In the last three years, his company’s Instagram following has surged to over 71,000, from fewer than 5,000. And business has boomed right along with it, with revenue up some 30 percent this year.
To Mr. Altieri, the twin spikes seem like more than a coincidence. “We’ll post a new green Rolex anniversary model Submariner from 2004, complete with box and papers, and, usually within minutes,” he said, people will message him, “‘Hey, let me know the price.’”
It’s a big change for a hobby long associated with paneled studies, elbow patches and discretion. Indeed, until recently, watch enthusiasts had few opportunities to show off prize pieces aside from dinner parties with friends or geeks-only online forums like TimeZone or WatchUSeek.
Instagram, by contrast, is everything that traditional watch collecting was not: young, colorful, brazenly digital and populist. (The app has some 700 million users worldwide.)
And showing off? It is the lingua franca of the medium, a wellspring of covetousness that inspires FOMO and a gotta-have-it hunger among users regarding seemingly any and all Instagram subjects: travel, food, fashion and, lately, watches.
“Watch collecting is a very tactile hobby, and if it can’t be tactile, it is visual,” said James Lamdin, the 33-year-old founder of Analog/Shift, a high-end Manhattan vintage watch boutique with more than 72,000 Instagram followers.
Those visuals were once limited on old-school online forums, where “uploading images of watches basically required a degree in coding,” he said. Not so with Instagram, where lovingly styled “wrist shots” of vintage Omega Speedmasters or Heuer Autavias can be enhanced, sharpened and uploaded within seconds for all the world to see.
Images of rare collector pieces on Instagram can create a feeding frenzy among collectors. Last year, for example, after Hodinkee, the watch site with over 378,000 Instagram followers, posted a photograph of the coveted 1969 Rolex “Paul Newman” Daytona reference 6241 available for sale on its online shop around 9 a.m. one day, messages were pouring in within seconds. Five minutes later, a buyer in his 30s snapped up the treasured Rolex for $175,000, a record price for the site, said Ashley Kinder, who manages Hodinkee’s retail operation.
“Before that,” Ms. Kinder said, the buyer “had only ordered with us once to purchase a $150 watch strap.”