Daniel Wellington (referred as "DW" from here on) took the watch industry by storm after their founder John Filip Tysander started the brand in 2011. The design of the classic DW was a big hit. It’s minimalist design resonated broadly. Paired with a seemingly affordable price tag and targeted towards millennials, DW was able to grow exponentially year on year, reaching an amazing $230 million in sales in 2016. A rising tide lifts all boats, and as DW took the watch world by storm, the industry saw an all-time high of minimalist designs introduced to the market with success (Kaptan & Son, MVMT, Dufa and more).
In this blog, we will be looking deeper into why DW grew to be so successful, learn from their strengths, and avoid their pitfalls.
Bold new-comer with an innovative idea
It’s well-known how DW grow so rapidly. Ample investment, a product that resonated with its target market and an innovative marketing strategy. DW was one of the first 3 e-commerce brands to take advantage of social media and use online influencers to promote their timepieces. Almost overnight - it seemed as if every influencer above 8,000 followers on Instagram has a new DW on their wrist. The innovative approach faced little to no competition, especially since it was before consumers started to grow wary of influencer promotions. During DW’s first year at hall one of Basel World (the world's largest watch and jewellery show), the conventions were flooded with gossip about the new big kid on the block, including much discussion regarding the size, location and makeup of their social media team.
Jean-Claude Biver's insights
I have had the privilege of attending a talk by Jean-Claude Biver, ex-CEO of Blancpain, the mastermind behind the successes of Omega, ex CEO of Hublot, and current CEO of TAG Heuer. One of the key ideas he was trying to push forward was that what we do should always be "FIRST. UNIQUE. DIFFERENT.". Be it product design, business model, marketing strategy, Mr Biver argued that if we are these three things, we can do well. The reason I am sharing this is because of how I feel this message ties in with the successes of DW.
The design of DW watch is not complicated, but it was unique in that no mass-market brand thought that such a design would be this popular. Recognising the increasing power of social media on consumer purchase behaviour, Filip Tysander was not afraid to give away as many watches (something not all watch brands can do, we'll explain this later) as necessary to reach as many people as possible. This marketing strategy was different and distinguish DW from other watch brands, fighting for attention on more traditional print and TV channels. Nato straps were not new, but they were the first to actively show off the versatility the colours of this strap can provide for the fashion-centric consumer-based.
What the horology industry thinks
Despite the successes of DW, the horology industry never seemed to fall in love with the brand as much as the fashion industry did. Watch aficionados found the large markup on the watch distasteful and the design of the watch "lazy". Despite these critics, DW continues to thrive, and the truth lies in the numbers. With an estimated $233 million yearly revenue, the success of their watch series is worth studying.
At this point, we have covered how DW came to be and a broad overview of their marketing, product, and distribution efforts.
The DW 40mm York comes in at SGD319, a pricer option than our SGD285 Tidal Moonphase.
One thing I noticed was how the 36mm version of the watch cost $279, a hefty $40 more than their 40mm version. As a producer of watches, I know that this 4mm size increase does not cost anywhere close to the $40 and this revenue-growth tactic by the DW team seems unfair to me.
At this price point, DW competes in a mid-tier watch price bracket. This price bracket is slated to grow at the fastest rate compared to others, with middle-income individuals driving its growth through their demand for affordable quality timepieces.
Materials & Specifications
Starting at the core of the two timepieces - the movement. The DW York is fit with a Japanese quartz movement. Offering only time display and secured with a 2-year warranty. Our Tidal Moonphase is fit with a Swiss quartz movement, tracking time, date and each 29.5-day moon cycle. The Tidal Moonphase is not only fit with a higher quality movement which offers more functionality, but the timepiece is also secured by a 5-year international warranty. A half-decade warranty embodies the confidence Sekoni Original's team has in the quality of Tidal Moonphase. Read more about why we choose to fit the Tidal Moonphase with the Swiss Ronda movement.
Moving one level above, the dials on the two pieces are where the two models differ significantly. Both timepieces have applied indices. The DW is renowned for its minimalistic design, leaving surfaces flat, uni-toned and as integrated as possible. The Tidal Moonphases’s dial was seen as a canvas for our artisan touch. The dial itself features a textured design, a cutaway for the date window at 6 o’clock, finished with polished stainless steel edgings and a crescent cutaway at the northern hemisphere of the dial to display the moonphase complication wheel. The two dials achieve different artistic and aesthetic outcomes, making a quantitative comparison challenging. However, worth noting the sheer amount of detailing throughout the design of the Tidal Moonphase. The minute markers on DW's watches are printed whilst the details you see on Tidal Moonphase are hand-assembled applied indices. Requiring at least 3 times as much time and more than 5 times the cost, small details like this differentiate the good from the great.
Moving another layer higher once again, we look at the glass that protects the DW & Seköni Original is watch dials. The Sheffield from DW is fit with a mineral glass lens, the most entry-level option for this aspect (disregarding plastic dials...).
The Tidal Moonphase from Seköni Original is fit with a sapphire lens. Contrasting DW’s mineral lens, sapphire is a much harder material, offering higher levels of scratch and wear protection. As the quality of the lens can be hard to differentiate to the non-watch-geek, along with the hefty cost premium to source sapphire glass - many watch manufacturers look to materials such as the glass lens to cut costs.
We now move away from the ‘timepiece’ itself and take a look at the straps offered with each one. Daniel Wellington offers a ‘Genuine leather’ strap on most of their watches. Another factor where the optics are more advantageous than the actual situation for DW. ‘Genuine leather’ is a relatively low grade of leather, sourced from deeper layers of animal hide. Genuine leather is much less dense than higher tiers of the same material, thus being more susceptible to water and wear damage. The Sekoni Moonphase is strapped to your wrist with a full-grain leather strap. The highest grade of leather available on the market, extracted from the uppermost layer of the hide. It’s naturally dense nature reflects water well and tends to last against wear better. Each Tidal Moonphase is also shipped with an extra free stainless steel mesh strap.
It’s not fair to compare apples and oranges, however the Daniel Wellington, 40mm York and the Sekoni Original, Tidal Moonphase both come in at €189. A side by side comparison quickly shines light onto the quality and specification differences, however, these are only part of the story.
Much of watch ownage is tied to emotion and horology understanding. The timepiece one wears could be thought of as a result of a Venn-diagram, covering the purchasers' emotional state/intention at the time of purchase and their current understanding of the sweet nuances of the watch world. Daniel Wellington purchasers are usually considered “medium-high emotion”, “low horology knowledge”. The reason being is that purchasing or receiving a DW is often purchased as an iconic social symbol, it’s purpose more for signalling than anything else.
As watch owners evolve into watch lovers, their knowledge of the industry and product naturally increases. With such knowledge comes a clear understanding of the unwritten rules of horology, as well as the wisdom to spot shortcomings in potential future timepieces.
In our opinion - knowledge is everything great about horology. Understanding the fine details, the small easter eggs that some designers hide within their complications and being able to tell the difference between a bad replica design and a beautiful homage. And best of all, more knowledge allows the consumer to receive the highest value possible.