The latest innovations in men's watches
By Sonia Nair
Men’s watches get more colourful, innovative and fashionable as each year passes. Sonia Nair takes a journey through time and design to uncover the latest trends.
Back in the 1900s, a bona fide gentleman was said to be defined by the pocket watch he carried. Wristwatches were unheard of and the average male was said to “sooner wear a skirt as wear a wristwatch”. World War I revolutionised the landscape. Male soldiers started wearing pocket watches attached to their wrists by a leather strap for ease of access on the battlefield and from there, men’s wristwatches slowly became the rule rather than the exception.
Although men’s watches have traditionally outsold women’s watches since then, the trend looks to be intensifying with more and more suppliers capitalising on their male offerings. Fossil Australia, which distributes high-profile watch brands such as Emporio Armani, Diesel and Fossil, is one company capitalising more on men’s watches. Fossil director of licensed brands Gautam Sharma says men have always been a key target market for Emporio Armani and Diesel, but brands such as Fossil have ramped up their men’s watch offerings recently too.
“Overall there has been a steady and significant increase in the appeal for our men’s watches,” he says. “I sometimes liken the appeal and fascination of watches to men as shoes are to women – hence this healthy growth.”
Olivia Bramble, brand manager of Guess and Gc watches at Designa Accessories, has witnessed a similar upward trend. “It was perceived internationally, 12 months ago, that the men’s fashion watch category was an increasing opportunity.”
As the men’s watch segment continues to grow in prominence, Jeweller takes a look at the trends characterising the market.
Black is the ‘new’ black
The innovative technologies of our era have given birth to a new trend in the men’s segment – black watches. Although watches with black dials and straps have been a mainstay with men, watches with black coating and black materials as a design feature is a relatively new concept. Scratch proof ceramics, PVD coating, innovative alloys such as black aluminium and the use of carbon as a material have given black men’s watches a resistance to substantial wear and tear. The black watch is now associated with beauty as much as it is with durability.
Victorinox Swiss Army has watches in its Divemaster 500 range with PVD black finishes while Guess will be focusing on black ion-plated stainless steel watches for the new spring season. Bulova is another brand set to release a number of all-black pieces across its collections in spring. Joanne Cork, Bulova brand manager at Australian distributor Time Essentials, says the GFC played a part in this design decision. “Black traditionally appears strongly in fashion when the economic climate is a little tough because consumers are less likely to purchase frequently and classic, understated investment pieces tend to take prominence.”
Meanwhile, Gc’s black watches are inspired by motor sports. Bramble says, “Matt black is a strong trend that we are seeing coming through and this trend has been led by luxury cars.” Nils Rasmussen, MD of Skagen Denmark’s Australian distributor Jarass, supports Bramble’s view. “Matt black in particular will be a huge trend leading into Christmas. This trend can also be seen in the automotive industry where several luxury car brands have released matt black cars. All black watches are reminiscent of instantly recognisable design icons, like the stealth bomber, and are a classic choice.”
Swiss watch brand Tendence has cashed in on the trend by launching its ‘Black Widow’ timepiece and it proved to be a resounding success with the first two production runs selling out before arriving into the country, according to Wag International director Githa Silvester, who distributes Tendence in Australia. “Black is sexy, mysterious and it features strongly with Tendence. Everyone talks about what is the ‘new’ black. Black could be the ‘new’ black in men’s watches.”
The popularity of sleek black watches coincides with an escalating desire among men for bright colours. The days when men’s watches were designed only in the archetypal gold and silver are over. The new-age man fancies bright colours just as much as his female counterpart – more so in sports-crazed Australia.
Views canvassed from a spectrum of suppliers show that colour is a big trend in men’s sports watches. Marc Rom, operations and marketing manager of Avstev Group, says bright colours are driving the success of TechnoMarine’s sports segment while GDL Accessories MD Matt Campbell says there will be a number of new colours introduced in the summer collections of Huge Boss, which GDL distributes in Australia. Timesupply MD Ken Abbott is observing the same trend. “We find many Victorinox Swiss Army customers love our Divemaster 500 sporting range, which features orange, red and blue straps and dials.”
TechnoMarine keeps in with the bright colours trend
The bright colours trend is not confined to sports watches though. Not many companies can say they embrace colour as much as Belgian fashion watch brand Ice-Watch. Larry Porter, CEO of Ice-Watch’s Australian distributor Bolt International, says, “Colour is a universal trend in the watch industry, male or female, and this is because a watch is being viewed as an accessory in addition to a functional timepiece.” Ice-Watch’s male customers collect multiple timepieces in different colours. “It is a refreshing change from the one watch investment,” Porter says.
New materials vs old materials
Drawing upon structural architecture, mechanical equipment and urban metropolises, men’s watches are increasingly being fashioned out of industrial materials such as titanium, aluminium and ceramic. Cork singles out ceramic and titanium as particularly popular among male buyers. “There is a lot of ceramic in the market and it will continue to gain popularity. Titanium is a great choice for a hard-wearing look without the weight of other metals as it has the highest strength to weight ratio of any metal.”
Campbell does not think aluminium watches will appeal to the average Australian male, despite the material’s growing prominence in Europe. “We have seen a lot of development in ceramic and aluminium at BaselWorld, but due to the weight of aluminium I do not believe this will work in the Australian market. The Australian male likes some weight in his watch.”
Rasmussen agrees that lightweight materials are not as popular in the men’s market as they are for women. “Durability is a key feature for men, who tend to shy away from weak materials like aluminium and plastics.” Cork agrees plastic has been less popular for men, yet Fossil MD Ives Palmer has had a different experience with fashion brand Diesel. “Diesel timeframes have dared male consumers to try out aluminium and plastic watches in bright bursts of fashion colours.”
Despite the rise of industrial materials’ popularity, not one supplier discounts the appeal of traditional stainless steel, which is still the most popular material for Victorinox Swiss Army watches and Avstev Group, as well as one of the top two for Gc and Guess watches.
In a departure from the norm, gem-set jewellery specialist Made in Earth believes it has spotted an untapped niche for gem-set watches for men, using hand-picked gems that are more likely to appeal to men, such as American turquoise, Herkimer diamond, and malachite. The launch coincides with an escalating popularity in men’s fashion jewellery featuring diamonds and coloured gemstones – a future trend that was highlighted in IBISWorld’s Watch and Jewellery Retailing in Australia report, released last November.
Two-tone watches were a strong trend at BaselWorld this year, with the most popular combination being two-tone gold and steel. As in jewellery, rose gold has also come into the spotlight.
Rom says two-tone watches are popular in both gold plated and 18ct gold across his Swiss brands, but concedes that the upward trend in gold prices may change things. “18ct gold used to be very popular but with the price of gold, this has now slowed.”
Two-tone watches are not for everyone though, according to some suppliers. Bramble says the sports-inspired Australian male buyers who love Maxum watches relate more to plain stainless steel timepieces as opposed to two-tone watches that look more like “dress watches”. Cork agrees with Bramble but thinks dress watches are on the rise. “Dress styles are increasing in popularity and tend to be offered in gold and two-tone varieties.”
When three is not a crowd…
A return to dress watches coincides with the increasing prominence of three-hand watches, with consumers attracted to the retro styling and classic elegance of these timepieces.
Cork attributes the rising prominence of three-hand, slim dress watches to a desire for classic styling rather than flamboyance, but says supply issues have been at play as well. “Three-hand movements are more accessible of late due to any supply issues out of Japan that may impact the production of more complex technologies.”
Palmer believes the Emporio Armani collection is leading the way in this trend with models of two-hand movements and a sub-dial indicating the seconds. “Over the past few seasons we have seen a re-emergence of classic watches – simplified dial language, crisp case lines and clean bracelets or traditional leather straps.”
A Burberry three-hand watch
Abbott has observed this pattern too and says his Victorinox Swiss Army customers are keeping in line with the trend for three-hand watches because they are “simple to use”.
A recent update to the simple three-hand design is the addition of a simple date indication in the form of a small aperture or window, usually strategically placed at 3 o’ clock or 6 o’ clock on a watch’s dial.
Australian men and sport
Australia’s lifelong love affair with the sporting world is reflected in men’s watch designs. Though dress watches may be seeing a comeback, sports chronographs remain firmly entrenched in the men’s watch segment.
Almost all suppliers are unanimous in their summation that chronographs are a design-led, rather than function-led, trend. Rasmussen says, “Most chronograph watches in the marketplace are never used for their various functions – their appeal is the more sophisticated design details.” He says the trick is to not over-design the watch and keep with a minimalistic design.
Seiko Australia marketing director Stuart Smith says sports chronographs and alarm chronographs have been Seiko’s top-selling ranges for over a decade now. “Male consumers appreciate the design and the sports appeal. The demographic is vast from young to middle-aged.” Seiko has started to spice up its chronographs with technological adjuncts such as the perpetual calendar programmed to February 2111, the direct drive feature that gives the wearer the option of winding the crown to power the timepiece, and self-winding capabilities.
Porter echoes Smith’s view and says that watch brands are doing more these days to differentiate their chronographs. “Watch brands are offsetting the dials, highlighting the dials in different materials and colours or sizing them differently to differentiate themselves from other chronographs.”
Smith believes the Australian market relies more on sports watch collections than other countries – a fact he attributes to “Australians’ love for outdoor activity and love of the water”. Cork mirrors Smith’s views, saying that “the necessity for high water resistance here” is something that sets the Australian market apart.
Brands are cashing in on the adulation of sporting stars by using them as brand ambassadors. Tendence, for example, has enlisted the services of diver Ben Noble and drag racer Shane Tucker, while Raymond Weil has widely publicised a tie-up with AFL player Jack Riewoldt since BaselWorld earlier this year.
Silvester explains, “Australian men are sports mad and including some of that culture into what the watch brand represents makes sense. Tendence is exciting, wild, young and fun so aligning ourselves with athletes helps relay that message to the male demographic.”
As far as men are concerned, bigger is better in almost everything and watches are no exception. While the trend for oversized watches has been dominating global watch designs, Australian men have only just started to jump on the bandwagon. Bramble says Maxum is currently experiencing a trend for white oversized men’s digitals, while Silvester says Australian men are seeing oversized watches as a new alternative, despite the fact that they have been available in the market for some time.
Porter says Ice-Watch is capitalising on the trend as well. “We have always had an oversized range, ‘XXL’, and we find it is a popular model so we are extending this collection. Given the strength of this trend, we will be introducing an oversized version of our Sili Forever Collection, and oversized men’s ranges that were launched at BaselWorld 2011 have shown a strong new design direction.”
Whether it be through the use of new colours, new materials or new functions – technological innovations, the influence of the global sporting industry and an increased fashion consciousness in men have merged to help the landscape of men’s watches evolve. And with Australian male consumers mirroring the trends spotted globally, watch retailers will need to keep pace too.
Posted July 20, 2011