Millennials, the thinking goes, are insatiable hedonists who live only to drown in an awesome wave of experiences. For this generation, there are no favorite flavors; just new ones. There are no neighborhood haunts; only the latest hottest restaurant pushed to phones via Yelp. Movies are streamed while hotel rooms, hip lofts, cars, private jets, and choppers materialize at the touch of button. Disruptors have made inroads in the menswear world, too—companies said to be the Ubers and Netflixes of men’s clothing and accessories.
But is the sharing economy actually important in the menswear universe? Besides tuxes, a place for men to rent flashy designer clothing, like a Rent the Runway for dudes, doesn’t really exist. There are sites that claim to do that, like ThreadThread, but something tells me the business isn’t super legit. (Nothing suggests a business is suspect more than a “meet the stylists” page that uses pictures of Miley Cyrus, a stock image of “women with short hair,” a Banana Republic ad, and Indian actress Chahat Khanna.) This is just the most salacious of the countless issues you run into when trying to “disrupt” menswear.
Replica Watches, on the other hand, are perfectly positioned for this type of business. They don’t depreciate as much as clothes, they’re way more durable, and they have extremely high margins. And even if you can afford expensive clothing, you may not have the funds lying around for a $10,000 watch. So instead of shows, potential partners, cars, or clothes, services like Eleven James, Haute Vault, Clerkenwell, and Axess Chronos allow customers to browse through illustrious collections of dazzling, sparkling, and way-out-of-your-budget replica Rolexes, Patek Philippes, Hublots, Audemar Piguets, and get them on their wrists commitment-free. Or rather, virtually commitment-free: prices for Eleven James’ membership range anywhere from $169 to $899 per month, after you make the minimum six-month commitment. It’s not nothing, but it’s small change compared to buying a $10,000 watch, which is the average price of the watches in Eleven James’ collection.
You might say these companies aren’t just disrupting the watch-buying industry, but also radically changing our relationship to watches. When you spend a bunch of money on a watch, you’re supposed to think about your kids and your kids’ kids’ great grandkids: watches hold value both economic and sentimental. Passing down a subscription to Eleven James only brings a tear to the eye of some far-off venture capitalist. On the other hand, though, watch-rental services lower the barrier of entry, and raise a handful of interesting questions. What if having a fancy watch didn’t require having an extra-generous parent, or a year-end bonus? What if a rarefied industry was open to everybody for the price of a gym membership? From one angle, watch-rental looks like the latest in a string of unnecessary, vaguely “disruptive” businesses. From another, it looks a little like the future.