In the vast world of horology, we can each play one of many roles. Some of us design watches, some of us make them, some market and sell them, and then the rest of us wear them.
There are also those who have been creating superb visual content on Instagram relating to the watch world that has helped popularize horology in recent years. Social media influencers—particularly Instagramers, whom I am focusing on here—play a decisive role in this process by spreading the word about brands, creating demand for buying watches, and inspiring other Instagramers to produce more and better content.
There are a few people who stand out of the crowd in this digital jungle. My favorite content creator of the whole lot is Tom, who goes by the name of @bowlofsalmon (BoS). In only ten months, he went from having a few followers to having more than 10,000, a rapid success that has inspired many to seek to imitate his lightning-fast rise to the top. BoS’s success story raises a number of questions—mostly how he did it and why—that I put to him recently in an interview.
Beginnings of Watch Collecting
It all started with one watch, a Sector 210 Chronograph (see photo below) given to him at age 14 by his uncle, who was a jeweler. Tom wore this watch throughout his teenage years and still has it, an uncommon thing for many people my age (30s and 40s) who got a watch in their teen years or even before. Although he doesn’t remember the other watches he has had since the Sector, BoS does remember that he has always worn one. Having a watch strapped on the wrist was and still is an integral part of his daily life.
Not too long before the pandemic began and many years after he got his first watch, Bowl of Salmon bought himself a Seiko 5, and it wasn’t long before he started to make modifications to it. His Seiko 5 became a full black special-ops type of watch adorned with a Yacht Master-style bezel (he showed it to me over our video call, and I have to admit it was quite stunning to look at). Shortly after he started modding his Seiko, a friend of his told him about an expensive watch he wanted to buy for which he was prepared to spend thousands of dollars. That watch was a Rolex Submariner “Batman.”
BoS couldn’t fathom spending so much money on a watch, but unfortunately for his bank account and fortunately for us, another friend of his bought a Tudor Black Bay Pepsi GMT in the summer of 2020. By then, BoS was starting to become intrigued with Swiss watches and began to educate himself about the Tudor collection. That’s when things changed. He fell in love with the Black Bay 58, so he called his local authorized dealer (AD) to put his name on the list for one.
The day he went to pick up the Tudor at the AD, he did something he really shouldn’t have (something I’ve often done myself): he tried yet another popular watch, the Omega Speedmaster. That was the second time that he fell in love with a watch at first sight. It wouldn’t be too long (December 2020, in fact) before he would buy his own Speedmaster. Getting a Speedmaster is a special moment for many watch collectors, and it certainly was for BoS. After having talked about the Speedmaster for a long time to his whole family, they pooled resources together to pay for half of the watch, and more importantly, his two sons handed him an envelope containing 10 euros—their own contribution—the very morning he was to go pick it up.
In all of the conversations I’ve had with watch collectors and personal stories I’ve read or watched (see, for instance, Matt Hranek’s classic, “A Man and His Watch”), I’ve rarely heard a story as touching as this one. The fact that our family members let us tell them about watches for hours on end is amazing in and of itself, but it is particularly special when they contribute to our collecting by helping us purchase watches like his sons did. My wife surprised me with my first “real” one several years ago when she got me a Hamilton Khaki Field Mechanical (I, of course, had talked so much about this particular watch that she knew exactly which one to buy).
Of course, BoS did not stop there. We know all too well that once we buy one watch, we will buy many more. He had a short-lived affair with a white-dial Christopher Ward C63 GMT but had to let go of it to make space for a similar, much more costly watch, the Rolex Explorer 2 with the polar dial. If you follow him on Instagram—and I strongly suggest you do so—you will see many stunning photos of his Black Bay, his Speedmaster, and his Explorer 2 (see below.) If we were to discuss what a good three-watch collection could look like, it would look like this.
Beginnings of Bowl of Salmon
BoS is a wedding and portrait photographer by trade. When looking at his Instagram account, there is no doubt that he has mastered the technical aspect of photography, especially in the way he controls light and composes his shots. Surprisingly, he actually doesn’t like product photography because he prefers shooting outside with natural light and interacting with people. If I could share his professional website, you will immediately understand what I’m talking about. (BoS prefers to keep his real life apart from his Instagram life, a choice I highly respect and deeply understand.)
It seems that like many people who have become popular on the digital watch scene, BoS started his Instagram account during the pandemic. He started out strong by posting twice a day Monday through Friday and three times a day on weekends, gaining an average of 1,000 followers a month in the first six months. He admitted having had an obsession with numbers at first and strived to keep the momentum going.
After a few months, he started posting less often, although the quality of his work kept increasing. I don’t want to reduce his mindset to something simpler than it actually was, but BoS’s perception of his work on Instagram changed after a number of months. He didn’t want his creativity to be dominated by the drive to pump up the numbers, so he decided that he would be just as happy with half the number of followers he currently has. What continues to motivate him—and what motivates other aspects of his life—is contributing something to the watch community.
About His Work & Success
Bowl of Salmon proves the old adage that we create our best work when we are authentic and when our intentions are noble. He did not start his account to make money, but he wanted to positively affect the watch community by encouraging everyone to talk about something they love (horology, in this case) and to do it in a way that feels natural and brings them happiness and joy. Despite his early success, BoS eventually placed less importance on numbers because he realized that he was gaining much more than fame. He was gaining a supportive, passion-driven community.
When I told him that his watch photography was outstanding, he frowned. He truly doesn’t think his photography is anything special, and he actually thinks it’s kind of odd to have more than 10,000 followers on Instagram. BoS doesn’t see himself as an influencer, despite the fact that someone with that many followers independently publishing photos of watches is in fact an influencer by anyone’s measure (he cringed when I called him an influencer—sorry, my friend).
His drive can better be explained by looking at his career as a professional photographer. Not too long ago, BoS was at a photography retreat in Norway with nine colleagues. The goal of this retreat was to discuss photography and to allow each photographer to showcase four of what they considered to be their best shots. When his turn came, his anxiety level shot through the roof, but it was quite unnecessary, for when he showed his colleagues his four pictures, they marveled at what they were seeing. He was—and I really mean it—honestly surprised by the positive reaction the other photographers had about his photos. That says a lot about his mindset when it comes down to Instagram.
In my mind, BoS’s success comes down to three things. First, the quality of his photography in his Instagram posts is very consistently good: the lighting, the composition, and the clever use of props are always top-notch. BoS clearly is dedicated to his craft. Second, he posts photos about brands and models that are popular, something that has both happened naturally and something that is intentional, as he buys watches that interest him and are therefore on brand with his content.
The third reason why he is successful can only be explained in a full paragraph. Ever since I started interviewing watch collectors and watchmakers (and by the way, there’s more of this coming to this space), one thing is clear: authenticity and humility are key to becoming successful. I know: most of us never associate these qualities with success. Human nature presses us to morph into inauthentic, unoriginal versions of ourselves to buy importance in the eyes of others. In reality, though, I have found again and again that true happiness comes when we are honest and truthful to ourselves. Success is the by-product of this. I could immediately tell by looking at his feed and speaking with BoS that he approaches his work with truthfulness and humility.
Recipe for Success
There is a philosophy of life and happiness that the Japanese call ikigai. Its foundation is the simple idea that we will be happy and successful if we do what we are both naturally good at and what serves our community. In other words, do what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. Bowl of Salmon is good at taking photos, he loves watches, and he contributes to the watch community by expanding our knowledge about this hobby and by inspiring us to be better at it.
Although he was at first concerned about the metrics of posting photos on Instagram, he quickly jettisoned this aspect of it to focus on creating good content. It is his genuine interest in contributing something positive to the watch community that made him successful. I personally feel there is a lot of wisdom to draw from BoS’s experience and the way he views his work. His perception that his photography is not that special means he pays more attention to what he photographs and what he says about the watches. It’s like an Oscar-winning actor who still gets nervous on set after 40 years of acting because he doesn’t take his previous successes for granted.
If you do follow him, you will also notice that he contributes tips and advice on how to take better photos. What I’ve noticed about watch people in general—and this sets them apart from other Instagramers—is that they are very generous in sharing knowledge about the watches themselves and how they go about creating content. Professional photographers who work in fashion, wedding, or portraiture are more typically not so keen to share their secrets (except when you are Bowl of Salmon, of course), so it is refreshing to find people like him who are willing to talk about what they do so openly.
By the way, I would be remiss if I neglected to say that there are others like him on social media platforms that I hope to interview soon as well.
Instagram & Money
Of course, I admittedly wanted to know whether BoS monetizes his success (a question many neophyte Instagramers ask themselves, to be sure). He does, but not in the way you might think. Unlike many YouTubers who are paid to talk about watches either by earning revenue from ads or through sponsorships, BoS does not get paid to create content for his Instagram posts. He sometimes gets offered straps, which he photographs paired with his amazing watches. He also photographs watches from brands he supports and believes in, which helps him build his portfolio and gives the brand more exposure.
Instead, he leverages his visibility on Instagram to get paid to photograph watches for brands completely outside of the Instagram platform. He has photographed watches for local authorized dealers and grey-market resellers, but he has always made a point to separate the two worlds. He doesn’t want to be paid to photograph a watch to gain more followers. He has never been interested in this approach and never will, and I salute him and any Instagramer who does the same.
As I mentioned before, BoS already has a full-time career as a professional wedding and portrait photographer. He has a genuine passion for horology and for supporting the watch community to which we all belong, and it is thanks to people like him (and others whom I hope to interview in the future) that the watch community thrives and brings us so much pleasure and excitement.
In less than a year, Bowl of Salmon has managed to make a significant impact on the watch community. Thanks to his dedication and passion, he dazzles more than 10,000 people daily with his beautiful watch photography and thoughtful comments and contributes to the expansion and strengthening of the community. If you were to talk to him, you would realize BoS is down-to-earth and genuine, two qualities which explain how he became a successful . . . well . . . you know . . .
Thanks for reading.