Ariel Adams is one of the most controversial bloggers and opinion leaders on the English speaking internet. He is the founder of aBlogtoWatch, one of the largest existing horology websites.
1. Describe your childhood briefly?
Neither of my parents were born in Los Angeles, but I was. My formative years were spent pursuing the many interests of a male only-child with little concern aside from what toys to play with and what games to practice. My world was choosing through the vast universes of entertainment made available to a child coming of age in the 1980s and 1990s. It continues to surprise me how many of the entertainment franchises popular at the time are still being marketed to both child and adults today. Age-wise, I am the oldest millennial given that I graduated from high school in the year 2000.
What I enjoyed in personal autonomy as a youth I perhaps lacked in familial cohesion. Much of my social upbringing and education was left to my own devices as it was being shared between somewhat opposing forces of divorced parents. At the least such conflicting adult perspectives allowed me to appreciate the value of comparative education. Since then I've always been proud of having an innate ability to apply critical thinking to many situations.
I developed a close relationship with mechanical objects from a young age. Toys that did not move in some way utterly bored me and I found myself drawn to items with meticulous details. A benefit from being raised in a large metropolitan city such as Los Angeles gave me access to ideas, people, and toys from all around the world. I had a particular interest in Japanese toys which compared to many American toys were both better made and much more details in design and execution. My penchant for having discriminating (snobby) tastes began from apparently a young age - whether or not my adolescent lifestyle permitted it. I always recall feeling as though a person's status in life was better measured by their sophistication as opposed to their outward appearance or level of personal or family's financial success.
Despite their faults, I do credit my parents for instilling in me an appreciation for art by exposing me to a wealth of it (often against my young and impatient protesting) no matter my perceived interest. Today I'm so very grateful to have grown up with an eye for noticing quality and design. I was told to make up my own mind about everything presented to me. The notion that some people accept things without consulting their own opinion appals me now as much as it did when I was 10 years old.
2. As a child did you have any driving ambition? (What did you want to be?)
From a young age, I personally wanted to be something between an artistic and a scientist. The first job I remember professing that I wanted to undertake was palaeontology. After that, I was interested in artistic cartooning all the way to marine biology. No, financial security and profitability never seemed to be a concern at the time. I'm sure many like me would have enjoyed that mentality to persist into adulthood. Today's children in many parts of the world are growing up being trained to think more practically about career ambitions. Prudent yes, but it makes me wonder what role artistic creativity.
Try as I might I can't recall a single career ambition any of my friends had growing up. I'm sure they had their future ambitions but my memories are of a time when kids didn't think too much about their future as an adult. It seemed distant and too removed from the bliss of irresponsible childhood. Now as an adult my ambitions are to remain as childlike as possible.
What ties together all of my earliest ambitions if seeking out a future where learning and discovery was an integral part of the daily routine. As an adult, I still can't envision ever being happy without new experiences and information being regular guests in my life.
3. What is your first significant childhood memory?
For the purposes of this interview, I'll point to a memory from pre-school when I was perhaps 3-4 years old. Life for a child this age is all about schedules. What time does school start? What time does play time end? What time is lunch? When am I picked up to go home? What time is bed?
Children are mostly reliant on adults to answer these questions and for this information. I recall wanting a watch (and getting one) as this age because I didn't want to have always to ask an adult, "how much longer can we play?" Having the time on my wrist freed me from having to follow as much. By being able to control my own time I was afforded both freedom and a sense of responsibility from a young age.
4. Have you ever had another profession? What did you do?
My formal education is first in communication and then law. I'm authorized to practice law in California but only briefly did so before our global economic system collapsed due to collective irresponsible investing and the fallout around it. The irony, of course, is that my career now involves luxury products which are fun but also goods that most experts like me make for poor speculative investments.
My legal background has been invaluable in helping me transform a hobby into a business. That makes me my own client. If it all went away overnight, I'd strongly consider specialist consulting or perhaps going into academics. My biggest pleasures come from understanding complex questions and how to answer them.
5. What made you decide to go in the direction you are currently in?
I suppose I'm lucky that many people have asked me substantially similar questions in the past. Each answer I give is a reflection of my current maturity level. Today I'd like to think that my desire to never stop having the fun associated with playing with toys compelled me to go in this direction. aBlogtoWatch is a place to celebrate and share that desire. I got good at articulating why I like particular watches and found that there was an audience out there eager to listen.
I'm the first person I know of to have earned a full time living blogging about watches. I had to invent a business model while constantly having to adapt it to market and technological changes. There is no other media publication like ours that I've come across - and our boundless emphasis for authentically sharing what we are excited about in both product and experience has helped the business attract some of the most talented and characterful talent to our team.
My reality was and in many ways continues to be directly at odds with the "preservation of tradition," and " this is the way it is done because this isn't the way it has always been done" mentality of the established watch industry. If we attempted to copy old business models, we'd be dead. If we stuck on to the old way of doing things, we'd be dead. If we didn't self-examine and improve no matter the pain or discomfort, we'd be dead. Appreciating the need for adaptation has helped my business and also prompts me to confidently recommend an area to change to the watch industry in general. They don't always have the opportunity to implement my feedback, but I've yet to be proven wrong.
Why do we like watches? We gussy up the rationalization for luxury watches collecting by emphasizing their historical relevance, artistic appeal, and exclusivity. I've found that all of these reasons help us decide what watches to choose over others. None of these reasons really get you into watches in the first place. If your life has the right combination of exposure, wealth, ambition, and ego, you might have what it takes to become a watch collector. aBlogtoWatch doesn't make watch lovers, but it is there to guide and inform those people who have the potential to become one. The simple act of explaining why you like one watch over others is the basis of our content. As long as discussions like that remain relevant so will we.
6. What’s the worst job you’ve had to do?
I don't really consider any work I've done as being bad since there are lessons to learn from everything. What bothers me is discomfort I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit. Waking up early (I'm famously active at night), social disrespect, being dirty, not being able to have the time to finish a task properly - those for me are far worse than a job itself.
I recall a several month job during law school where my principal goal was to help pack up an entire law firm that was merely moving floors in the same building. My daily duties were to pack dusty books and over-stuffed file folders into boxes and then carry them around. Some people might hate there, but I loved it. I wasn't rushed, got to spend time reading the documents or browsing the books I want to pack and ended up learning a lot while remaining cool in an air-conditioned building. I only look back on that time with fondness.
7. What’s been the hardest moment in your life so far, and how did you overcome it?
Loss. Losing something you hold dear whether it is a person or an opportunity can and often is tragic. We as people form ideas about who we were based on the material substance of our lives and what options we feel are owed to us. Take any of it away, and most people react with incredible rue. No matter how temporary or permanent the deprivation. Age compounds that because the older you get, the more instances you will have statistically had to experience loss.
Mentioning specific instances of loss isn't what I find interesting because the way people can and should deal with loss is similar across different scenarios. I'm no expert, but I've determined a few techniques for handling such hardships.
First and foremost is the notion that experiencing adversity and surviving it builds character and reduces fear because we know what we can live through and how far our boundaries can be pushed. I've enjoyed the wisdom that comes with dealing with negative experience. It does become harder to associate with people that still have a lot do personal growth to do based on their lack of experience, but dealing with hard things and living through them is a powerful tool to help you decide what you most value in life.
I've also adopted the mentality that while history (your own especially) should be carefully studied to learn lessons from it - life is what you are doing now and what you may do in the future. Life isn't what you did in the past. Hope comes from the notion that the future will be better than the past. By maintaining a look at past happiness or strong emotion, many people deprive themselves of feeling it now or in the future. In my opinion, for one to truly live a life of hope they must always work hard to making their own future prospects rosier. Never hyper-focus on the past or expect that your future's hands are better left in someone (or something) else's hands.
8. Who has had the strongest influence on you?
In my family, I always admired my late grandfather incredibly. I knew him from just enough of a distance to idolize his better character traits (without seeing the natural follies as a human) and close enough to feel as though he genuinely cared about and looked out for me. He gave me (and I can't always credit my parents for this) the privilege of looking at life from the side. He asked himself what I needed and tried to give it to me as opposed to asking my ill-informed child pinion of what I needed or simply responded when I needed something. That to me was a form of love I needed. I also admired him for being so well-liked and respected among the community. I later learned his secret was simple. He just took the extra effort to really listen to people and take an interest in them without the appearance of a selfish angle. I know I'll never be him, and in a way that is comforting as I don't believe I'm built to handle the responsibility he took on during his life.
9. What are you most proud of?
That question reminds me of the fact that according to traditional Judeo-Christian philosophy "pride" is a sin. Yet in the luxury industry, it is apparently the biggest compliment you can give. It helps remind me that our industry is by definition a bubble in a greater sea.
I'm very satisfied that my work has proven to be useful for so many people. Whether it is a collector, who receives joy from buying a new piece or an entrepreneur or executive who needs my perspective to help make a business decision - as long as aBlogtoWatch actuality helps people in both the near and long-term futures I'll continue to feel pride in our work.
Personally, I'm proud of both my curiosity and ability to answer questions. Application of good critical thinking skills has helped me tremendously, and it's a skill I would love to help other people with.
10. What advice would you give to a 20 something thinking of taking a similar path as you?
I am not confident that if I tried to make my business again from scratch today that it would work. Most good business ideas in execution have a degree of luck involved in it. I hear from smart and passionate people weekly who want to enter the watch industry from a media perspective or otherwise these days, and it's hard to know what to say to encourage them. Both in regards to my estimated chances of their success as well as my more lofty notions of about trying to suggest things to people that I believe our industry needs.
For whatever reason, I harbor the conviction that my recommendations for the industry are fair and just. It takes both confidence and arrogance to boldly make statements about an entire industry when I am just one person. Who am I to say that a business strategy is bad or that a particular decision is an error? I'm here making moral judgements about things I arguably don't have much to do with. Then again, I ask myself, why do I go out on a limb and assert myself? Is it for me? Hardly, it's for the idea itself and not the person pushing it.
My first recommendation is for people interested in the luxury watch industry to have a serious conversation with themselves about why want to do it. No doubt that ego is a huge reason why many people want to be in an industry that designs, makes, and places status or lifestyle affirming items on people's wrist. By definition watches in the form we enjoy are an ego tool. So the question is whether one uses that ego for good or bad.
If personal self-promotion is your only goal then, in my opinion, you've already started to fall in this industry. It's a remarkably weird one where a tool from the past lives on as a toy for today. In it's most inelegant form watches can be summed up as "jewelry for men" or as I said above "toys for spoiled big boys." I like boiling down the value of watches into these crude statements because it encourages what I believe is a healthy conversation about why someone wants to enter it.
Be sure that the greatest joy in the watch industry revolves around the product. I actually don't see this as an industry that celebrates the people in it. In fact, the watch industry is not particularly kind to most people. The best thing to come out of it is the products, and the almost sole area of joy in the industry is related to the product. Be that the joy of designing a product; producing a product; creating passion for a product; placing a product on a wrist; or repairing a product. If you see yourself being motivated by successful doing one of the above you may find happiness in the watch industry. If you are entering it because you want validation of your own taste or personal worth, then this unforgiving industry will prove highly challenging.
All the best people I know in the industry are motivated by product and their love of it. It's art, and engineering all rolled into one. If you are lucky, then a successful mechanism to market and sell that product will be available to you or your company.
I estimate that the traditional, established watch industry is currently shrinking and not growing. This means more money is being taken away from business than is being invested in it. A shrinking watch industry isn't actually related to diminishing consumer demand as demand is relatively healthy. It's because of dysfunctional oversight and absentee executive management. That's why the winners in today's watch industry are hands-on executives who understand their business from all angles. There are no fast, cheap, or easy ways to make money in this industry. And this industry is stuck in a cycle of trying to fix many of its ill-sighted shortcuts and growth figures. That includes incompetent managers as well as misinformed investors.
I'm not painting a pretty picture of the industry that supports my family. But I'm also not ashamed to express my anger and seek to shame those entities who have let a proud and prestigious industry fail thousands upon thousands of people around the world who rely on it for income. There are many men and women who have dedicated their lives to working in an industry that doesn't seem to either value them or consult with them prior to making significant decisions about how it's products are marketed and sold. Clearly, I am speaking in platitudes, but the point is that the watch industry is rife with frustrations that I find many people don't understand until it is too late. I think the watch industry needs to have a lot more healthy conversations with itself about its future and the career opportunities it has for young people to get excited about.
The watch industry is like working with clay. If you have skill and vision, you can transform your role in it into something valuable. If you are unprepared for the task ahead for you and lack confidence and vision, you better hope you work for someone who does have those things.
11. Name three things on your bucket list.
(A bucket list is a list of things you want to do before you die).
Being in my mid-thirties, I understand the time of my life when I have to narrow down future possibilities to a "reasonable" list is still ahead of me. So this is not something I actually spend too much time thinking about as I relish in the chaotic unpredictability of what the future holds. Having said that, I used this opportunity to consider a few things I'd like to experience before I die. I'm curious to know how many people share these desires.
I'd first like to live to see the development or discovery of some new technology or innovation that has the power to be genuinely disruptive for the good of humanity. I'm talking about something big such as a new way to generate or store energy, a medical technique which can reduce mass suffering by eliminating the fear of at least some physical ailments, or a tool that allows humans to ingest, process, and use information much more effectively. I see huge potential in molecular engineering and hope to live long enough to see it have a major impact on everyday life. If anything I want to live to see these things because of the optimism they will create. I hope to live in a world with more hope and a desire among more humans to cooperate with one another. I think the promise of innovations and advancements are one of the only ways to do this.
Another bucket list item is to meet and get to know people who by virtue of their position, status, skills, or wealth are able to make an enormous impact on large populations of people. These could be anything from politicians to corporate chair people. I am interested in what the responsibility of shaping and affecting so many lives has on a person.
Finally, I'd like to explore a part of the world virtually untouched by human intervention. I want to feel like I am discovering something. In a world so well explored (and already exploited) I think it is natural to want to find new frontiers.
12. Where do you think the industry is going to be in 10 years time.
Particularly conservative devotees of the traditional watch industry like to mention how resilient and industry that has lasted hundreds of years is. What they always fail to mention is how many gaps in operation many of today's most famous historic brands have had in the past. Even if ideas can live on for many generations, business structures are not as stable.
I mention this to warn about the fragility the industry faces and that past endurance is not a promise of future appeal. Luxury watches are nothing without supportive people to make and care for them. The watch industry today faces a human resource and management problem. Not a product or idea problem.
I've already said that I think the watch industry is shrinking. The question is whether or not it will start to grow again. Mechanical timepieces will not become any more obsolete than they are today. As long as the beauty and joy of wearing an analogue instrument on the wrist continue to have appeal, then people will want watches.
The future of the watch industry is in its people. Those people need to be made and educated. That is unlike today when good members of the watch industry are produced by accident. The watch industry needs to start investing in making smart, educated people who will take care of its future. Just as in so many industries, this one needs to invest in people in a way it has not done so quite some time. Barring that I envision the watch industry of 10 years from now to be much like that of today, just with fewer actors in it.
To learn more about aBlogtoWatch