Co-Branded Watches – What’s The Point?

Co-branded watches - Rolex Dominoes

“Why would Bentley need a watch partner?” commentator Sammy Toledo asks underneath yesterday’s post Breitling Bentley Partnership RIP. “If you can afford a Bentley, you should be able to afford one of those watches whose maker would never deign to co-brand, right?” Right! As a Bentley owner, I own a few tasty timepieces and precisely no Breitling Bentley watches. Looking at the selection at chrono24.com, I can see no reason to indulge. But Mr. Toledo’s comment raises some interesting questions about co-branded watches . . .

Timex Standard x Peanuts Featuring Snoopy Autumn - new watch alert

If we address the question “what’s the point?” from the manufacturer’s point-of-view the answer is obvious: money.

From Timex (e.g., Timex X Peanuts) to Grand Seiko (e.g., Godzilla), every major watchmaker has created co-branded watches – timepieces specifically designed to appeal to a niche market occupied by an otherwise unrelated brand. And appeal they do.

Co-branded Tiffany Patek

No question: co-branded watches invigorate the sales of slow-selling models lacking horological curb appeal. And they don’t cost much to produce; modifications almost always require little more than superficial changes to the dial and/or band. Even after shelling out for licensing fees, co-branded watches provide watchmakers with plenty of “extra” profit.

A $100 Timex Standard sans Snoopy costs $79 – a dearth of choices indicating the unadorned model’s lack of popularity. At the high end, a vintage yellow gold Tiffany-branded Patek Philippe Calatrava runs $34,900. The exact same watch without Tiffany co-branding sells for $25k. Production cost to either brand? Round it down to zero. Sales? Fabulous!

Co-branded watches operate under the same principle as commercials using catchy AF songs to sell products. Bonding the product to the song creates a powerful positive stimulus -> response pattern in the consumer’s lizard brain. It’s not just a beer. It’s m-m-m-my Corona!

That said, you don’t hear Geowulf’s Saltwater when you jam a lime into your Corona (tastes better than it sounds). But a buyer does see Snoopy and maybe Tiffany & Co. everytime they look at their watch. For manufacturers, it’s a risky business.

Nike Apple Watch

When watch and “lifestyle” brands mesh successfully, like Charlie Brown’s appropriately milquetoast horology and the Nike Apple Watch, it’s a hugely profitable double whammy for both brands. Sales for the watch brand, licensing revenue and free advertising/marketing for their partner.

When co-branding doesn’t work, it cheapens/dilutes both brands. The Domino’s Oyster Perpetual (top of the post) and other blasts from Rolex’s “your logo goes here” past are the dictionary definition of brand-defiling upmarket tat. Hence their discontinuation. 

Co-branded watches - AP Black Panther

Grand Seiko may laugh off co-branding’s hidden/ignored dangers, what with their commercially successful Godzilla and Nissan GT-R watches. As might Audemars Piguet, having sold all 250 of their patently absurd $160k Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillons.

They’re wrong. Those pieces violate the smart ad man’s incontrovertible maxim: the tighter the brand, the stronger it is.

Breitling Premier Norton caseback

From the buyer’s perspective, a co-branded watch is valued as a visible (if “secret”) signal that the wearer is in with the in-crowd, whether it’s anime fandom or Zen and the Art of Norton motorcycle maintenance. Not to put too fine a point on it, co-branded watches are tribal signifiers.

Critics decry these co-branded watches as cultish nerdiness, indicating low self-esteem. They point to millions of people wearing Ferrari-branded watches who don’t own a Ferrari. These amateur psychologists claim Ferrari watch wearers fly the prancing horse flag to boost their flagging egos. Not that the buyers or Ferrari cares.

Co-branded watches - Bentley logoWhich brings us back to Breitling Bentley. A proper co-branded Bentley watch would serve as a tangible reminder – to Bentley owners and aspiring Bentley owners – of the luxury automaker’s existence.

Would the world be a better place for it? Not in any important sense. But it would bank big bucks for both partners and make hundreds of pretentious people happy. Win – win?

8 comments

  1. Some Timex watches are perfect for cobranding. The Timex Camper is a great “blank slate”. The Rolex Oyster Perpetual, not so much. Maybe a Milgauss, Cellini, or Air King would work better as a blank slate and not diminish the brand? The Starbucks Milgauss?

  2. Collabs are always supposed to be mutually beneficial, in brand promotion if not actual lucre.

    As a wearer/consumer, I don’t get it. Branding should always be as discreet as possible. I don’t want to wear advertising, and feel I should be paid for it and not pay extra for the privilege.

    Dual branding tends to narrow, not widen, the customer base. The number of brands that I have any affection for is so low that the odds of pairing two of them are very slim.

      1. Yes, and I have a Mickey Mouse Lorus too! I like transparent lowbrow kitsch, but have problems seeing co-branding as anything but tacky.
        This is why I like the Domino’s Rolex but gag at Breitling X Bentley. The former was a legitimate incentive, a promo item, swag. That’s an awesome gift/reward. Paying for a watch with a car logo on it? That’s declasse and vulgar. It reeks of try hard showiness.

        1. I totally get it. I really regret not buying a vintage Dr Pepper Zodiac Olympos before this became another niche for collectors. Ten years ago, a Dominos or Dr Pepper logo would have knocked at least 25% off of the asking price for a vintage watch.

  3. I love this post. With regards to Grand Seiko, like a lot of Japanese companies, the domestic market is frequently a much bigger consideration (and generates more revenue) than exports. The Japanese have a much different take on what constitutes authenticity. I’d be willing to bet even if they aren’t JDM exclusives, the Godzilla and Nissan collaborations are being bought primarily by Japanese consumers who wouldn’t consider it a strike against Grand Seiko in the same way that the Marvel/Audemar collaboration strikes people as slightly off.

  4. Mainly I think it’s pretty rare in today’s relentless 80/20 culture for two brands to occupy comparable public headspace long enough to make these efforts worthwhile. Ford + Eddie Bauer circa 1998 being the gold standard. Wildly incongruous pairings like Rolex and Domino’s are the exception that proves the rule. If you’re 2021 Bentley PR and an image of somebody reasonably famous driving your product wearing a BENTLEY BREITLING makes the rounds, you’re lightly horrified, no?

Leave a Reply