The sports watch is moving in three distinct directions: Sports Style. General Sports. Sports-Specific/Professional. These three very diverse groups demonstrate how popular “sports watches” truly are.
Entry level and fashion brands have appropriated the look of sports watches, without the high specifications. This way, the consumer can look sporty without having to spend the money to actually own a sports watch. This is a big segment of watches, as the look is a strong one and the price can be quite modest, it doesn’t require a manufacturer to do any real sports testing nor to make it highly shockproof or water resistant.
“We find ourselves in sport-inspired watches featuring design elements such as: pure shapes with a sport-chic touch, structured and coloured silicone straps, perforated leather straps, iconic dials, over-sized cases, multi-eye function movements,” says Andreas Schwörer, Sales Director Tommy Hilfiger Watches & Jewelry & Juicy Couture Timepieces for Europe, Middle East & Africa.
A company like TAG Heuer is an interesting study, as the brand started with sports-specific timepieces and has evolved into having collections that are truly sports watches and having collections that are, as Stephane Linder, president, says, “sports-inspired. We are not just a sports watch brand, we are a brand inspired by the value of sports,” he notes.
“We have real sports watches and we have sports inspired watches. These timepieces still have character, but they are elegant and upscale watches. We have moved from professional sports watches to a prestige company that has sports watches, and much more.”
A strong category in sports watches is the general sports watch, one that is robust and has strong styling and sports features (chronographs, water resistance, visibility, luminosity, etc.). These watches are designed to take a beating from any number of different activities – running, lifting, swimming, etc., but they aren’t dive watches and they aren’t pilot watches. They can go to the gym, the beach and the office, and look good doing it all.
Reactor is a brand that made its name making the best sports watches possible, and president Jimmy Olmes bemoans the increased competition in the sports watch world. “It seems as if every company is now jumping into the sports watch market, even companies that have never had a history or culture for sport watches,” he says. “There are more and more 500 metre to 1000 metre watches on the market, with helium release valves (even though they are not necessary for anyone other than industrial divers or submersibles). We are also seeing integrated depth gauges, and much more. With more and more companies trying to produce ‘real’ performance sport watches, we continue to try to keep ahead of them.
Part of our culture is trying to do things that no other company has done in the past. And as we build more and more expertise, we can build on our past successes.
“Many of our customers buy our product first on looks and then second on features and benefits,” he continues. “Over 65 per cent of our customers own more than one Reactor watch. We believe they get hooked on the feel and overall functions and come back for more, especially since we have unique looks and we are a very good value. I think the only category that is really specific is for avid divers – they are looking for highly luminous watches with a high depth rating.”
Certina has been steadily growing in general sports watches with high specifications and impressive features. “In the Certina history, the brand always had the philosophy to offer highest quality and precision possible,” says Adrian Bosshard, President of Certina.
“Therefore we’re proud to be able to offer, thanks to the huge Research and Development resources of the Swatch Group, a lot of new technologies and features to our customers. The key point is that we are able to offer such additional values without leaving our price segment which is between CHF 300 and 2000.”
A number of companies, like Breitling, Panerai, Bremont, Seiko, Bell & Ross and others that made their names in sports-specific or professional arenas, then moved as close to the mainstream as they could.
“Bell & Ross has always created watches for professional use catering to specific needs, like our BR03-94 Type Aviation for the Armée de l’Air Française, but each year we try to bring something new and different,” says Alexandra Castro, director of communications, Bell & Ross. “In 2014 we released our Vintage Sport GMT, which has a chronograph plus a GMT complication.
“There has always been a good demand for sport watches in the United States,” she continues. “Before people were happy owning a quartz watch that had the look & features they wanted, but more and more we are seeing that there is a culture for luxury mechanism watches. People who require a sports performing watch have an understanding and are looking for luxury and performance.”
Sports watches continue to play a very important role in the markets for Hamilton, according to the brand. Hamilton boasts two main lines– Khaki and American Classic. The Khaki Line is seen as the more sporty execution of Hamilton watches divided into Field, Navy and Aviation.
The special technical functions in this line play an important role and the focus lies mainly on the chronographs. The Khaki chronographs are very advanced in design and are becoming more and more sophisticated. Over the past years Hamilton has observed that its customers have been inspired by its aviation references and are, therefore, clearly buying sports-specific watches. For the new collection, Hamilton has completely reworked and upped the specifications of its bestseller the X-Wind. It has a sophisticated design and a drift-angle calculator to satisfy technical and aesthetic demands of aviation enthusiasts. Other features include the multi-level dial with a 3D effect, bigger case, lighter weight as well as rubber reinforced pushers, crown and bezel.
Bremont has been making pilots watches for squadrons and groups of professional pilots since they began, including the watch for survivors of Martin Baker ejector seats. This year, Bremont announced its partnership with Boeing, becoming the first watch to work with Boeing in its long history.
“All of our partnerships with squadrons got back to them,” says Nick English, co-founder, Bremont. “Boeing is a very powerful organization, their work in the military is massive, and they are the best in the world in material search (composites, strength, lightness). We want to be the mechanical watch of choice for the aviation market, and this partnership with Boeing has set us up for just that.”
Nixon is driven by the high demands of pro surfers to set the specs of its range of watches. “In general, the biggest change is the user’s ability and/or desire to track their sporting activities on a macro or micro level,” says Joe Babcock, Category Manager of Technical Products for Nixon. “For Nixon the demands have changed in a sense that our consumer lives a more recreational (or rugged) life than most, therefore, we need to up the ante by assuring our watches are built to withstand the rigorous abuse the Nixon pro team dishes out.
“The majority of our performance watches are surf watches focusing on tide forecasting,” continues Babcock. “For our tide watches we increased the number of global tide locations pre-programmed in all of our digital tide watches (The Supertide, Lodown II, Lodown S and Rhythm). We‘ve also added a high-resolution display to the Supertide to make it more legible in and out of the water. The reasoning behind these advancements stems from our drive to make the best product possible. Technology is moving at a rapid pace and when we unearth a new component that allows us to house more tide than any other brand we focus on being the brand to use it first. Our consumers like this about Nixon.
For Nixon, this segment is a strong category. We have yet to branch into the fitness sport category but have some interesting ideas in orbit that we may move on.”
Across the board, people believe that sports watches will continue to be popular, as long as they continue to tap into what makes customers tick.
“The sports watch segment is absolutely here to stay,” says Barry Cohen, president, Luminox. “We went from a more formal world a few decades ago, where all guys wore suits and ties daily, to casual Friday, to what is now a more casual lifestyle in general. With this comes the need to accessorize our more casual outfits with a more relaxed and sporty timepiece so it’s just a natural fit.”
Sports watches are the most versatile watches in any collection, so often they become the standard bearers for the brands. “The sports segment is very strong, as it allows greater visibility for faster brand recognition,” says Sandra Martial, general manager, GTO Watches. “Your reputation can be at risk if you are pursuing the wrong target, however. GTO Watches benefits from the experience and the know-how of experts working daily on the time measuring instruments in car racing.”
For some brands, the sports watch with the highest spec has become its best seller. “Our most popular watch is the 51-30 Tide,” says Babcock from Nixon. “The idea for the watch came from wanting a big watch with bright bold numbers to be visible when diving and a crown moved to the left side of the dial so there’s no ‘wrist bite’ when paddling into waves, duck-diving (in surfing) and when you’re wearing a wetsuit. We then combined this oversized and unique design with a custom-built Swiss made analogue tide movement. When you see the 51-30 Tide, it’s far from what a conventional sports watch looks like. Sometimes, breaking the mould and going against the grain pays off.”
In addition, sports watches are catching on all over the world, including China, which has historically shown little interest in sports watches. Hamilton is convinced that the future of sports watches is very promising for Hamilton and in more traditional markets like Greater China, the brand is noticing a growing interest in chronographs and bigger watches.
All in all, the future for sports watches looks bright. “I hope the future for sports watches is robust, since all we make are sport performance watches,” says Reactor’s Olmes. “I do not see them going away as long as they perform and are comfortable to wear, but they must be comfortable.”
“Due to the globalization, I believe that customers will be more and more attracted by sport watches,” confirms Certina’s Bosshard. “And with that sport watches will gain market share in the Chinese market and Chinese tourist areas as well.”
Performance is the key – there has to be some real value in sports watches to help them stand out. “There will always be a market for sport watches because there will always be people who have a passion/interest to perform,” says Bell & Ross’s Castro. “These days people want a watch that is elegant and compliments their style, but also works as a precise instrument ensuring reliability, performance and resistance – we strive to provide that.”
Source: Europa Star June - July 2014 Magazine Issue