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LADIES’ DAY Tuesday: The New York Times’ Search for the Elusive Women’s Market

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May 2015

The watch world is not just a man’s world. Every Tuesday we look at how brands are addressing the growing market for ladies’ watches. Today, we explore the elusive market for women’s timepieces, and how it has been covered in the media.

The ladies’ market for timepieces is on the up. As we have written before, wristwatches were first made only for women, after which men adopted the trend and relegated ladies’ timepieces to an afterthought. Since then, the relationship between women and watches has been a bit perplexing, at in the way it has been covered in the media. Let’s see what the New York Times, one of the leading global publications with regular coverage of the watch industry, has had to say on the issue over the last 5 years.

Nicole Kidman for Omega
Nicole Kidman for Omega

In 2011, the New York Times said that it was all “her choice”, referring to the two main trends in ladies’ watches that reflected two different philosophies: women apparently wanted either cheap and sporty watches, or more expensive jewelry-like watches.

“It’s either lower price point, rubberized, sporty chic, with color as a big directive, or the opposite: bejeweled, ladylike, decorative.”

In 2012, we were told once more that it was “women who choose”. It was not a question of what watches were chosen that year, because fashion watches were still popular. Rather it was a change in who chooses: before it was men buying watches for women, and in 2012 it seems like women started becoming more assertive on the market:

“More and more, luxury watchmakers are seeing a shift from men buying high-end watches for women as gifts to women buying watches themselves. These new segments of women are looking for more than price points and high-quality movements. They have a much stronger interest in the fashion content of the watches they buy.”

With a more active female consumer, 2013 was focused on the women’s market as the “new prize”. Fashion watches were still the focus, but the issue was how to really figure out what women want. The problem, it seemed, was the focus on fashion watches meant that the market wouldn’t always be predictable.

“It’s difficult to create the buzz with a ladies watch, and easier with a big revolutionary concept for macho watch lovers. Also, the ladies’ market is very volatile — too influenced by fashion — and as such difficult to forecast for an industry with two to three years’ preparation for a new model. So, trends are slow to appear and are very rarely breaking rules. Most of the time, the brands are just adding some diamonds to an existing men’s watch and reducing the case.”

By 2014, the press apparently gave up trying to figure things out and said simply that “it’s complicated”. That year, women were making a different choice than from what was expected of them. The ladies wanted mechanically sophisticated watches with complications, suggesting they were following trends in men’s lines, rather than simply buying fashion watches like before. This, they claimed, was because of a changing role for women in society.

“With less emphasis on specific roles within the home and work, this also translates into horology. We have certainly seen a trend in ladies interested in complications, with brands reacting to this demand by launching ladies’ complications.”

But by 2015, it was not so complicated after all, and the ladies’ watch market went back to the “style first” philosophy. This time around, smartwatches were the talk of the industry. According to market research firm NPD Group, women were interested in purchasing a smartwatch almost as much as men. But the problem was that all women didn’t want the “geeky” look, so brands like Apple actually thought of women when designing their smartwatch.

“When it comes to a smartwatch, women pay more attention to the product’s external design, the brand’s image and fashion status, and use of precious metals.”

It’s interesting to see the shift in how women and watches were covered in the press in such a short period of time. The emphasis on fashion lines eventually made way for women’s lines with high complications. But the introduction of smartwatches again brought style and aesthetic back into the ladies’ market for watches.

Of course, perspectives can vary and the media has a big role to play in how these trends are produced and spread. But what is clear is that the increasing demand for women’s watches overall has given that market segment a lot more attention, both by brands and in the press. (This article is a fine example of that, if I may add). Now, let’s see what 2016 will bring. (VJ)