What Makes Me Tick: Mr Anish Bhatt
If you got into watches between the years of 2010 and 2016, you know Mr Anish Bhatt. In fact, let’s rephrase that: there is a good chance that if you discovered the world of watches around this time, it was thanks to Anish. Always the first name – in fact, always his nom de gram, Watch Anish. He was the original influencer in the world of luxury watches; a label that didn’t exist when he started and today is insufficient to describe his operation. He was one of the first to see what social media could do for the traditional, closed-off world of watches, and has to be given credit for helping an entire industry find its feet online, as well as introducing a young, global audience to watches.
His breakthrough insight, banal today but hardly obvious 15 years ago, when he started by posting on Tumblr, was that there was an entire generation that didn’t feel like the world of watch collecting, with its jargon, reference numbers and old-fashioned ways of doing business, was speaking to them.
“The sources of information back then were not as wealthy as they are now,” he says. “You didn’t have anything as in-depth as what’s available online now. It was a lot of obscure reference books, some of them not even in English. And for someone in their early to mid-twenties, there was a trepidation about even going into a watch store and asking to look at a watch. The only marketing I would see would be magazines or billboards that were aimed at people who were 60 years old. I wanted people my age to really fall in love with watches the way that I did without having all of those obstacles.
“When I started, I was the only one really talking in a conversational, emotional language rather than with a really technical focus. And that hit a nerve with a large number of people.”
Not that his appeal has always, or ever, been universal. The persona he developed to do it was direct – some would say in-your-face. At industry trade fair Baselworld, while others got the tram, he arrived in a blacked-out Rolls-Royce with his logo on the doors.
“I don’t blame anyone for making a judgement,” he says. “My idea was to be noticed at an event that is full of brands trying to market themselves. I never intended to give the impression of being arrogant. If I went to Pitti Uomo or Paris Fashion Week wearing a purple suit, no one would care, but the watch industry is quite traditional and slow to change. Me going to Baselworld and doing it was like, ‘Oh my God, what is happening?’”
It’s an impression that persists in some quarters today, despite the immense shift towards casual and expressive style that the luxury world has undergone over the past decade. With his Casablanca silk shirts, Loro Piana slip-ons, drone-cam-tours of mega-lux homes in Gstaad or car collections in Bahrain, Anish’s Instagram image is unashamedly nouveau-riche. Social media deliberately blurs the line between the brands he works with and the life he leads, but whether he’s poolside at his home in Cyprus or hopping on a private jet to the World Cup final in Qatar, the strike from his detractors is one of superficiality, a bling king interested only in the most conspicuous displays of wealth.
“The most common thing I’ve heard, all down the years, is that I must be the son of a millionaire or billionaire who’s just showing off and spending my dad’s money,” he says. “I won’t say I don’t like that stuff. Of course I do. But I’m still Anish from west London who went to school in Wembley. I can put on a nice suit and go to have a three Michelin-starred dinner, or I can very happily go and have a kebab. I’m equally happy in both environments. Probably happier having the kebab, to be honest. Those things are amazing experiences, but it doesn’t make you an amazing person because you did that. It’s just something you were lucky enough to experience.”
Anish’s parents, now on the cusp of retirement, owned and ran a convenience store in Wembley. “[They] were both working in our store, seven days a week, 16 hours a day, and we lived in the apartment above the convenience store. The three of us would be responsible for doing paper rounds, helping to open and close on the weekend, going with my dad to buy stock. It wasn’t that glamorous but my parents worked very hard to provide for their kids.”
He remembers the allure of his first watch, a Timex Indiglo received when he was at primary school, but truly discovered the world of watches as a student, going down rabbit holes online of auction listings and forums. Enrolled to study pharmacology, he dropped out. “It really wasn’t interesting to me, and I really wasn’t paying attention properly,” he says. Having bounced through a few different jobs, he ended up moving to Florida.
“I worked for a company that was investing into fashion brands, placing them in different US department stores,” he says. “Living there I met a lot of people who were not your typical kind of watch collector, but who had nice watches. That’s where the idea started – they’re still buying big names, they can have conversations about watches, but they’re not super geeky.”
It’s easy, in a world where social media pervades every corner of our existence, to think Anish’s success was guaranteed. He had the right idea at the right time, and possesses an innate knack for tapping into what people really care about, combined with a showman’s instinct for self-promotion. But it was hardly a dead cert. How did his grounded, hard-working parents react to his big idea?
“That was an interesting conversation with my parents,” he says. “I was in between jobs and I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do. No one really understood it, and, to be honest, I didn’t really, either. It was a shot in the dark. I didn’t have a marketing degree, there was no strategy behind it, I had no idea what the business model was and no idea how to monetise it. I thought it was cool and maybe other people will, too – if they do, then maybe we’ll have an audience, and if we have an audience then maybe we have a business. It’s hard work, yes, but a lot of people work hard. There is a lot of luck.”
Through luck and judgement, it worked. The industry was forced to accept the man in purple suits and sunglasses when it couldn’t ignore his clout. Customers turning up in your boutiques waving screenshots of an Instagram account before spending six figures will have that effect. With a million Instagram followers, he became the biggest personality in the watch media landscape, and representative of a new way of doing business.
“I won’t say I don’t like that stuff. Of course I do. But I’m still Anish from west London who went to school in Wembley”
For a few years at least, it seemed like every watch brand wanted a piece of Anish. He even attracted his own parody account, @watch_amish, which spliced high-end watches into scenes of wagons, hay bales and overalls. Latterly, he has chosen to focus his work on a smaller number of mostly high-price watchmakers and the kind of adjacent pursuits of interest to the super-rich: hypercars, expensive spirits, showstopper properties and yachts.
“There was a pivot point when the business was growing a lot,” Anish says. “We were expanding financially, but I wasn’t happy with the products that we were endorsing. And the decision was made to step back, lower the number of brands and do bigger projects. Our audience is not gullible, I don’t take that for granted and I didn’t feel comfortable putting out endorsements for brands or products that I personally would not buy, or would not recommend.
“If I counted up how many contracts we lost, the money we turned down, if we had an investor they would not be happy. Money has to be motivating, but there is a balance between making short-term money and doing something for longevity. I didn’t do all of this, start on my own, turn it into a company and get it to where we are now, to then throw it away for some short-term money.”
It’s this pride in his own work – along with a sincere appreciation of what it takes to make a top-tier watch – that fuels a popular sub-strand of his current content: busting celebs who wear fake watches.
“I don’t think it’s good for the industry for it to be seen as acceptable to wear a fake watch,” he says. “I felt like it was our responsibility to call out celebrities that are wearing fakes so that other people will think twice about wearing a fake watch. I don’t have a vendetta against anyone, they’re probably very nice people, they probably do charity work. But I know how long and how hard I had to work to get my first Rolex or Patek Philippe or Richard Mille and I don’t want to be at dinner and have someone else at the table next to me faking the same thing. I think a lot of collectors have been on that journey, and they understand that.”
It will surprise no one that Anish’s collection includes such blue-chip names. His first “proper” watch saw him go right to the top, saving up with determination for a Vacheron Constantin Overseas in 2004. But it’s not just about the price tag.
“I have very eclectic tastes,” he says. “I still buy 1980s calculator watches for the nostalgia element. I’ve got G-Shocks, I’ve got Longines and Tissot and other entry-level pieces, through to Rolex, Patek, AP. It’s a journey, but the journey isn’t linear from cheap to expensive, it’s all over the place. Just because something’s expensive it doesn’t mean it’s good, and just because something’s cheaper doesn’t mean it’s worse. A lot of my collection is vintage Rolex because that’s what I learnt at the beginning and really love to this day. There’s a different type of emotion buying something that has a story to it, and the rush of finding something that’s untouched, unworn, complete set, with receipts, certificate, etc.”
He admits to being something of a hoarder, and no matter how hard it is to separate the image from the man himself, clearly enjoys being comfortable, with a taste for the finer things in life. It’s hard not to wonder: does he think back to his working-class upbringing and marvel at where talking about watches on social media has got him?
“Sometimes, maybe,” he says. “But it doesn’t happen overnight. If someone wins the lottery, it’s instant, but if you live through these moments, it’s different. My first car was a 20-year-old VW Golf with a hole in the floor on the passenger side. You move from a one-bed apartment to a small house, to a bigger house with a garden, to a house with more bedrooms than you need. Sometimes, if you go home and see people you used to go to school with, it’s like you never left. Those moments bring you back to where you started more than sitting in a Rolls-Royce and thinking, ‘How did I get here?’
“Being brought up the way I was, it was so diverse. That helped me to be able to relate to so many different people. If you’re not lucky enough to have that, it’s easy to get carried away by being around millionaires and billionaires all day – it can warp your sense of reality a little bit. Never mind spending millions a year, which some people will: £300 is too much for a watch, if you’re talking about the utility it provides. Everyone has a cellphone that’s more accurate than a quadruple tourbillon.”
The watch I’d save for best
Arceau Wild Singapore Limited Edition Automatic by Hermès Timepieces
“This Hermès enamel piece is quite interesting,” Anish says. “The dial is very impressive – hearing how it’s done with the sewing of the gold and the enamel, that is very, very nice. Hermès does some really impressive stuff, I think they’re a bit underappreciated. They did a moon phase that rotates around the dial which is really cool also.”
The one watch for life
Endeavour Perpetual Moon Limited Edition by H. Moser & Cie.
“I’ve always liked the Moser perpetual. The one I should have bought is a cross between the Endeavour Perpetual and the Perpetual Moon, with zero markings on it. It’s timeless. It will never age. There’s so little to age. At the first Watches and Wonders in Geneva, they made 20 pieces in platinum. They offered me one, and I said OK, I’ll let you know at the end of the show. And by the end of the show, I said yeah I really want one, and they’d sold them all. To this day, I regret not getting one, so I’m going to go with a Moser because of that.”