Instagram is often touted as a significant factor in the current popularity of mechanical watches. Whether it is celebrities and influencers “normalizing” expensive watches or aficionados sharing wrist shots, the platform is flooded with horological content. Some of my colleagues — primarily Daan, Morgan, and Nacho — are very deeply involved in the Instagram watch community. Compared to accounts of such aficionados, the actual brands’ accounts can feel a little clinical at times. We felt it was about time to have a look at them and see what’s what.

With pretty much all brands present on Instagram, their approaches differ from one to the next. At the same time, there are some big common denominators too. Let’s have a closer look.

watch brands on Instagram Jaeger-LeCoultre

Jaeger-LeCoultre’s slick profile

The tried-and-tested recipe for watch brands on Instagram

Taking some time to study the Instagram accounts of some of the major watch brands, one term immediately came to mind — “safe.” Most of the accounts look extremely similar, following a tried-and-tested recipe. Most of them feature campaign photography of the watches interspersed with some ambassador-related content. It looks good but is rarely noteworthy or exciting. It is the safest possible way to go.

Most of the major brands keep a cool and distant attitude. Interestingly, this isn’t necessarily group policy. Within the higher end of Richemont, for instance, we see Jaeger-LeCoultre not engaging with commenters at all. Meanwhile, Vacheron Constantin actively replies to most comments on its posts. Those two represent very different approaches altogether. JLC’s account looks super slick and highly coordinated. Different posts come together in grouped compositions. Vacheron, on the other hand, posts watch photography with only very loose overarching styling or themes.

watch brands on Instagram Vacheron Constantin

Vacheron Constantin on Instagram

VC is a bit of an outlier in this sense. Most big brands use some sort of overarching photography or design style for their posts. Importantly, most also don’t engage with commenters. “Be present, look good, and don’t get burned” seems to be the shared philosophy.

Panerai with a series of consistently stylized photos

Taking the “social” out of “social media”

Considering that we are talking about social media, the lack of interaction with followers is interesting. This is where we immediately see a big difference between big brands and microbrands. Some microbrands excel at providing quick, transparent, and detailed replies to questions and remarks. This is often touted as part of their attraction, so they pretty much have to.

For big brands, interaction is risky. This goes for larger companies in general. It is a bit tougher to rely on individuals in the social media department to represent the brand’s voice. With microbrands — at least during the very micro stage — you may just be speaking to the owner. For luxury brands in particular, reflecting the desired regal, elevated image in the comments section is tough. I have to admit, as much as I love to see Vacheron engage, seeing its reps send heart emojis is also a tad jarring. Still, I prefer it over the typical “it is beneath us to engage with the people” vibe of many other big watch brands.

Additionally, the watch community can be tough to communicate with. Questions tend to be very technical, and a wrong answer can be damaging. So a brand wants its social media department to engage, it needs either watch geeks or a constant open line with highly knowledgeable staff. Taking the elevated, silent road seems quite attractive by contrast.

watch brands on Instagram Patek Philippe

Patek Philippe’s page

Brands’ follower counts on Instagram vary significantly

Looking at some of the big names, it comes as no surprise that Rolex has the greatest number of followers. With 15.7 million, there are almost as many Rolex followers as there are Dutch people (a little over 17 million). Cartier is hot on Rolex’s heels with 14 million Instagram followers. Then again, Cartier does quite a lot more than watches, which surely helps.

Omega sits at 4 million followers, while Audemars Piguet has 3 million. Patek, JLC, Zenith, Tudor, Panerai, Breitling, and IWC all have between 1 million and 2 million followers. Interestingly, Seiko “only” has 805,000. This may be due to the brand having separate official accounts in most regions. These have the advantage of a local tone of voice and knowledge. As a Dutchman, I can engage in my native language, and Seiko replies to its comments here, providing current information on, for instance, stock levels in the Amsterdam boutique.

It is clear that big watch brands have a reach on Instagram beyond the hardcore watch community. More aficionado-focused ones have radically lower follower counts. Big ones like Christopher Ward and Baltic still come in at 133,000 and 121,000 followers, respectively. More niche brands like Serica (32,300), Lorca (2,878), Traska (22,000), Zelos (46,600), anOrdain (28,600), and Fears (15,400) rarely exceed 50,000.

For aficionados, the brand accounts aren’t the place to be on Instagram

If, as a watch enthusiast, you venture on Instagram in the hopes of feeling part of the online watch community, the brand accounts aren’t the place to be. While it can be useful to see nice ultra-clean photographs or renders of new releases first, there isn’t much adventure to be had. The content tends to be slick, clean, and conservative.

watch brands on Instagram Christopher Ward

Looking at posts in which Christopher Ward was tagged shows how active the online watch community is

I feel the action is more with the community itself. There are tons of amateur watch photographers, collectors, and general enthusiasts on Instagram. These are people like the aforementioned Morgan, Daan, and Nacho but who are not necessarily watch professionals. The great thing is that you can find more raw opinions and open conversations there than with the brands.

I feel that big brands may be missing an opportunity here. Just think of all the knowledge and skill that they have. I, for one, would love to see detailed, beautiful content of watches being produced. I know from our many manufacture visits that there is a lot to see and plenty of fascinating people to talk to. Brands could utilize these more if they dared to step out of the safe, obligatory campaign-shot posts. The fact that they don’t do so confirms that the aficionado is not the primary target.

watch brands on Instagram Sinn

Sinn’s massive library of Instagram posts

Closing thoughts

Instagram has been around since 2010. While some watch brands were quick to register (Omega and JLC joined in 2011), others were slow to adopt. Patek Philippe famously didn’t join Instagram until 2018. And then there is the intensity with which different brands approach it. Patek has posted 780 images since 2018. Sinn, by contrast, has posted 9,000 since 2014.

What is obvious is that brands feel the pressure to have some kind of presence on social media. There is also a clear unease among these often old, traditional companies. They approach the average Instagram post quite similarly to a billboard or print ad. There isn’t quite so much spontaneity and innovation as in other industries.

Then again, the question is: should there be? Of course, it all depends on broader strategies and positioning. We, the fans, are waiting, ready to engage and be part of whatever the brands put out. For now, that seems to be primarily campaign photography and ambassador news.

What would you like to see from watch brands on Instagram? Let us know in the comments below!