Of Minibars and Watch Microbrands.
Did you know that the first ever refrigerated minibar in a hotel was in the mid-1970s at the Hong Kong Hilton?
Inspired by a mini-bottle of alcohol he got on a flight over the South China Sea, the F&B director of the hotel decided to stock the mini-fridges the hotel chain had just acquired. Room-service drink purchases reportedly surged 500 percent!
It was only fitting that I read this story about the long decline of the hotel minibar on my flight back home from the Hong Kong Watch Fair. There are contrasting views too: that it is not a decline rather a golden age and resurgence of the hotel minibars.
This plight made me think about the watch industry today. Views about the traditional wristwatch industry today is no different from that about the minibars. Polarising indeed, where one side declares a requiem for conventional wristwatches, and the opposing team appreciates the rise of the watch microbrands . There are no marks for guessing what side of this argument I am on.
Just as Mark Byrne points out in his GQ article, I believe we're in a Golden Age of the independent watch brands - big or small. They offer otherwise tired travelers several opportunities to fulfill the wants of their musings for what could otherwise be a dull evening at the hotel room with overpriced bottles of miller lite, albeit horologically.
One side declares a requiem for conventional wristwatches, and the opposing team appreciates the rise of the watch microbrands.
Here's how I think they're doing it:
Independent watch brands today are pushing the boundaries on watchmaking at multiple levels. Use of exquisite materials, bold designs, and the sheer number of brands that exist today offer a wide variety of options for the discerning buyer. Very few major brands have the gumption to do what the independents brave to attempt. Be it this watch made of Titanium Damascus from Zelos Watches, a bold design like this Holograph from Xeric Watches, or the sheer customizability of the A65 from Schaffen Watches. These are great examples of independent brands that pay incredible attention to specific dimensions of watchmaking and take them to a whole new level, raising standards for the entire industry.
Value is subjective: for some, a four-digit price tag is immense value for money while for others it is grossly overpriced. Some will agree, while others don't. One undeniable fact though is that the rise of independent brands has inadvertently democratized the process of starting a watch brand, and reduced barriers to entry. One can't imagine starting an independent watch brand with such ease a decade ago, and there's only one thing that will result from this democratization - consumer choice will increase rapidly, competition will intensify, and the best brands win. All in all, an immense value creation process for the industry and the customer.
Glocal is the new normal:
The Mondrian Hotel in London offers premix cocktails in their minibar by an award-winning local bartender. Taking local flavors and interpreting them for a global audience is the new flavor and the independent watch brands are no different here. Brands like Poland's Balticus, Australia's Melbourne, and yours truly proudly bring stories from home and offers them to a global audience.
So, what is your choice - the hotel minibar or a drink at the bar downstairs?