A season for silver and gold: for holiday 1997, the big hand is on metal

Fashion watch suppliers expect strong holiday 1997 sales of metal watches. The major focuses, in terms of style, include gold, silver and two-tones. Charles Kriete of Kenneth Cole licensee Geneva Watch Co said that all-steel watches are the strongest trend at Cole. He noted that most products in Geneva’s line have steel, silver looks.

Watch firms are projecting ringing for holiday — not bells, but the cash registers — over fashion watches in metals.

Silver, gold and two-tones are all major focuses in the market heading into the season, with the pendulum mostly swinging between all-silver or all-gold tones.

“Basically, the biggest thing we’ve seen in Kenneth Cole is this trend that’s been big in the Far East and Europe — and that’s all-steel watches,” said Charles Kriete, executive vice president for the Cole’s licensee, Geneva Watch Co., based in Long Island City, N.Y. “In our line, out of 75 sku’s, we have six watches that have any two-tone at all, and even that is very subtle,” he added. “The rest of the line is steel, silver looks. The customer’s responding to that.”

Kriete said he felt consumers have been exposed to advertising for white metal looks by fine watch vendors such as Tag Heuer and Rolex, and that has been filtered down to influence the fashion watch business.

He said the trend toward silver tones has been strong overseas for several years.

The stainless steel watches are maintaining the current retail price structure, because it is just as costly to make watches of these materials than it is for metal. Yet, Kriete said, the “consumer is not balking at higher price points.” The Kenneth Cole line wholesales for $30 to $76.

“At retail, a $100 price used to be a psychological barrier to many of the fashion watches,” he said. “There’s no longer that resistance, if the product looks and feels like it’s worth the price.”

With the Kenneth Cole watches, Kriete said the newest elements will be in the bracelet or casual leather strap styles, as opposed to dressy straps and pocket watches.

Geneva Watch also produces the Swiss-made Luger Swiss fashion watches, which Kriete said will also tap into the silver trend by including many steel looks.

Kriete said the brand, at $29 to $56 wholesale, is bringing the “image of quality” of Swiss movements to an affordable retail price.

John Bernstein, president of Swatch U.S., also praised silver.

“The bulk of the presentation is going to be silver,” he said of Swatch’s metal categories. “We’ll offer some gold and two-tone, but Swatch is really taking a position in silver [toned] steel.”

He said Swatch is putting the big push on metals for the season. The firm, known for its pop-arty plastic styles, went into metals in 1994, and Bernstein said it has been a steadily growing part of the business.

“This fall, it will be larger and more important than ever,” he said. “We’ve been able to be developwatches that incorporate the Swatch personality, and we think they will sit well with the plastics.”

He said Swatch expects the metal business to account for as much as 35 to 40 percent of sales, a “higher proportion than it has been running.”

The steel watches, known as the Swatch Irony collection, wholesale for $27.50 to $62.50, while the plastic watches wholesale for $20 to $45.

Bernstein said the push for metals was in answer to the question of how to increase the business’s base, to “reach customers who have migrated to a more serious fine watch or, for whatever reason, want a metal watch.”

Of course, the firm will still limited-offer novelty styles for holiday, such as metal-tone styles with rhinestone accents.

Olena Race, a marketing manager for Callanen International, which produces the licensed line of Guess watches, said color and metals will be hot for holiday.

“Two-tones in metals are absolutely strong for women,” she said. Depending on the geographical region, women choose different tones, she noted. For instance, the West Coast and the South are strong in silver, while gold is strong in the Midwest.

Guess has added brightly colored dials to the watches — red, yellow, orange, green and blue — to attract customers in the stores.

“We think the bright color dials just pop and will get consumers to walk over and get a closer look.”

She also feels that the launching of the higher-priced Guess Collection watches at the end of September will grab customers’ attention.

The wholesale range for the fashion collection is $24 to $57.50, while the Guess Collection watcheswill be $75 to $125.

At Liz Claiborne Watches, the metal of choice is gold.

Cary Loomis, marketing assistant for Liz Claiborne watches, which is also licensed by Callanen, said the focus for holiday includes concentrating on Indiglo faces and gold.

The Indiglo feature, which illuminates a watch face for viewing in darkness, is that extra feature that women find useful in a fashion watch, she said.

Liz Claiborne Watches will offer about 15 percent leather straps for the holiday line, about 60 percent metals and about 25 percent interchangeable watches, which come with different straps and bezels.

The emphasis on metals is clear.

“Our metal business has been extremely strong, especially in the gold,” Loomis said. “So we’re focusing on keeping our customer happy with a variety of metals.”

At Carolee Designs, the emphasis is on details that are more often found in jewelry than in the watch market, according to president Carolee Friedlander.

“We’re trying to differentiate ourselves by using unique materials that most watchmakers wouldn’t dream about,” Friedlander said. “But we have the familiarity with them because we’ve used them in jewelry.”

As one example of the unusual materials, Carolee is offering a watch style with pave rhinestone accents on the face and a satin strap.

Friedlander also said that more delicate, feminine watch faces seem to be a trend among consumers.

The wholesale range at Carolee is $30 to $75 for fashion watches and $123 to $225 for sterling.

At Timex, Tracie Vaccaro, brand manager for fashion watches, said they’ve taken two different directions based on cues from apparel –feminine and petite or larger and slightly oversized.

“For holiday, we are concentrating on gold finishes — gold seems to be where things are right now,” she said. “There’s definitely a silver trend, but being a brand with more mass appeal, it’s more difficult to sell silver than gold.

“The trend is in finishes in either all gold or all silver, and we’ve taken the gold route,” she added. “For the first time in a while, we’re seeing a decline in two-tone fashion watches.”

The wholesale range for the brand is $45 to $58.

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