Let me start by saying that I volunteered to write about this topic because I was personally interested in learning more about my own generation’s relationship with watches. I was hoping my research would involve a bit of self-reflection and help me find out whether my own tastes align with those of my wider generation. As a watch fan born in 1993, I belong to the generation often referred to as Millennials (i.e., those born between 1981-1996), but are my luxury watch preferences more similar to those of Gen Z (born between 1997-2012) or even an older generation? And what does it all mean for me in terms of watches?
Our data reveal that the average registered Chrono24 user is around 59 years old. However, the percentage of registered Millennial and Gen Z users has been rising steadily over the last three years. In 2018, these two generations accounted for about 2.5% of all registered users; today, their share has gone up to nearly 4%. Likewise, the share of total sales made to these two groups has risen from 2.5% to 4.5% on our marketplace in the past three years. The greatest increase in purchases is credited to watch enthusiasts between the ages of 20 and 24. The share of sales on Chrono24 to this narrower group has jumped from 0.4% in 2018 to 1.8% in 2020 so far. If you include both registered users and active marketplace users, those between the ages of 18 and 34 currently account for around 45% of traffic on our marketplace. I think it is, therefore, safe to say that not only are the users who are interested in luxury watches getting younger but so are the buyers – at least on our marketplace.
It is obviously difficult to draw broader market conclusions from such narrow datasets, but these figures also coincide with some of the trends I have personally observed recently (though these are not statistically proven):
1. Luxury watches as symbols of stability
More and more of my friends and acquaintances have been showing an interest in luxury watches in recent years. I am getting a lot more questions from my immediate circle about making a first watch purchase. I am sure the larger trend toward buying stable goods, making alternative investments, and identifying with brand values is impacting the luxury watch market. This hypothesis may not resonate with some of you, but I believe that the younger generations, who are globally connected and have more access to information and goods than ever before, are yearning for stability and security. Luxury goods, including luxury watches, can deliver or at least convey solid values like prestige, success, continuity, and consistency to a large proportion of these generations.
2. Digital media offers more access to luxury watches
Both generations – especially Gen Z – have grown up with digital media, making access to luxury watches much easier. If you’re always on your smartphone, you have an endless source of information right in your hand, meaning it has never been so easy to learn about a specific luxury watch. Everything you need to know about an individual Rolex’s history, features, and details is available at your fingertips. Moreover, Instagram and YouTube are quickly becoming the jewelry shop windows of younger generations. Some watches like the current Black Bay 58 or previous Richard Mille and Daytona models have spread so quickly across my social media channels that I can’t help but see them everywhere. If you like a post once, you will start getting daily images of the watch recommended by Instagram, etc. Once you’ve saved enough, it is pretty hard to resist taking the plunge.
3. Luxury watches are becoming lifestyle items
Even if you are not actively searching for a watch, it is only a matter of time before you come across Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Patek, or Richard Mille watches on the wrists of actors, influencers, and – for members of Gen Z – YouTubers and Twitch streamers. These four brands are the current trendsetters in this area. Whether they have purposefully sought to or not, each has found its way into the fashion and streetwear scene. Some of the interest has been fuelled by magazines like Hypebeast and Highsnobiety, but whatever the case, younger generations are proving that they are capable of earning sums large enough to treat themselves to luxury goods.
Millennial and Gen Z Watches
No, I haven’t forgotten the actual watches among all my statistics and hypotheses. After looking at the user demographics, I started to wonder which watches Millennials are actually purchasing on Chrono24.
Let’s start by looking at the most popular watches in each generation according to total sales. I discovered that Millennial watch enthusiasts prefer watches from brands Rolex, Omega, and Seiko. The Datejust ref. 1601, Seamaster 300M ref. 18.104.22.168.03.001, and Seiko Prospex SKX009 and SKX007 came out as the top models for this group.
The top three brands for the younger Gen Z cohort are also Rolex, Omega, and Seiko. The Rolex Datejust ref. 1603 found its way onto the most wrists, while the Omega Seamaster 300M ref. 22.214.171.124.01.001 and Seiko Prospex SBDC053 were the most popular choices for each of the other respective brands.
However, if you look at which brands these two generations search for most frequently, you’ll quickly discover that searching and buying do not necessarily go hand in hand.
Richard Mille, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, and Rolex take the lead in this category. Richard Mille aside, traditional manufacturers are the most attractive to these generations, which goes against much of today’s wider trends in the fashion industry. Each of these brands has a lot of appeal and all are cornerstones in the sports, fashion, and streetwear scenes, in part due to the aforementioned influencers. Again, Richard Mille aside, these manufacturers have established themselves as desirable brands through consistent products and marketing messages without making any offensive or pointed appeals to specific groups. They are clearly making an impact, even if Millennial and Gen Z buyers choose another brand or model for their first purchase.
I think it is safe to say that a powerful new generation of watch collectors armed with purchasing power is making their way onto the market. They are driven by social media, and online shopping is second nature to them. Rolex and Omega seem to be making a lot of headway in this segment thanks to strong brand partners and skillful storytelling. That said, Seiko has managed to reach the younger clientele with its model range and prices. While brands like Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe are undeniably attractive, models such as the Datejust 1601 or 1603 are proving a bit more accessible. I would say it is a positive development that online marketplaces are making vintage and pre-owned timepieces more available to a wider audience; it is allowing younger enthusiasts to enter the world of luxury watches much earlier. To be fair, it seems like there isn’t much difference between “young” and “old” when it comes to current tastes in luxury watches. The biggest difference between Millennials and previous generations is the channels through which they access and interact with the market.