YouTubers teach Rolex how to talk about watches

(Bloomberg) — In the white-gloved world of Swiss luxury watchmaking, a floppy-haired Brit armed with a camera, a light kit and a best mate charm is rewriting the rules of how to peddle Rolex and Omega watches.

A former corporate trainer, Adrian Barker transformed his local YouTube channel into a luxury wristwatch empire in the space of a few years. A video of Barker titled “I bought a Rolex Submariner on eBay!” has over 700,000 views. Another, asking “Why is HUBLOT the most hated luxury watch brand?”, has been viewed over a million times in just eight months.

Like fans of other high-end kits favored by middle-aged men — think espresso machines, racing bikes, or bespoke tailoring — watch enthusiasts can seem tough and stuffy. Barker, on the other hand, seems just as comfortable discussing his first – “absolutely filthy” – watches as he adores his current Rolex Explorer II, which sells for around $9,000. It’s all delivered in a fast-paced narrative that’s both disarming and dissecting.

The platform earns the 36-year-old what it calls a ‘healthy salary’ in the six figures, although Barker insists the watches aren’t just for people with silly money to spend.

His YouTube videos drive traffic to his website, Bark and Jack, where, combined with separate endorsement deals, he earns just as much revenue by again selling watch straps, storage cases and coffee mugs emblazoned with its logo.

“I was just having fun,” said Barker, who quit his human resources job at a tech company in London to focus on his channel full-time. “I love making videos and I love talking about watches. It wasn’t more complicated than that. »

While Swiss industry giant Rolex remains on the sidelines, other luxury watchmakers used to having near-total control over their marketing and messaging are taking notice. Rolex’s sister brand Tudor is now lending Barker watches for review, and others have embraced the rise of a new generation of online video influencers.

Vacheron Constantin, part of the fine watchmaking triumvirate that also includes Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe, lent Barker a £26,600 ($33,411) Dual Time Overseas watch last year for review. Barker strapped the watch to his wrist and climbed a mountain in Scotland, for a video that has been viewed over 150,000 times.

Amid all the hype, Barker tries to maintain some independence. Watchmakers have sent him watches to review while asking him to sign contracts that say he won’t name rival brands or comment negatively on the watch without approval. When this happens, he said he sends the watch back, unrevised.

Its largest audience is between the ages of 25 and 35, according to its own analytics data. Barker said watch brands interested in appealing to a younger, more ambitious consumer are more likely to work with him.

Zenith, founded in 1860 and now part of the LVMH empire, embraces the trend. Working with Watch YouTubers is much cheaper than traditional advertising and better targeted, said chief executive Julien Tornare.

“It’s literally part of the landscape and we’re working with them more and more,” Tornare said.

YouTube Watch vloggers scattered across the world, from Australia to Europe to the United States, are using their macro video lenses to propel a resurgence of interest in luxury watches that has driven prices up . Besides Barker, there’s Teddy Baldassarre, a 28-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio, who releases about six videos a week to his more than 500,000 YouTube subscribers.

Baldassarre now employs 12 people and sells watches on his e-commerce site, where annual revenue is “quickly approaching eight figures,” he said in an interview.

Barker’s take is that despite all the complications surrounding watches and their movements, simplicity is what attracts viewers. He’s not fancy, he just likes expensive watches, especially sturdy tool watches like his own Rolex Explorer. Think of an equivalent of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, but instead of well-prepared, easy-to-reproduce dishes, Barker exhibits the virtues of the Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical or Grand Seiko’s quartz GMT.

There have long been publications devoted to all things luxury watches. Online outlets such as Hodinkee, WatchPro and A Blog to Watch have been popular, respected and influential columnists in the industry for years.

Barker’s twist was to put video first. It pays off big because the very nature of luxury watches lends itself to high video production, giving consumers feel and meaning for the product in a way that no print or online item can replicate.

YouTube videos “definitely changed the landscape in terms of where people get their information,” said Mercedes Abramo, general manager for North America at Cartier, the maker of Tank and Santos watches. “We see it as a positive because it’s an additional channel to learn about and teach consumers about great watches.”

Barker is now considering a social media consulting firm to help age-old watch brands understand the secrets of video. Some companies approached him with an outright takeover offer for the site, although he politely declined.

“They clearly don’t understand YouTube and want me on their team,” Barker said.

©2022 Bloomberg LP

About Robert L. Thomas

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