With 1.7 million followers, Instagrammer Anish Bhatt has understood how to lure younger audiences into luxury watches — by not selling the watch, but by selling the lifestyle.

1.7 million followers on Instagram

20 per cent monthly growth rate

78 per cent male audience

200,000 unique site visits per month to watchanish.com

UK-based Anish Bhatt has created a massive following on Instagram (1.7 million) and a highly profitable career (seven figures a year) by doing something traditional marketers had never thought of — shooting luxury watches in flashy, millionaire-lifestyle settings. His Instagram feed (@watchanish) is filled with photographs of high-end watches against exotic sports cars, LV bags, stunning sunsets and women, cigars, private jets and yachts. Earlier, the biggest watch brands would hire greying actors and respectable tennis stars for their advertising; now they look to Bhatt to bring younger audiences to their ateliers. To Forbes magazine, Bhatt had said, “High horology watches have traditionally been marketed mostly by their technical prowess mixed with using celebrity endorsements. In my opinion, this was quite an inefficient strategy. I looked at how to communicate to a young, affluent audience in a better way, mixing very complicated modern watches [with] elements of fashion and lifestyle.” Essentially, Bhatt took a boring industry and made it cool.

Bhatt’s influence in the watch industry cannot be ignored any longer. Whether it’s an industry party, a limited-edition watch to be snapped up, or a new product launch, you can count on him to break the news first. To Esquire magazine, Bhatt had recounted a story. “I was in Qatar and I posted a pocket watch from a brand called Bovet. It was worth $360,000. The next day, someone from the Qatari royal family came to the watch exhibition where I had taken the picture and purchased it.” People, commoners and royals alike, are making their purchase decisions inspired by Bhatt’s styling, swag and photography. No wonder he lives the celebrity lifestyle (private jets, trips to Monaco, Lamborghinis), as he’s sponsored by leading watch brands. One post from him could sell a six-figure watch. Who wouldn’t want in on that?

At the biggest watch events in the world, such as SIHH in Geneva and Baselworld in Basel, Bhatt has been observed to arrive with an entourage. Photographers, stylists, and assistants tag along to capture watch complications in high definition. Today, it’s tough to imagine that what takes an army to capture and post online was a solo act in 2011.

watch

Thirty-six-year-old Bhatt’s passion for watches began when he was five years old. To Esquire, he’d said that his grandmother was the first one to buy a watch for him, “I was in India, and I really wanted a Timex Indiglo. It was the first watch with a green backlight. And, you know, I’m not from a wealthy family at all, especially in India, where they’re even less wealthy than we were in London. My grandma was like, ‘Look, it’s too expensive,’ and then just before we left, she gave it to me. I was over the moon. I still have it actually.” In his late twenties, fresh off a job in the menswear industry (Esquire claims he quit; Forbes claims he was fired), Bhatt decided to combine his love of photography and watches, and invested a few thousand dollars in his Tumblr account in 2011. He moved to Instagram in 2012, and slowly and surely, built his audience to 1.7 million people. To Esquire, he’d said, “Most people view these things not on their computers, especially social media, but on their smartphones. I edit the pictures to fit those screens better, because that’s where our audience is. The image is impactful as well, because the thing with social media is, there’s so much content, you need to stand out to make people stop scrolling, look and engage with that photo.” Today, Bhatt employs a staff of 26 photographers, web designers, editors, and assistants, who are fanned out in the watch-obsessed cities of London, New York, and Dubai.

On his style of photography, on how much is staged and how much is genuine, he told Esquire, “It’s kind of a mixture, to be honest. Probably 75 per cent [of the shots] are off the cuff. We try and do more real-life content, in real-life situations, so there is a minimal [number] of pre-planned photo shoots. We don’t plan poses or anything like that. It’s all done as natural as possible.” He also maintains a level of integrity by not accepting just any brand endorsement or alignment; he claims to reject 75 per cent of the brands that approach him. “When I first started and wasn’t making money, I had brands that wanted to advertise with me. I turned them away because it wasn’t what I wanted for my brand. And that stays true today. To advertise something that you don’t like for a bit of money is a very short-term thing.” On his criteria for selecting watches, he’d said, “It has to be something that’s cool, it has to be something that I like, and it has to be something that I would buy.” Of his own collection, he has nearly 70 watches, and calls his choices “eclectic.” To the website Entouraaj, he’d said, “I like classic watches, I like vintage, but I also like aggressive sports watches and technologically advanced stuff. It depends on what mood I’m in.”

One of the reasons Bhatt has been successful is that he is equal parts casual and self-deprecating while selling his rich lifestyle. He may have enough double-breasted suits to fill up a closet (he has more shoes, bags and clothes than his wife), but he still sports T-shirts that say, ‘Champagne made me poor.’ On his website (watchanish.com), he calls himself the founder and “probably the least important person here.” He doesn’t think twice about posting a newspaper cutting of a question posed to Dr Mahinder Watsa, India’s most well-known sex advisor, about how the gentleman in question could only get aroused when his wife wore a watch on her right wrist. Bhatt knows how to marry the quirky with the serious — something the watch industry could do more of. All in all, he has shown to fuddy-duddy marketers that the definition of what’s classy has changed — if you are discreet, you will be lost, and that it’s time to grab eyeballs with everything you’ve got.