With the RL888 collection, the Ralph Lauren – Richemont joint venture introduces its first round watch for women. Ralph Lauren is looking to expand its clientele beyond watchmaking’s inner circle, through a strategy mainly focused on its own stores.
It’s the ‘year of the woman’ at Ralph Lauren. The new RL888 ladies’ collection was designed by Mr Lauren himself. The number 888 is a reference to 888 Madison Avenue in New York, home of the flagship womenswear store. This timepiece inspired by the art deco era—the designer’s favourite period—is the brand’s first round watch for women. “It was a necessary move to develop the segment, as the Stirrup watch has a more polarising shape,” says Guillaume Tetu, who took the helm of the product development department last year.
The RL888 quartz watches are available in polished 18-carat white or rose gold, or stainless steel, with a case diameter of 32 mm or 38 mm. The 32-mm rose gold model is also available with a diamond-set bezel. The dial features a combination of Arabic and oversized Roman numerals (as previously seen in the 867 collection, in a style somewhat reminiscent of Cartier, the precursor of art deco), and the Breguet hands enhance the style. The collection also includes a Haute Joaillerie timepiece in white gold, set with diamonds and black spinels in abstract patterns on the bezel and bracelet.
The unique feature of this collection is the large range of interchangeable bracelets, with 40 or so different colours to choose from in patent alligator leather or calfskin, satin or grosgrain. The watches, which start at 1,900 euros, can also be paired with flexible three-link bracelets.
POTENTIAL IN THE LADIES’ WATCH AND JEWELLERY MARKETS
“The RL888 collection was developed in just one year,” continues Guillaume Tetu. “There’s a lot of potential with female customers, that’s what was most obvious to me when I came to Ralph Lauren. The other major growth lever for the brand, to my mind, is jewellery: we’re going to bring a new dimension to this line of business.”
Guillaume Tetu elaborates: “Our female customers are primarily American and Japanese, followed by Chinese. We also have a strong presence in Paris and Milan.” Today, the watchmaking brand is evenly spread between male and female customers. This year, in parallel with the RL888, the brand also introduced the new RL Automotive 39 mm, inspired by vintage racing cars and with a manual movement manufactured by Jaeger-LeCoultre at its heart, as well as new men’s and ladies’ watches with square cases for the 867 collection.
“We now have two objectives: to convert current Ralph Lauren customers to the watch market on the one hand, and to recruit new customers for Ralph Lauren through watches on the other hand. Half of our watch customers weren’t Ralph Lauren customers! This is a new phenomenon and will help us achieve our goal of expanding our clientele. Our strategy is to increase our presence in our own stores, by setting up proper in-store watch lounges and by motivating sales assistants.” 55% of watches are now distributed through Ralph Lauren boutiques (around 50 stores, which is approximately half of the brand’s stores worldwide) and 45% through retailers (across approximately 40 stores).
STILL A START-UP
Guillaume Tetu also reminds us that “Ralph Lauren is the only American designer to bring out a line of high-quality watches, following the example of the European Haute Couture fashion houses such as Hermès and Chanel. Our ambition has always been to marry quality Swiss watchmaking with the American lifestyle. We wanted to avoid simply licensing the brand for a private-label watch, as many fashion brands have done. In my opinion, that’s a dangerous move that could harm a fashion house’s overall reputation.”
Why did you decide to leave the SIHH? “It was no longer right for us because it was difficult for us to express ourselves there, with all our products and our world, in a small space. To understand Ralph Lauren, you have to step into its world. A place like the Palazzo Ralph Lauren in Milan is far better suited to us. We’re planning several more intimate events throughout the year.” “We’re still just a start-up in terms of watchmaking! We need to work on becoming more coherent. In the United States and Japan, our two principal markets, we outperformed the industry last year. We hope to have a positive year, even in this very difficult environment.”