If you thought dealing with the tremendous number of watches introduced at Baselworld this year was challenging, consider what the watch industry’s fashion brands have to contend with.
Instead of product introductions once a year, they have four major introductions, one a season, and for some companies, this can be hundreds of new products each time.
It’s a big challenge, but the volume of watches fashion companies move is a big enough reward to make it all worthwhile.
- Dior VIII Grand Bal
The fashion industry is driven by brand names like Gucci, Chanel, Dior, Ferragamo and others. There are also fashion elements to many mainstream brands and fashion watches that follow the trends established by the bigger brands. In fact, it’s a bit difficult to define the fashion watch segment of the industry, as there are so many players at so many different levels.
- Nantucket collection by Hermès
As Ali Soltani, owner of Ritmo Mundo, explains it, “I feel that there is a merging of fashion luxury brands versus purely fashion watches. In my world, ‘fashion watches’ can range from $50-$500 and even more if the product DNA is concentrated on fashion versus technical and/or pure design.”
“Most customers use the watch much like any other accessory to make a fashion statement whether it is layering an arm party or focusing on a colour trend like coloured dials or rose gold metals.” Andreas Schwörer
At its most basic, fashion watches are considered trendy, low-priced items that are by nature seasonal, using the “now” colours and styles. This is quite a burden on fashion watch companies, because they always have to be working on the next collection, the next trend, the next hot style. The watches these companies offer don’t have a long shelf life, but a hit is still a hit and can result in incredible volume. At the same time, some watches stay in the collection longer than just one season.
- Preppy Sport by Tommy Hilfiger
“The demands for newness are being driven more and more rapidly because the fashion consumer is so influenced by trends in the marketplace that are now published daily through social media outlets.” says Andreas Schwörer, Sales Director Tommy Hilfiger Watches & Jewelry & Juicy Couture Timepieces for Europe, Middle East & Africa. “Watches are more about fashion than function in the women’s market.
“Fashion watches have maintained a strong position in the market through the advent of digital phones and other mediums for time,” he adds. “Most customers use the watch much like any other accessory to make a fashion statement whether it is layering an arm party or focusing on a colour trend like coloured dials or rose gold metals.”
“The fashion segment is adaptable, mobile and has the agility to move in a number of directions.” Tyson White
Many people in the industry hear “fashion” and immediately think low-end, but that doesn’t mean the business isn’t successful. “Some of the strongest groups in the watch world are the ‘fashion’ orientated groups,” says Ritmo Mundo’s Soltani. “I think their strength is more stable than the pure luxury market that always is looking for new ways to increase revenue streams. Often that methodology is through new markets or price increase. The fashion world is successful when product and volume are coupled together.”
- Urban Diamond dial by Michele Watch
Fashion has evolved into something that transcends normal industry categorization. “The fashion segment has evolved very quickly in the last 15 years,” says Ibrahim Tetik, Managing Partner, LC Int. Watch Company (Lee Cooper Watches and Kappa Watches). “Particularly, the different designs and accessible price ranges of strong fashion brands have increased the number of choices for consumers. Consumers search for watches according to their personal image and combine them with different outfits, because watches are not only tools to show the time, but also now are very important accessories. When we look at things like this, fashion brands meet this need. Because of this, the segment is still very important for fashion brands and it’s still growing.”
- Alliance by Victorinox Swiss Army
Nixon, as another example, straddles several worlds, from sport to fashion, according to Tyson White, vice president of product for Nixon. “The demand for stylish fashion watches with a unique point of view is a constant for us,” he says. “What we see are trend shifts; in style, size, popular colour combinations, materials, etc. We’re seeing a general shift downward in size, more demand for leather bands, more elegant and sophisticated shapes and executions at the moment.
“Nixon has always had its own unique style and attention to detail,” White adds. “And we’ve always intended to think outside the box, do things differently, take risks, be different, etc. We combine classic design with contemporary attitude and add functionality that is relevant to our core customer and his lifestyle. That’s what makes us different.”
- Sweetie Double Pink by Links of London
As consumers become more aware of watches, and watch wardrobing continues, fashion watches are becoming much more important. “In the past few years a shift towards fashion watches has been noted,” says George Koutsolioutsos, CEO of Folli Follie Group. “This shift stems from the trend to own a watch not merely as a lifetime piece, but as an accessory to match your style, the occasion, the current trend. However, consumers, who are very savvy and demanding, do not simply opt for fashion, colours and on-trend elements, but also look for quality, innovation, premium design and all those characteristics that elevate a watch. Folli Follie, having pinpointed this niche in the watch market quite early, has invested dearly in developing this sector, infusing at the same time the unparalleled Folli Follie quality and innovative design in each watch collection.”
There are plenty of big brands at this level, like Gucci, Ferragamo, Dior and others. The watches they offer are not as trendy but are meant to be longer lasting, though still fuelled by the fashion trends embraced by the companies.
“Gucci Timepieces & Jewelry has a clear image and a legitimate Brand history,” says Michele Sofisti, CEO of Gucci Watches and Jewelry. “We were the first fashion brand to enter the watch segment, and our history dates back 42 years. Our collections are Swiss Made and of an unbeatable quality. Furthermore, the fact that we have worldwide distribution has helped us become a key player in the industry. Our timepieces are inspiring and feature many of Gucci’s iconic design elements; this helps us to be different from other brands and to be very identifiable to customers the world over.”
“The name is important because clients tend to gravitate toward a brand that shares their values and makes a statement they are comfortable with.” Paul Ziff
Brand names are important in any segment of fashion. “The name is important because clients tend to gravitate toward a brand that shares their values and makes a statement they are comfortable with,” says Paul Ziff, president, Ferragamo Watches. “That’s true whether one is shopping for a car, a pair of shoes or a watch. They also feel confident in the quality and service when it’s a well-respected brand. The styling also must appeal to them. No one buys a watch if they don’t like the style. So both components are necessary to succeed.”
“There are two different markets under the word Fashion: fashion watches that are easy to wear accessories, not focused on Swiss watchmaking and modern timepieces made by luxury and/or Haute Couture houses made in Switzerland.” Laurence Nicolas
Then, there are the companies that are considered high fashion and create timepieces in the higher price ranges, often including diamonds, complications or métier d’art (or all three) – companies like Chanel and Dior to name just two.
- Decor Coromandel Musicienne by Chanel
“There are two different markets under the word Fashion: fashion watches that are easy to wear accessories, not very expensive ones and not focused on Swiss watchmaking and modern timepieces made by luxury and/or Haute Couture houses made in Switzerland (where we are since 2008).” says Laurence Nicolas, CEO of Dior Montres.
“I cannot speak for the first ones but for the second, the strong demand comes from women who were until recently the forgotten customers. Thanks to our input, they are now able to find, on the market, creations that have been made for them and that are not masculine timepieces adapted to women.
“Dior watchmaking’s vocation is to draw inspiration from the heritage of an Haute Couture house, that is to say, timeless elegance, femininity, creativity, know-how, quality and excellence in the making as well as refined materials and details,” she continues. “We convey a message of Parisian luxury, refined down to the last detail, combined with Swiss expertise. Dior watchmaking might well be the marriage of an elegant Parisian from Avenue Montaigne with a Swiss watchmaker.”
- Dior VIII Grand Bal Plisse Soleil
Some companies are content with making entry-level watches that are affordable and make entrée to the brand easy, while others want to make the best possible product and charge a little more along the way.
One key move that several fashion companies have made in the past and more made this year is towards the use of Swiss Made movements. Gc has been Swiss Made (and one of the largest watch exporters in Switzerland) for some time, and this year at Baselworld Giorgio Armani announced its Swiss Made collection. Gucci, Dior, Burberry, Ferragamo, Chanel and others are also Swiss Made.
- AR1818 by Emporio Armani
“Since Ferragamo is associated with high quality in the world of luxury, it is natural that our clients expect an excellent quality watch from the same name,” Ferragamo’s Ziff says. “In that regard, we don’t disappoint as all of our watches are Swiss Made. So the fact that we target to offer very good value does not mitigate our responsibility to also ensure that the quality lives up to the expectations of the brand. Today’s consumer demands excellent quality along with value in addition to a styling statement that they are attracted to.”
Fashion watches are here to stay, that’s for sure, as they drive a significant amount of volume in the watch industry. Fashion watches can also be an in-road to finer watches, as customers get used to wearing a watch and become more interested in timepieces in general. When Fossil introduced its mechanical range of timepieces, with Chinese movements, the hope was that a whole new generation of young people would become enamoured with mechanical movements and move up to higher priced timepieces.
- Sheen by Casio
Gucci’s Sofisti sees success for fashion watches continuing in 2014 and beyond. “There’s strong demand coming from markets all over the world,” he says. “Fashion brands are very interested in the watch industry, as these accessories are powerful vehicles for conveying the brand message. There are many examples of this. Watches are pretty powerful: sometimes the watches linked to a fashion brand have helped reposition or even helped boost the growth of that brand. “The fashion watch segment is very strong and holds great potential in all key world markets,” he continues. “I feel that it will grow even further across the three major price segments within the fashion sector, namely high-end, mid-end and low-end categories.”
The variety available in fashion watches, particularly at affordable prices, is a key to this success. “The demand for fashion watches has increased over the past years,” says Juicy Couture and Tommy Hilfiger’s Schwörer. “Instead of buying one expensive watch, the consumer tends to invest in several fashion watches which feature different styles and designs corresponding to their outfits and daily moods. “Fashion watches will remain a strong segment,” he concludes. “Due to their variety they can easily be matched with actual trends in the apparel world. Fashion watches attract a young consumer segment which are open for new designs, materials and ways of distribution.”
Fashion watches do well in every economy, and thrive in downturns because of their affordability. “The fashion watches scene is growing strongly,” says Folli Follie’s Koutsolioutsos. “Especially in time of financial turmoil, we have noticed a pattern where entry level luxury consumers are encouraged to opt for brands like Folli Follie, thanks to its competitive positioning. Furthermore, the product strength, the innovative designs and the excellent customer service are factors, which contributed essentially to our success. Our loyal fans across the world truly enjoy the ‘Folli Follie world,’ thanks to the alternative and fresh shopping experience it provides them.
“We strongly feel that the market will evolve significantly,” he continues. “We expect to see more fashion houses turning to watches and invest in developing this section of their business. In Folli Follie we are entering this new era of the watch industry stronger than ever, as we have an established brand in the market that will be further empowered with exciting collections to be announced soon.” Many companies bristle at the word “fashion.” “Fashion watches will continue to be strong sellers, but for Nixon, it depends on how you define fashion,” says Nixon’s White. “We prefer to use the word style. Style lasts, while fashion is fleeting. But if the word fashion can be substituted with “style”, then watches that make a statement on your wrist are still a strong segment.
The fashion segment is like an all terrain vehicle,” he continues. “It is adaptable, mobile and has the agility to move in a number of directions while maintaining traction and grip. Fashion segment has the ability to capture a broad audience by offering unique products at affordable prices. By comparison, the luxury segment is like a first class train...it’s powerful but has a tendency to stay on the tracks and go in a specific direction...plus, the seating in first class is limited.”
- Birdy by Shinola
Fashion watches are an interesting segment, following no rules to speak of. There are entry-level timepieces, but there are also high watchmaking pieces using Swiss Made as a major selling point, and everything in between. Though some people consider fashion watches trendy, the best fashion brands have transformed themselves into watch brands that are fashionable.
Source: Europa Star June - July 2014 Magazine Issue