How Did Daniel Wellington Get So Popular And Why I Will Never Buy One

 

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It is a near global sensation seen on a diverse set of wrists from hip students to junior executives in a rare equal-gender distribution. According to a Bloomberg report, the company raked in $70 million in 2014 with a sale of 1 million watches; Daniel Wellington is an immensely successful watch company.

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I will off start by saying that I don’t own a Daniel Wellington and I never will. The purpose of this article is not one of endorsement (obviously) but neither is it meant to be a bashing of the brand and its followers.

What it is, is an objective study into the contributors which turned an ostensibly plain looking watch into the phenomenon it is today, followed by the reasons why true watch guys will never be converts.

In avoidance to accusations of sounding snotty, I’d like to clarify that true watch guys refer to people with a love for mechanical watches and horology history; it has nought to do with how much money they have and how expensive their watches are. 

Success contributor 1: it’s all about the strap

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Prior to Daniel Wellington, young adults and fresh-in-the-workforce yuppies unacquainted with watches had never seen something like this – a formal looking watch case and dial paired with a colourful NATO strap. In their minds, fabrics straps were meant for chunky sport watches i.e. G-shock; likewise, a formal watch should always come with a leather strap.

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The mix of formal and casual was refreshingly original (or so they thought) and this juxtaposition appealed to a generation that grew up on Facebook and iPhones – one that sees classic as ‘boring’ fueled by a culture constantly searching for ‘the new black’.

When Daniel Wellington arrived, it checked all the right boxes: affordable, good looking, colourful and ‘rad’.

The combination of these elements paired with a sophisticated sounding brand name took the world by storm.

Why true watch guys don’t buy it

They’ve been swapping watch cases onto NATOs (and other straps) vice versa for years; there is nothing new or original about it.

Supposed that you were a mathematical genius born and trapped in a cave but somehow, managed to come up with the theory of relativity unaware that Albert Einstein had already done it 5 years ago, would that make the news?

No. Rediscovery is not discovery.

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Photo: watchuseek forum

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On the business front, traditional watch companies have also been launching models with NATO straps as a selling feature. These are players possessing true heritage with products reflecting real quality but more on this later.

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TUDOR Heritage ‘Chrono Blue’
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Tudor Heritage ‘Monte Carlo’

 

Success contributor 2: new media

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I’ll hazard a guess and boldly claim that if Daniel Wellington had came out 15 years ago, it would be dead within 2.

Daniel Wellington does no traditional advertising, instead relying on social platforms to spread the word. A #danielwellington hashtag inducts you into a fan club where avid supporters post ‘wrist shots’ and share them with the world.

If there’s one skill this generation has perfected, it is the ability to take marvellous photographs coupled with making magic through camera filters and image editors.

Take a look at some of the pictures, they all look fantastic. Bear in mind that these are not models in the regular sense, they’re people like you and me (but better looking).

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Why true watch guys don’t buy it

Traditional watch companies have been slow in adopting to social media – a medium often perceived (and rightly so) as too abrupt, short-lasting and attention spans lasting a grand total of 5 seconds.

The pace of social media does not work well with the messages they would like to send across.

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Take for example, the Omega Co-axial escapement that took close to 15 years of research and development before it was launched – an achievement only made possible by the brightest minds in mechanical watchmaking. This is not a story that can be told in a few paragraphs or 3 minutes, and so, they simply don’t.

Traditional brands adopt a semi-passive stance and would much rather you come to them with a genuine interest to discover, as opposed to splashing it all over Facebook.

True watch guys don’t just like their watches for the way they look. The ideas and trials behind its conception are studied with an obsession.

When we look at Daniel Wellington, we see a void.

Success contributor 3: great design

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The dials on Daniel Wellington watches look fantastic. It’s clean, simple, sharp and timeless.

It is an extremely palatable design that works for everybody.

Why true watch guys don’t buy it

All is well and good. Only, it didn’t come from Daniel Wellington. Or Sweden.

I’ve written on a few occasions about Bauhaus – a philosophy and art form originating from Germany which emphasize on minimalism and balance. Bauhaus is what you see on Daniel Wellington’s watches.

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The original school of Bauhaus

There is nothing inherently wrong with drawing inspiration from classic design philosophies. It’s just that traditional watch companies have done it and done it better. Moreover, their watches are offered at a greater value. Note that I didn’t say price, but value. We’ll get to that.

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True Bauhaus. 100% Germany.

Daniel Wellington states in its website that it is ‘constantly striving for perfection, and allowing our Scandinavian identity to shine through.’

While I understand that Scandinavian design takes cues from Bauhaus and it also preaches the same values, I’ll nitpick on the lack of credit to the original philosophy which inspired Daniel Wellington and their watches.

Success contributor 4: It has a romantic founding story

First of all, the founder of Daniel Wellington is a Swedish by the name of Filip Tysander.

So who the hell is Daniel Wellington?

As the story goes, Filip had a chance encounter with an English stranger named Daniel Wellington during his travels across the British Isles.

Mr Wellington had a thing for wearing vintage watches on weathered fabric straps and this so inspired Filip that he decided to create a watch brand and name it after this mysterious gentleman. Hearing a story like this conjures up images like this:

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Sounds sentimental and while it may well have been true, there is a total lack of backing to this story, which feels to me that they created the watch first, and the story second.

The non-occurrence of a Daniel Wellington coming forth to identify himself as the Daniel Wellington is also rather curious, considering how big the brand is in the UK. Add that to the fact that Filip Tysander not only met him once, but on numerous occasions between Melbourne and Cairns. And remember that Mr. Wellington was a complete stranger.

How many times have you met your neighbour in a place other than your doorstep and the lift?

You get my point.

Why true watch guys don’t buy it

We love stories. And we have a lot of them to tell if you had the time and patience.

For comparison, here’s a favourite story of mine:

In 1970, the American spaceflight, Apollo 13 was on its way back to earth in deep space. And it was in deep trouble.

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Buzz Aldrin- the man who wore an Omega Speedmaster on Apollo 11 making it the first watch to be worn on the moon

An equipment failure had crippled onboard measuring instruments. Jack Swigert, one of the mission’s astronauts used the chronograph on his Omega Speedmaster to time the critical 14 second engine burn to do a mid-course correction at the precise moment and brought the crew safely back to earth.

How’s that for a good story? To read more about the Speedmaster: A brief history of the Omega Speedmaster, the first watch that went up to the moon

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Heritage comes with the passing of time. Nothing is wrong with starting a new brand/company. After all, every legend started as unknowns but creating a myth to pass off as history doesn’t sit too well with me.

Success contributor 5: It is highly affordable

Daniel Wellington watches range from SGD 250 to SGD 390.

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Compared to Swiss or German watches coming in at 4 digits, it does seem like a fantastic deal – a perfect entry point for junior executives struggling to make ends meet.

Why true watch guys don’t buy it

As emphasized further up, good price does not equate to good value. Value is derived from the clinical dissecting of various components and drawing a comparison back to the price post-dissection.

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Let us examine the Classic Glasgow, one of their most popular models:

  • Quartz battery powered hence requiring the occasional battery change.
  • Uses a Japanese movement – Miyota 1L22 which costs about 10 dollars.
  • Watches are assembled and made in China.
  • Straps are made in China.
  • Sells for SGD 250.

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I’ll take a similar looking watch, the Tangente 38 from NOMOS Glashutte, a German watchmaker known for its Bauhaus watches.

  • Manual winding. Technically, it should last forever with proper care.
  • Uses Calibre Alpha – a true in-house movement that was researched and tested by a team of mechanical engineers over a period of years. Development costs in the range of millions.
  • Watch is fully assembled in Germany.
  • Leather strap is made from genuine Shell Cordovan which takes up to 6 months to produce a batch.
  • Costs SGD 2,340.

Cost is about absolute numbers; value is not. Judging from the comparison, Daniel Wellington is severely overpriced.

While the Tangente 38 costs 10 times more, I’ll gladly save up my money to get one than to have 10 Daniel Wellingtons in 10 different colours.

Decision time

With all that said, the choice is yours. I am a firm believer of liberty and support the idea that we should just buy what we like. This article was an objective 2 cents worth to (hopefully) make you ponder before a purchase.

If you’d still like to pick a Daniel Wellington, be my guest: www.danielwellington.com

Or you can join us in the world of true horology and find out more here:

Buying Guide: Best modern dress watches under SGD 1,000

Buying Guide: Best modern dress watches under SGD 3,000

3 ‘true’ watch brands that won’t empty your bank account

*All images of Daniel Wellington watches were sourced from their official website

*Images of models wearing Daniel Wellington watches were sourced from their Instagram page #danielwellington

 

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2 comments

  1. Thank you very much for your well founded arguments!

    One compelling argument that convinced me (I’m still a student) not buying DW is, that you actually DON’T have to make a choice between a valuable but expensive Nomos/Glashütte watch (which is undeniably a wonderful watch) and inexpensive but unvaluable watches. You can get incredible value even around the price range of a DW, even if you’ll admittedly not end up with a Nomos/Glashütte, Rolex or the like…

    I don’t want to make advertising for a specific company, but it might be worth mentioning the many beautiful and high-quality watches that are also affordable for the younger folks. I just want to mention here watches like the TISSOT Tradition or the watches from BRAITHWAIT. Especially the latter (e.g. the “Classic Slim”) are in so many ways comparable to DW, down even to exchangable wristbands, except that they feature SWISS movements and Sapphire glass.

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  2. These are arguments only work for the watch guys, and there aren’t many. All people want are aesthetically beautiful time piece that keeps good time, and the DW is “good enough” for most people. The classic bauhaus design has become so popular that you can be the EXACT same design without the brand name. Which makes me realize that I still don’t have to pay $200 for a DW. i’ll just get one that looks like it from online chinese websites. As for the Brathwait watches, they are beautiful, but still not worth the $300 for a non-watch guy.

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