Dismissed a few years ago as boring and unexciting, these watches are becoming the staple they used to be – elegant, traditional designs that can stay in a watch brand’s line, or a retailer’s window, for years with only slight tweaks and updates. For retailers, it’s more important than ever to have examples of classic elegant watches in your display cases, as customers are turning back to tried and true timepieces as a backlash against the outlandish, and hedge on the future.
Is it really a trend?
Classic and elegant watches have been a staple for many brands, but companies are seeing a renewed interest. “Asians and Chinese men in particular like simple, understated and elegant watches,” says Philippe Leopold-Metzger, Chief Executive Officer, Piaget. “In the rest of the world the recession has generated a return towards more classical shapes and watches.
”For Piaget, elegance is an intrinsic part of our DNA,“he continues.”In fact, our passion for ultra thin mechanical movements has only one objective: to allow us to design slim and beautiful watches. Therefore we will continue to do what we do best."
ALTIPLANO VINTAGE by Piaget
Patek Philippe OFFICER’S-STYLE CALATRAVA, Ref. 5153J A sapphire crystal case back with hinged dust cover reveals the mechanical self winding movement with date - Calibre 324 S C. The 38 mm, 18 carat yellow gold case features a centre sweep second hand, silvery opaline dial with hand guilloché centre, applied gold hour markers and a hand-stitched alligator strap.
As flashy watches and here-today, gone-tomorrow styles fade, understated watches are coming to the forefront.
“We have seen more interest in classic, el-egant watches,” confirms Larry Pettinelli, President, Patek Philippe North America. “When the market goes through ups and downs, people tend to go back to basic and classic designs and steer away from wilder designs that might not be in vogue five or ten years from now. That is good for companies like Patek Philippe. Part of it is due to the economic turbulence. People are watching what they spend, and they tend to spend on things with more long term value.
“The nature of our brand is elegant, classic watches,” he continues. “Thierry Stern has been willing to stretch the boundaries, but they all still have the Patek Philippe spirit. Everyone is very conscious that all our watches need to feel like a Patek Philippe.”
“There has been an assertion for brands that have their essence in pure, sober and classical pieces,” says Marc A. Hayek, President of Montres Jaquet Droz SA. “Classic is not only a trend, but timeless, with sure lasting values. The trend of extremes, besides the brands where it is their DNA, is slowing down.”
Slim and tasteful is in. “There is definitely an increasing offer by many Swiss watch brands of classic, elegant watches,” says David Vallata, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, Carl f. Bucherer. “Compared with three - four years back, more classical watches, in a smaller size, slimmer, with a simple design in 18 carat gold, have completed the brands’ collections.
“There is a shift of focus from developed watch markets such as the US, Europe and Japan to developing markets such as China or India,” he continues. “In these markets, consumers’ tastes can be compared with tastes in developed markets 15-20 years back. In many cases, these consumers are new to Swiss watch brands and are therefore more interested in classical watches, believing that this reflects a longer lasting purchasing decision and in many cases a belief that these watches will keep the value and can be considered an investment. But also consumers in developed watch markets are again looking more and more for watches with a timelessly reduced design and watches that are not short-lived fashion statements, but represent lasting values and fascinate its wearer year after year.”
Vintage looks are also in vogue, though up-dates for size and modern touches are a must. “Even though there is a constant demand for classic, elegant watches, we have noticed an increased demand,” says Patrick Schwarz, CEO, Eterna/Porsche design. “Especially purist designs from the 1950s and 1960s are clearly in vogue. As we have witnessed it in the past, there is always a return to the fundamentals, to the real values when times are harder. Customers rather invest in lasting values such as timeless classic designs.”
MANERO COLLECTION by Carl f. Bucherer, THE ECLIPSE by Jaquet Droz
Watches that are timeless are intrinsically more valuable. “During and after difficult times (for not to say the ugly word crisis), it is quite natural for human beings to orientate themselves again towards traditional and safe values,” explains Jan Edöcs, President, Milus. “And they are looking again for a perceived value in all aspects of life.”
IWC is proud of its classic roots and designs. “Classical elegance is not a trend; on the contrary, it is the epitome of timelessness and will therefore always be up to date,” explains Christian Knoop, Creative Director of IWC. “The IWC brand stands for elegant, timeless watches. Demand remains as high as ever, as confirmed by the new Portuguese models, which have been extremely popular. Classical, elegant timepieces will remain an important mainstay of the IWC collection for many years to come.”
Ralph lauren introduced an interesting collection of very classical designs, which has been perfect for today’s market. “In these times, customers are returning to fundamentals and seeking timepieces that represent authenticity, longevity and functionality,” says Guy Châtillon, CEO, Ralph lauren Watch & Jewellery Co. “High quality watches with slender silhouettes, classic dimensions and the essential functions are in line with today’s demand for timeless goods of enduring relevance and true values.”
For Jaeger-LeCoultre, classic has never gone out of style. “Interest in classic, elegant watches has never been something that has dwindled,” says Jérôme Lambert, President, Jaeger-LeCoultre. “Even when larger and sportier watches were at their peak in popularity, the backbone of fine watchmaking remained in the classic and elegant lines. Now, a classic watch doesn’t need to be simple, but rather it’s classic if it combines the history of fine watchmaking (something Jaeger-LeCoultre prides itself on as a 177 year old manufacture) with the new innovations of today’s world. Elegance is wearing a beautiful and perfectly made watch. That will never go out of style.”
MADISON EIGHT-DAYS by Eterna
TIRION TriRetrograde Seconds – TIRI010 by Milus 45 mm, 9-part case, stainless steel, Swiss mechanical movement in an exclusive special version, automatic winding, retrograde seconds in 3 sectors of 20 seconds each, date display at 6 o’clock, dial made of two distinctive parts: hour circle and motion work with stamped decoration of centric waves and centre with sun-stamped decoration, blue numerals, faceted skeleton hands partially coated with white SuperLuminova, open inner area ø 26 mm, curved sapphire crystal, sapphire crystal case back secured with 6 screws, skeleton oscillating weight in the form of the Milus logo with the brand symbol, water-resistant to 3 ATM and black alligator strap.
Who is benefiting?
Companies who already had a classical aspect to their brands are reaping the rewards, as they do not have to hustle to meet this market demand. Companies like Patek Philippe, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, Frédérique Constant, Hamilton, Oris, Omega and many others are in a great position to take advantage of the current market trend towards classicism.
On the other hand, you have the companies that were pushing the envelope when it came to design that are struggling. Hautlence, a high watchmaking company with interesting designs, responded quickly to this trend by introducing a more traditional round watch, which has begun to sell quite well. Guillaume Tetu, Hautlence’s COO, noticed that the market was moving away from non-traditional shapes, which Hautlence’s original HL definitely was, so the round version has picked up customers the brand never had before. Add to this the fact that Hautlence has also introduced some ladies versions and sales are really picking up.
“Generally speaking, many brands were offering - in the recent years - very spectacular products, with extroverted aesthetics and somehow ‘show off’ character,” says Christian Selmoni, Product Marketing Director, Vacheron Constantin. “Then, the financial turmoil suddenly arrived and caused a major change in most clients’ minds: probably this is how and why we came so quickly back to classic watches. However, in reality, many famous houses of watchmaking, often with a long history, were still making classic timepieces - even during the ‘bling era’! In conclusion, the financial crisis has put a spotlight on such classic, elegant products that were still very alive and present in their collections. Of course, it was especially the case for Vacheron Constantin. Our classic timepieces have always been very popular, and so the present situation can be perceived as a recognition for our efforts and consistency.”
“I don’t think this means that the outlandish, crazy watches no longer have a market, but it has definitely gotten smaller,” adds Rolando Braga, President of Armand Nicolet. “New designs have a place in the market, especially in fashion watches. The interest is really strong in traditional, prestigious Swiss watch brands.
STIRRUP CHRONOGRAPH by Ralph lauren, PORTUGUESE CHRONOGRAPH by IWC
“Copying the geometrical shapes of the new designs, like the cheap productions from the Far East do with the newer styles of watches, is much easier than copying the traditional classic finishing that can be created only by using the know-how and expertise that belong to the handcrafting capability of the classic Swiss watch industry. So people who buy expensive and sophisticated watches feel safer when selecting products that are more difficult to copy.” Continues Braga
Traditional, classic companies have also been able to focus on time-tested horological and artisanal techniques as well, like enamelling, cloisonné, miniature painting, lacquer and more – traditional arts that add value to the tried and true designs, making these watches even more desirable.
“There is a different watch for every different person in the world,” says Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Lambert. “I will never say that it is time for any watch to be over. If Asian countries, like China, for example, love the classical size, some other growing territories like South America are fond of big, technical watches like the Master Compressor Extreme Lab 2.”
Here are some examples of traditional watches that are currently best sellers: Piaget: “The Altiplano is the best selling model on a strap,“says Leopold Metzger.”It has a simplicity that people love, and really is design-wise a perfect mix between modernity and tradition."
Patek Philippe: “Our best selling elegant watch for men is the 5153, it’s round and el-egant, has a lot of great detail,” says Pettinelli. “It’s this kind of watch where the artisans can showcase their abilities. Putting the hunting case back on takes them between two to four days just to get it right. The old 96 model, one of the iconic styles of Patek Philippe, is now in the 5396 and the 5296, and that is a great, clean look for us. On the ladies side, the 7119, it’s classic. The 24 is also one of our best sellers.”
Jaeger-LeCoultre: “The Reverso is not just a classic and elegant watch, it tells a story, it has tradition,” says Lambert. “Each tick of a Reverso watch reminds its wearer that they are not just wearing a classic watch, but a bit of watchmaking history.”
Vacheron Constantin: “Our best-selling classic model is undoubtedly the ‘Patrimony Contemporaine,’ which is a very pure and an ‘essential’ timepiece, with a manual or self-winding in-house movement,“says Selmoni.”This timepiece is the perfect example of our ‘timeless classicism’ design: a contemporary size with a diameter of 40mm, and almost minimalist aesthetics with references to our brand’s iconic creations of the ’50s such as the ‘pearl’ minute-track. The Patrimony Contemporaine is becoming a real icon in our collections and its success is still growing year after year."
Ralph lauren: "In general, the Stirrup has been the most popular with its heritage aesthetic, however there has also been a strong response to the Slim Classique models with their refined look and genuine guilloché craftsmanship,” says Châtillon.
IWC: “The Portuguese Chronograph Ref. 3714 is our most popular model,” says Knoop. “Its large, clear-cut dial, the timeless, inconspicuous design, the moderate height of the case and the fact it lies in our medium price range, have all played a role. Incidentally, the Portuguese Chronograph is also very popular with women.”
GRAND REVERSO DUO DATE by Jaeger-LeCoultre, PATRIMONY TRADITIONNELLE by Vacheron Constantin
Eterna: “Today, Vaughan is definitely our best seller, a timeless elegant automatic watch featuring the proprietary Eterna movement calibre 3030,” notes Schwarz. “However, the new Madison Eight-Days with Eterna Spherodrive that will be launched this coming November will certainly take a leading position within our classic range. These two collections offer timepieces with classical designs and innovative traditional Swiss watchmaking.”
Carl f. Bucherer: “The Manero Perpetual,” says Vallata. “With its classically designed watch case and dial and the popular function of a perpetual calendar; it offers a combination appealing to taste in developing, but also developed markets. The level of quality ensures the buyer has invested in a watch that will increase in value.”
Armand Nicolet: “The Limited Edition L08/ LS8 because it is a line that uses only the best of our artisanal traditions here in Switzerland,” says Braga.
Milus: “The Tirion collection is definitely our best-selling classic yet elegant watch,” Edöcs says. “It is a perfect tribute to the Milus design tradition and a homage to the passing of time. The Tirion Classic TIRC002 and the Tirion TriRetrograde Seconds TIRI010 represent two different but still highly classical styles.”
No one expects the popularity of traditional watches to be short lived – they are a staple of the watch industry and will continue to remain so.
“I think classic is always in style,” says Patek Philippe’s Pettinelli. “Everyone has their blue blazer, and the women have their black cocktail dress. People just add to their collections when things are better. Nowadays, we are seeing a return to the classics. In the 22 years I’ve been here, Patek Philippe has always been tried and true and in a position where that classic elegance is a mainstay in people’s wardrobes. That is something we have to connect with the younger generation, we have to educate people about why a fine timepiece is a necessity in your wardrobe — younger people have to be helped in this direction.”
Crazy watches might be less popular right now, but some trends remain, like bigger sizes, interesting materials and interesting elements. “The time for flashy, oversized and over-equipped watches is certainly over,” says Eterna’s Schwarz. “However, there will always be a market for bigger-sized watches. Ladies today wear watches with a case diameter of 42 mm. And watches with a 44 mm case have become a standard for gentlemen.
“Classic, elegant watches are not a trend but simply timeless,” Schwarz continues. “Thus, they will always remain. The demand for such designs may increase, as people tend to go back to true values when times are harder. At Eterna we continue to trust in classic, elegant designs.”
Oversized, design-focused timepieces will still be a market niche, says Ralph lauren’s Châtillon. “Each customer’s design preference is different. It is a question of personal sensibility. However, most customers share the same expectations: whether a watch is appreciated for its opulence or its simplicity, the most important element is to offer a distinct timepiece of intrinsic value and excellence in functionality and quality. Thanks to our unique partnership, we’re able to bring to the market a one-of-a-kind offering in line with these expectations, combining the well-recognized horological expertise of Richemontwith the signature aesthetic of Ralph lauren.”
L08 by Armand Nicolet, HLC03 by Hautlence
“I believe that the trend towards more classically styled timepieces will last for a long time because in my opinion it isn’t just the consequence of a fashion trend but the result of a better knowledge of the market in terms of artisan watches,” notes Armand Nicolet’s Braga.
Classics, according to the experts, will never go out of style. “Round or traditional shaped watches have been better selling than outsized, outlandish watches for quite some time now,” says Milus’ Edoc. “Outsized and outlandish watches have in our opinion not a long-lasting life cycle. But different shapes and sizes are important to create an overall brand image and to satisfy trendsetters and people who have a unique and personal taste. Therefore, classical and elegant watches are not a trend but ‘must-haves.’”
Source: Europa Star October - November 2010 Magazine Issue