays, information is thrown at people from every angle, so if you don’t communicate with them now, how are they going to develop a passion or appreciation for a product like this? I think that was neglected for a long while.

In a way that was good for a while because even though the big brands were adverse to taking risks, the independent brands – the ones who are really innovating and pushing the envelope but don’t necessarily have the marketing budget to do huge campaigns – jumped on social media a lot earlier and as a result saw the growth in sales from people like me who really believe in the product and were championing them. That David and Goliath mindset is something I admire.

Of course, the social media client and reader is super important to all of these brands now – they didn’t really see it before, but they’re certainly investing heavily in it now.

Has the industry learnt its lessons now?

I think different problems come with evolution. The industry feels to me like it’s going through a transition, because we’ve been waiting for more people to understand watches and appreciate different pieces, but the trouble is when that gets to the scale that it has today people aren’t necessarily buying a watch from a passion point of view or a manufacturing point of view, they’re buying it as an instrument that operates similarly to the stock market.

Knowing that you can buy a watch at retail price, if you are friendly enough with the authorised retailer, and immediately sell that watch for 50% or sometimes more than 100% profit changes the field of play for someone who is flipping watches for profit or the guy who’s been saving since the age of 25 to buy a £20,000 Patek. It’s a little bit like creating Frankenstein’s monster: everyone is now a dealer. There’s much more volume being sold, but the amount that actually ends up in the hands of people who really want to keep that watch is much less than it should be.

If you look at the sneaker industry in the fashion world a very similar thing is happening with these limited-release sneakers from Jordan, Off-White collaborations and Kanye West’s Yeezys. Stock is limited to the point that the only way to get hold of them is through a retailer for five or six times the price. It’s opportunistic in a way and you can be down on it, but it’s commerce – you can’t stop it.

Instagram enabled me to communicate with a wide group of people about something that I love

How many watches do you have in your personal collection?

I don’t know the exact number – I haven’t done a head count for a while – but probably somewhere around 75 watches.

Can you dial down a favourite?

It’s very difficult. The first Swiss watch I ever bought was a Vacheron Constantin Overseas Automatic Series 2 in 2003. That has real sentimental value to me – I saved three years for it, and worked two different jobs to get enough money to buy it. Then there’s the watch I wore when I got married, a Patek Philippe 5711R on a leather strap. That obviously has a special place in my collection.

My watches are all over the place really. There’s some real crazy modern pieces, space-age looking things from MB&F and Richard Mille. Then on the other hand there’s a lot of vintage Rolex, pieces from my birth year and before then, early 1970s. I also have a GMT from 1958, which is probably my most valuable vintage Rolex. But they all have meaning to me for different reasons.

I feel that a big reason people choose what is and isn’t their favourite piece in their collection is the residual value. The increase in value on any one reference in the vintage market is insane at the moment. But I really like vintage because I like the chase.

I like to get a little fixated over a watch and get obsessed with trying to find the best example of that – where can I find a piece that’s 40 years old, in really good condition, but hasn’t been polished and has the original certificate, the box and all the leaflets that it came with. Maybe even the purchase receipt and the stupid purchase stickers that were all over it. It’s a treasure hunt and that’s really where the fun in collection comes from. The journey to getting that piece on your wrist is really where the addiction is for me.

People take things too seriously in the watch world. It’s OK to have fun in this industry, and not to be quite so Swiss about everything! I think people forget that at times.

Is there any watch brand that’s particularly impressing you at the moment?

There are a lot of brands that are doing cool things. I really like what Bulgari is doing at the minute with its Octo Finissimo line. It’s not easy for a brand that’s so female focussed in the eyes of the consumer to make a watch that seasoned watch collectors of any gender would look at and say, ‘Wow, I would buy that’.

Rolex is Rolex: I don’t really think it can put a foot wrong with a lot of the stuff it does. It keeps it really simple and it just works.

Vacheron Constantin, on the other hand, is really trying to push the boat out with its entry-level FiftySix collection. It’s come in really aggressive with the price and is trying to target a younger millennial type of audience, with the trust that in time these buyers will evolve into the higher-end offering.

People take things too seriously in the watch world. it’s ok to have a bit of fun in this industry

What is the future of the watch world?

When Apple launched its watch there was a big panic in Switzerland about whether the smart watch was going to take a large portion of sales and effect their demographic, but I think they’re two very different propositions.

I personally don’t buy watches to tell the time. A lot of the time if I don’t put my watch in my winder or in a safe, I’ll pick it up the next time I’m ready to wear it and it won’t have the right time and the right date. But each time I wear it I’ll notice something different about the case, the dial, the hands.

To me, a watch isn’t really a practical tool. There’s no watch you can buy for however many millions of pounds that is more accurate than a phone, but it’s about the appreciation of micro-engineering, the artistry and hours of work on the finishing that goes into it.

It’s like looking at a piece of art, rather than the practical value of it, so I don’t think digital will effect mechanical watchmaking.

In terms of how that message is going to be communicated by the big brands, things evolve very quickly. Social media is so big now it’s impossible to ignore, but things are constantly changing, and platforms come and go.

It’s important for what I do from a communication perspective to be fluid and to look at whatever’s new and interesting, and not be comfortable doing the same thing all the time.

For example, with Instagram we have to figure out how to stay relevant and important on that platform but you also need to develop your own user base so you can create an offline relationship with your audience by way of events or building watch communities around the world. There’s a lot of different factors to think about – it’s a never-ending question that we’re trying to answer.

I don’t know what the future holds for my place in the industry. I can tell you for sure there are going to be more watches. As for the rest, I’m really excited to see the different ways things evolve and to change alongside them.

Follow Anish Bhatt on Instagram: @watchanish