How to Sell a Luxury Watch Like a Copywriter

One of the perks of being a freelance copywriter is being able to work with clients from all over the world. And one of the perks of being a luxury brands copywriter is being invited overseas to see the products that you sell first-hand.

In March of this year (yes, it’s taken me 4 months to find the time to write this post), I was invited to Basel, Switzerland for the weekend by one of my long-term Swiss clients to attend the world’s largest watch festival, Baselworld.


The Foyer at Baselworld 2016

The Foyer at Baselworld 2016


With more than 2,100 brands showcasing their products from 45 countries, the event dates back to 1917 and attracts over 94,000 visitors over its 8 days. It’s no surprise that my client is based in Switzerland, given that the country holds a 54% market share of the luxury watch industry in terms of value, despite only owning a 2% share in production.

In spite of the recent economic downturn, the luxury watch industry has continued to grow in Switzerland with exports reaching 21.4 billion in 2012. You only have to attend a Baselworld after-party to see just how much money there is in this no-expenses spared industry.


Baselworld after party

An after-event party held between the two main halls at Baselworld 2016


From a copywriting perspective, Baselworld really opened my eyes to the trends in watch industry advertising. This post is the culmination of my personal observations and experience of being a copywriter involved in the watch and luxury brands industry.


Avoid Clichés

What sets luxury watch brands apart from their middle-of-the-road competitors (other than six extra zeros) is that their copy tends to avoid over-used watch-related cliches. ‘Time waits for no-one’ etc. might be an acceptable tagline in the Argos catalogue but when you’re selling a watch that costs 48x the average UK salary (the most expensive watch at Baselworld this year was the Rebellion 540 Magnum Tourbillon, which costs $1.8 million), you need to dig a little deeper.



So, if we’re not selling cliches, what are we selling then?


Don’t Sell the Features, Sell the Lifestyle

In any recession, the very first thing consumers stop buying is luxury goods, so how can a brand that sells some of the most impractical (it’s well-documented that a £10 Casio keeps more accurate time than a £1bn Rolex) yet expensive products on the planet ensure that people still buy their ‘stuff’? Well, for a start they know exactly who their target audience is but most importantly, they’re selling an experience, a lifestyle.


Rolex Booth at Baselworld 2016

The Rolex booth at Baselworld this year


The last thing that someone who buys a Rolex wants to be is a cliché – they want to be a tennis player, a mountaineer, a race car driver…


Ivana Ivanovic Rolex advert

Tennis player Ivana Ivanovic advertising Rolex


Rolex Daytona advert

Rolex Daytona print ad


Rolex mountaineering advert

Rolex mountaineering advert


Tell a Story

Some of the most successful watch adverts of the last 50 years have involved storytelling. Luxury watch brands have a tendency to home-in on history and tradition in their advertising, which naturally lends itself to storytelling.

The beauty of storytelling in copywriting is that it makes people think. It engages our curiosity and appeals to our emotions. Consider how these TV ads use storytelling to align their products with our desires:


L’Odyssée de Cartier film

Martin Garrix X TAG Heuer


Even in their website copy, watch brands use storytelling to engage our interest, as we see in these ‘About’ pages:


Daniel Wellington About page

One of my personal favourite watches – Daniel Wellington About page


Rotatry Watches About page

Another of my personal favourite watch makers, Rotarty Watches About page


One brand that’s putting a modern twist on the traditional storytelling of yesteryear is technology giant Apple. Following their arrival in the luxury watch market, the Apple Watch campaign cleverly combines powerful visuals with minimalist copywriting to spark our curiosity.


Apple Watch advert

Advert for the new Apple Smart Watch


Interestingly, Sylvie Ritter, Baselworld Managing Director was asked during the opening ceremony about Apple’s arrival in the luxury watch market and its potential to dominate the industry. Her response was: ‘Here we appeal to emotion, there they appeal to marketing. Here we talk of timelessness; there they talk of planned obsolescence.’

And of course when it comes to copywriting for the watch industry, a little humour doesn’t hurt either:


Shinola watch advert

Detroit watchmakers Shinola takes a cheeky swipe at the Apple Watch


Tug at the Heart Strings

A powerful technique in copywriting is to appeal to the audience’s emotions. One thing that watch advertisers refer to again and again in their campaigns is nostalgia and the idea of legacy. To quote everyone’s favourite fictional copywriter Don Draper, nostalgia is ‘delicate but potent.’ Take a look at these Patek Phillipe ads and consider how the copy evokes an emotional response when coupled with some father-son visuals.


Patek Philippe watch advert

From the Leagas Delaney ad agency: ‘You never actually own a Patek Phillipe. You merely look after it for the next generation.’


Similarly, the idea of emotional legacy can be seen in this ad that focuses on a mother-daughter relationship:


Patek Philppe advert‘Something truly precious holds its beauty forever’


The concept of family creates a strong emotional connection and watch advertisers have been using this idea in their ads for decades:


Vintange Longines watch advert

Print ad from 1926: ‘Suppose you received a Longines Watch – the gift of someone dear to you…’


Longines watch advert

‘It’s time to give a little bit of your time to others’


This was my first time at Baselworld and I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived. What stood out for me was just how much effort goes in to all the exhibition stands. Coupled with the free champagne, Baselworld is somewhere you can easily spend an entire weekend and always find something new (provided you’re into watches and jewellery).

Basel itself is a beautiful city – spotlessly clean, full of charm and with chocolatiers on every corner. After the event, I had the chance to spend my last day in Basel wandering around the city – here’s what I saw:



The Rhine River separating Rossbasel (south) and Kleinbasel (north)



A ferry cruise boat on the Rhine River



Basel Town Hall


If you’re looking for a luxury watch copywriter to write your brochures, press releases, product descriptions, or brand stories, get in touch with me today.

Jamie Thomson

Jamie Thomson is an award-winning senior copywriter and the owner Brand New Copy copywriting studio. With over 15 years professional writing experience, he helps companies engage with their target audience through tailored content strategies and exceptional copywriting.


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