Women’s ready-to-wear designers are increasingly looking toward haute couture to find those special touches that can be adapted to distinguish a garment, and now main-floor watchmakers are following suit.
Brands like Casio, Guess, Fossil, Bulova and Citizen are adding chronographs, dual dials, moon phases, sweeps and other signature complications from the world of haute horology to transform today’s wristwatches into anything but basic timepieces.
“Watches with complications have been around for hundreds of years,” said Andrew J. Block, senior vice president of Tourneau, which has 21 watch stores throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean. “They first came out of Europe in the 1800s. But they’ve [proliferated] since the late Eighties and early Nineties.”
Block said these watches are typically favored among men, because the cases generally need to be larger to fit all of the movements within.
At April’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, however, a number of luxury watch companies established a new trend by showing complicated timepieces targeted toward women.
While these watches are high on functionality and can offer additional resources to a female consumer who already carries around a cell phone or BlackBerry that tells the time, many watchmakers concede that women will respond to these new timepieces more for their aesthetic.
“The number of people buying watches to tell time has been shrinking over the years due to the explosion of the cell phone,” said Dave Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing for timepieces at Casio Inc. “[People want] watches to do more than just tell time. A watch needs to have a functional lifestyle application, or it has to be a brand with an image and status that matches that person.”
In order to translate the high-end trend for the main-floor market, many brands are opting to use Asian parts, which are less expensive than their Swiss counterparts.
Fossil, for example, is introducing its new automatic Rotor watch for the spring season. The Rotor takes its cue from high-end Swiss watches, like those by Vacheron Constantin, Blancpain and Corum, which offer skeleton cases, a clear case allowing one to see the working movements within. The watch’s rotor, a weighted balance that spins and winds the spring in the automatic watch, can be viewed through this clear case and is made all the more dazzling for a female consumer with the addition of crystal studs. It retails for $95.
“It’s a challenge because of the assembly,” said Karen Schuback, director of product design and development for Fossil Inc., which is using Japanese movements in its watches to cut costs. “Because [a complicated watch is] put together by hand, it’s much more difficult to assemble than an analogue or battery-operated watch. There are a lot more steps to it.”
Android, a watch company based in Deerfield Beach, Fla., offers skeleton case watches for spring. One style, the Challenger Skeleton Automatic, retailing for $249, has a 36-hour power reserve and a profusion of cogs and wheels that commands attention.
“People are fascinated by the look of it, because you can see all the parts,” said designer Wing Liang. “Traditionally skeleton watches cost thousands of dollars. We have made it affordable by using Swiss parts that are assembled in Hong Kong so that anyone can enjoy the watch.”
Callanen International, which produces Guess and Nautica watches, is looking to Asia, as well.
“This part of the watchmaking industry used to belong to the Swiss. Now it’s migrated to Japan andChina,” said Cindy Livingston, president and chief executive officer of Callanen.
Guess is adapting for women a men’s style featuring a sweep movement within a tonneau-shaped stainless steel case. The styles will begin retailing in May, with retail prices ranging from $105 to $135.
“Main-floor watch departments, specifically Guess, follow trends in watch shapes, colors and details,” said Livingston. “Complications and movements are another trend. When women pay attention to high-end watch advertising, they follow the trend, but it’s the look that they follow. On a subliminal level, [consumers] understand that it’s an expensive movement and for those people who can’t afford it, they want something that looks like it.”
Oceanus, a Casio-produced men’s sport watch line featuring chronographs that launched in June, is responding to the trend in the luxury market by adding on women’s styles. The more feminine silhouettes will be on the main floor in March, with prices ranging from $380 to $400 retail.
Bulova includes in its spring assortment a chronograph watch, which is given a feminine touch with diamond markers on the brushed steel bezel, gradient hues of blue on the dial and a coordinated leather strap. The style will retail for $450.
Citizen’s Eco-Drive Ladies’ Fashion Strap watch, retailing for $295, will feature more than a few points of interest. It has a one-second chronograph that can measure one-hour, 12-hour and 24-hour time periods. Fashionable touches include a pink strap and a mother-of-pearl dial surrounded by a Swarovski crystal-studded bezel.
“Ladies’ chronographs seem to have come of age,” said Laurence R. Grunstein, president of Citizen Watch Company of America Inc., president of Citizen of Canada and managing director of Citizen Watch United Kingdom Ltd.
He attributed the cause to the sporty aesthetic of complicated watches.
“The reason you’re seeing a lot of these watches is because dress in general has gotten a bit more casual,” he said. “When you go to the theater today, you don’t see people wearing a jacket anymore. It’s jeans or elegant casual.”
Sebastiano Di Bari, managing director in charge of U.S. operations of Sector Group USA, agreed.
“If you look at the past 10 years, women have changed the way that they buy their watches,” said Di Bari, whose company produces Sector watches and timepieces for the Valentino, Pirelli, Moschino and Roberto Cavalli brands. “Overall the lifestyle [of the consumer] is going more toward the sporty and athletic. Watches change together with that. People like to mix and match an expensive top with Levi’s jeans, and the watch becomes the casual-chic piece.”
As for how long the trend of complications will continue, only time will tell.
“We see that complications in watches are becoming more accepted in the marketplace and it’s not just at the high-end level,” said Brad Bollinger, senior design manager for Fossil. “By integrating them into the watch’s design, there’s more of an enjoyment factor in it.”
After all, as Citizen’s Grunstein said: “Women don’t buy [watches] for functionality. They buy for looks. It’s like hemlines or hats.”
Spring’s complicated watches are more than just a pretty face. Here, a brief glossary of some of the details that make them tick:
AUTOMATIC: A watch that doesn’t require a battery. The energy source is the movement of the wearer’s wrist via a rotor.
CHRONOGRAPH: A watch with two independent time systems, one measuring the time of the day and the other measuring a briefer interval of time, such as seconds, minutes or even hours. Each is controlled by a separate crown.
COMPLICATION: Any function on a watch that tells something other than the time or date.
DUAL DIAL: A watch with two dials within a case, enabling the timepiece to have a second time zone.
MECHANICAL: A watch that winds at the crown, supplying it with energy.
MOON PHASE: A watch complication that depicts the phases of the moon as seen from Earth.
MOVEMENT: The engine of a watch.
QUARTZ: A battery-operated watch.
ROTOR: A weighted metal disc inside the case of an automatic watch that is made to rotate by the energy produced by the movements of the wearer’s arm. These rotations help wind the watch.
SKELETON: A watch with a clear or partially transparent case, allowing the movements within to be seen.
SUB SECOND: A second “second” hand, which helps joggers and divers time their sports by acting as a stopwatch.
SWEEP: A minute hand that counts from zero to 60 and jumps back to zero at the end of each hour via a spring. Also known as a spring hand.