Only part of the value of a luxury watch can be found it its engineering, materials, utility and workmanship. In many cases, it's the storytelling that sells the watch. Though watchmakers often have their own compelling stories, many have found that "brand ambassadors" can be a powerful tool to get those stories heard.
These are figures with fame, charisma or notable achievements who have established an official relationship with the company in question (and which isn't limited to watches, of course). They work to promote the brand in various ways, from giving the use of their name and image to participating in events or having products designed especially for them.
Ambassadors can help brands reach new audiences, but for fans of either the brand or the the celebrity these relationships can be controversial if they don't feel just right. In most cases, it's a very subjective matter as to whether or not the brand-and-celebrity pairing resonate or feels contrived, andt some seem to work better than others.
So what makes a really good compelling watch brand ambassador? Among the multitudes of examples out there, here are just a few that stand out, and why.
Reinhold Messner x Montblanc
Montblanc recently announced a partnership with the mountaineer Reinhold Messner and a special edition watch to go along with it. The watch fits into an existing series called the 1858 Geosphere themed around mountain climbing and the "Seven Summits Challenge" — tackling the most challenging peaks for mountaineers on each continent.
As the first person to summit Mt Everest without supplemental oxygen (among many other impressive feats), Messner has lived a life of adventure — there's a high co-occurrence of his name and the word legendary. The relationship with Montblanc jives in a few ways — not least because he first made a name for himself climbing in the Alps. Though one imagines a mountain-climber's watch as extremely rugged and function-first, the refined feel of the Geosphere seems appropriate for Messner who, at 70 years old, now lectures and writes.
Jimmy Chin x Panerai
Rock climbing is an activity that wouldn't seem to mix well with watches, much less nice watches: they can snag on things, steel cases add unnecessary weight — and it's probably one of the fastest ways to totally shred a watch. Somehow, though, Panerai and Jimmy Chin make for a solid pair. He's a climber, but Jimmy Chin is also an Emmy- and Academy Award-winning filmmaker, as well as a National Geographic photographer.
With Chin as an ambassador, Panerai is able to highlight their Submersible BMT Tech dive watch with its special, ultra-light case material and toughness — though one wonders if Chin personally chooses to wear the $13,000+ watch when scaling a sheer rock face. Even if Panerai watches aren't necessary (or advisable) climbing equipment, Jimmy Chin is truly accomplished and impressive, and his persona of daring and adventure indeed seems to fit Panerai's bold personality.
Bear Grylls x Luminox
Bear Grylls is an adventurer, survivalist, knight, ex-soldier and all-around badass. Alongside expeditions and extreme stunts, he's taken his badassery to television to host a number of survival shows and become a well-known personality. He probably could've been an ambassador for an elegant luxury watchmaker, but there are few brands that seem like a more genuine fit for his persona than Luminox.
Also known to work with the US Navy SEALs, Luminox makes watches are unmistakably rugged, serious and often military-oriented. They not only seem made for abuse, but the majority of Luminox watches use accurate and robust quartz movements and remain pretty affordable — and those are practical traits a real survivalist would value over elegance and prestige. Luminox offers an entire collection of Bear Grylls watches that each look like something the adventurer would wear into the wild.
Sylvia Earle x Rolex
Rolex's marketing is as solid and polished as its watches themselves, and that extends to its use of ambassadors. Of course, Rolex is exceptional in the watch industry since countless statesmen, musicians and others are natural spokespeople. Even so, the brand does work with larger-than-life ambassadors from James Cameron to Roger Federer to Tiger Woods and many more — and each one seems well-conceived and genuine.
Alongside such household names, Rolex's adept use of personalities is exemplified in Sylvia Earle. Earle is an explorer, marine biologist and National Geographic explorer-in-residence who has set diving records and broken barriers for women. A deeply inspiring character, her underwater exploits and ocean conservation initiatives fit well with Rolex's strong association with dive watches.