The Luxury of Time

By Daymon Bruck

A Seventeenth century Japanese Tea master Naosuke coined one of the most common Zen phrases: Ichi-go ichi-e, which is often translated to “once in the lifetime, never again”. The intended meaning of this phrase is that every experience we have is unique and can’t be repeated. We only have one life and every day, encounter and experience is one of a kind. Once time passes it never will be recaptured and this quintessence makes Time the ultimate measure of true value; you can’t make any more of it or bend it to your will. Or can you? 

A new experience economy has been steadily emerging and with it a sense of what else might come to define the luxury category. This newish luxury is all about rare and privileged experiences available for a price. At the center of many of these exclusive events or experiences is a unique benefit of leveraging time in some manner: saving it, making the most of it, slowing it down, even sidestepping its normal flow altogether. It makes sense that Time is becoming more highly valued than money as a luxury indicator, especially considering time’s finite quantity. Luxury brands are awakening to this shift and those that cater to making the most of their customers’ need to control their personal time are differentiating from the those that only focus on products or services.   

I’ve collected some examples that are grouped in this article under two general categories: the value of Slow Time (Part 1 in the series) and Faster than “Normal” Time (Part 2 in the series). This first looks at the how Luxury uses values associated with slowing down or aging to differentiate and the second posting will focus on examples of moving faster than or even bypassing everyday timeframes.

 

Part 1:  The Luxury of Slow Time

 

The Older the Better

The notion that slowness comes into direct conflict with the values of our digital economy is of course not true for all luxury goods and services. Over the years we have helped many clients with epicurean and hand-crafted products use the terms “slow-cured” or “handmade” to translate a value of time being applied to a product which benefits from the aging process. Fine wines, whiskey, cheeses and cigars all benefit from having been held back, forcing us to wait for the ultimate experience at the height of their fullness.

When new products and technologies are being released on an almost daily schedule, the allure of a special and rare thing of worth or beauty from the past seems even more attractive. Practically anything Vintage sounds more interesting. There is a story there, a history and context to the past of an object. “So why buy vintage? Often the impetus is fueled by the excitement of the hunt. It is easy to find current pieces in your local mall or online site, but shopping for vintage is an unparalleled treasure hunt.” -Jennifer Baumgartner Psy.D., remarked in a Psychology Today article titled “The Psychology of Vintage”.

Vintage watches, by some estimates, have become a $3 billion market with the value of some watches soaring in recent years. “I remember in 1990 a dealer came in with hundreds of ­Daytonas, the good ones from the ’60s,” says Daryn Schnipper, chairman of ­Sotheby’s international watch division, “At the time they were worth $800. There was no market. Now they’ve gone through the roof.”  Eric Ku, a Berkeley-based vintage watch dealer adds, “Collectors have gotten tired of wearing the same thing everybody else has,” and says, “New watches have become so expensive, and prices continue to go up each year, while spending the same money on vintage has proven itself in terms of the resale market, and when it comes to value, it can be a more sound decision.”

 

The Value of Waiting for IT  

If the perceived value is high enough, people will wait for it. Yearning is a powerful human experience that has been masterfully manipulated by some of the most successful brands in history. One obvious and notable example is the Birkin or Kelly bag by Hermes - now nearly impossible for the average consumer to even get their hands on one, but if you do, it’s 6-12 month wait for yours to arrive. For anything bespoke or custom made (clothes, furniture, jewelry) you will need to wait and it makes the eventual ownership that much more special. Anything that is of worth is worth waiting for.   

The formula (desire + waiting = demand) comes into contest with the growing Omnichannel world of luxury goods and services. Who needs to wait for an object of desire when according to Bloomberg Business, “Only 40 percent of high-end brands don’t sell via the Web”.  One of the longest holdouts for creating an e-commerce platform is Chanel and they are currently set to make the change in 2017. To this point, Chanel justified its decision to remain offline by maintaining that the in-store customer experience is of critical importance to the brand and customer experience. But for many consumers, e-commerce is beyond the norm and is often the preferred path to purchase. With millennials representing more than 25% of the US population and representing upward of $200 billion annually in buying power, they hold increasing influence over retailers and luxury brands. Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel’s President of Fashion said about opening up sales for the brand online recently in an interview, “It’s not so much a shift. It’s an evolution to better serve our customers. It’s more e-service than a pure e-commerce approach.”

Chanel’s move is bound to impact the rest of the luxury fashion world. While the price point will remain the same, strengthening the label’s air of exclusivity, the items will arguably be far more accessible than ever before to an even wider audience. For a brand that’s held onto its luxury status without catering to the masses, this switch in business practice raises concerns that e-commerce will ultimately diminish the label. The shift also insures a larger growth in revenue as reports have shown that online sales in the world of luxury fashion are growing two times as fast as the market itself. In an age when half of luxury shoppers are already shopping and purchasing online, opening up an e-commerce platform seems like a logical business strategy. How it may affect Chanel as a luxury brand however, is not so easy to predict.  

 

Slowing Aging and Living Longer

It’s curious that society values consumable goods that have aged and improved over time but when it comes to our appearance, Time is definitely more foe than friend. Anti-aging products at every price range (mass to luxury) promise to slow or halt the march of time across our face and body. Halting the appearance of aging from head to toe has been the general practice of those with means for decades now and the cosmetic surgery industry has never been healthier - topping out at just over 8 billion in 2016. Even the best surgeons around the globe can only alter and affect the appearance of aging. The big prize for making a dent in living longer falls into the hands of genetics and bioscience. 

The hunt for unlocking the secrets to aging and assisting us in our desire for longevity seems to be found by the decoding of our DNA. Human DNA is a genome composed of 23 pairs of chromosomes, which breaks down into six billion pieces that all come together to give each person their unique characteristics and properties. While we have the ability to sequence important parts of the genome, the ability to know the entire sequence has the potential to make huge strides in the area of understanding and predicting disease, and more importantly, to personalize medicine.

Craig Venter, one of the first people to map the human genome, offers an executive physical at his latest venture, the La Jolla, California based Human Longevity, Inc. For $25,000, the company will sequence your DNA and run a full complement of tests to determine your risk for heart disease, melanoma, dementia, and other ailments. “Having the ability to control health and life outcomes is the ultimate luxury,” he says. To “buy” more precious time and extending life through a deeper understanding of how we can chart a personal path to better health is no doubt a prize most coveted. 

To be continued…

Part 2:  Time is A Powerful Luxury Differentiator