Watches keep time with fashion

The fashion watch market has evolved into a more sophisticated and fashion-forward classification with higher prices and a wider variety of offerings.

While the $30 retail plastic watch still has its place in the department, sales with watches retailing from $50 to $100 are seeing a surge in the marketplace, according to stores and makers.

Retailers and manufacturers agree that newness and a close connection to fashion trends is what is keeping the customer coming back to add to her watch collection.

Classic-looking watches with a retro feeling are key, and larger faces with textured leather straps are growing in important. Versions of bracelet watches are expected to be strong sellers for the holiday season.

The fashion watches have become more serious,” said Jane Tuma, vice president of fashion direction, at Saks Fifth Avenue, New York. “Everyone has a plastic, fun watch. Now they want new, more elegant watches.”

Tuma said a watch has to be special to perform at retail. Strong brands at Saks are Guess watchesand the Fossil watches, Tuma pointed out, adding that the bulk of sales are done between $50 and $100. “Big faces continue to be a strong trend, and all bracelet watches are good sellers.”

Doris Johanson, senior vice president of accessories at Bloomingdale’s, New York, said, “Fashionwatches are a hot area, and there is a lot of excitement in the department.” She added, “The look is serious, yet fun.”

Important watch trends at Bloomingdale’s include retro-looking watches, bracelets, double-face dials and ring watches. Johanson noted while the business appears to be getting away from plasticwatches, Swatch Watch is maintaining its business. “The consumer is looking for fashion in a watch because she is wearing her watch the way she wears fashion jewelry, changing it everyday.”

Mickey Callanen, owner of Callanen and Group, producers and distributors of the Guess watch line, said he is building his business with higher prices. “The trend is toward better-price fashion watches with more value.” He anticipates prices will continue to rise as the customer looks for more sophisticated watches.

The bulk of the Guess watch business is done between $19 and $27.50 wholesale. The firm also does a strong business with plastic watches, but Callanen noted sales in this area are geared toward the younger market. He projects his firm will see 50 percent increases in business this holiday.

The dominant themes in the new Guess watch collection are classic watches with ostrich, lizard and crocodile bands; western-looking watches and a group of watches with suede bands.

At Armitron Watches, producers of Anne Klein, Sutton and Peter Max watch brands, elegant, more sophisticated looks are dominating its new collection. “Initially, there was a tremendous explosion of colorful, fun watches,” said Jerry Dikowitz, director of advertising. “Now, the fun watches are just one segment of the business. It is a natural outgrowth of the fashion watch business. People now want elegant, more sophisticated watches.”

Dikowitz said his watches are in tune with the trends in apparel. Looks include dial treatments with enamel to simulate mother-of-pearl, tiger eye and lapis. Oversize dials continue to be strong, and stretch bands on watches are expected to be big business this holiday. Wholesale prices range from $15 to $95 at Armitron.

Jonathon Neetlefield, general manager, marketing and advertising for Pulsar Time, makers of Pulsar, Lorus and Jaz Time watch brands, said the market is moving away from what he calls “cheap chic.”

“Plastic watches still have a place in the market, primarily the younger customer, but ultimately the consumer is coming back to more serious watches,” he said. “However, the customer will not accept boring watches.”

Each Pulsar division is geared toward a different market segment: Pulsar, wholesaling from $25 to $100, is classic, fun watches; Lorus, which also offers the Mickey Mouse collection, wholesales from $10 to $30; and Jaz Time, a line designed in France, is high fashion, wholesaling from $35 to $100.

Different colored, textured leather watch bands are important at Pulsar, and Neettelfield anticipates the larger faces will continue to be a key trend.

Sandy Roland, executive vice president of Swatch Watch, U.S.A., expects strong sales from the new Pop Swatch this holiday market. It has a larger face and can be stuck onto almost anything. Also new are watches with designs on the band, and Roland said initial reaction to this has been strong. He projects 25 percent increases in the August market.

“The watch business is driven by important designs and key items,” said Roland. “To maintain the business, we need to distribute and stay in stock in these items.”

Roland said Swatch’s most recent designs are more mature. He said the customer is looking for a total look in a watch, and that is why they have added designs and details to the bands. Also new are holes and ribbing on the watch bands. Strong designs include animal prints, a tortoise look and a Vienna Deco design.

Amelia Kennedy, the fashion watch designer for Timex, also sees sales are slipping in the lower end of the watch business. “price is not as big a factor; the customer wants style and fashion and will spend more for it.”

Prices at Timex range from $10 to $50 wholesale, and Kennedy said the bulk of the business is done between $25 and $50 wholesale. Timex is offering a wide range of bracelet watches, which Kennedy believes will be the strongest trend this holiday.

Carol Dauplaise, fashion jewelry firm, started its watch division two years ago, and sales have been strong, surpassing the firm’s expectations. Diane McGowan, vice president said, “A lot of the important trends in the fashion watch business are initiated from the fine watch area.” An example of this, she noted, are the strong sales her firm has experienced with the chronographic watch, which she calls an updated version of the diver’s watch.

The Dauplaise collection wholesales from $35 to $50. Textured leather bands have been an important trend at the firm; however, McGowan anticipates textures will die down after holiday. Newness includes colored faces.

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