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Watch market finds fashion brands

Fashion brands continue to power into the watch market with outrageous, eye-catching styles aimed at capturing discretionary spend. NAOMI LEVIN reports.

The past two decades have seen the role of the watch change considerably: no longer a necessity for checking the time, watches have assumed more importance as fashion items, status symbols or expressions of individuality and creativity.

To reflect this, watchmakers now focus on colours, materials and designs that will best grab a customer’s attention. In addition, brands more commonly associated with fashion apparel have been entering the watch marketplace in an attempt to benefit from the widely-held desire for a trendy timepiece.

Marc Ecko is one of those brands. From its humble beginnings in male-only clothing, the New York label now produces women’s clothes, music and video games, sportswear and, of course, watches – under license in Australia to the Timex Group: “Marc Ecko began as an apparel brand, which extended into the accessories market,” says Olivia Dunn, Ecko brand manager at the Timex Group.

But does a popular clothing line guarantee a best-selling range of watches?

“I find that there are really two types of customers: one who knows and loves the brand based on the brand loyalty; and a fashion customer, who purchases the brand based on the styling of the watches, independently from any brand loyalty,” Dunn says.

While Ecko is, according to Dunn, a lifestyle brand specifically tailored to a young customer base, its designs don’t necessarily follow the trends: “Ecko creates its own unique look. Oversized cases and dials, and anything with a bit of bling continues to be popular,” she says, emphasising the latest collection, which includes skull faces, heavy metal embellished with the brand’s rhino motif, and tattoo-like designs on the face.

One thing all Ecko watches have in common is their size and stature – big and bulky. These are watches that are worn to be seen and even the women’s range features large pieces: “Younger women like men’s styling in ladies sizes,” Dunn says. “Ecko offers take-down styles from the men’s range in mid-size cases.”

Rose gold is certainly one of the must-have metals in watch fashion, either solely, or in a two-tone design. Indeed, the trend toward jewellery elements in timepieces is also prevalent in new collections from Skagen watches.

“For women, precious jewellery is the main inspiration for timepiece designs this season,” says Nils Rasmussen, director of Skagen’s Australian distributor Jarass. “Intricate, elegant bracelets, sophisticated and textured case shaping, and petite cases all feature in the collection.”

Skagen is also experimenting with glow-in-the-dark detailing for men and pastel straps for women. Rasmussen predicts these will become strong trends in the coming season.

Also channeling the rainbow is newcomer to the watch market – Pandora. Yes, the popular charm and jewellery brand is now also trying its hand at watches – unveiling its collection at the recent JAA Australian Jewellery Fair, Brisbane.

Available from September, the collection has been designed to reflect Pandora’s jewellery range and for this reason, the company believes the watches will enjoy a loyal following.

“We’re predicting that lovers of Pandora will naturally want to own a Pandora watch,” says publicity officer Eve Hanks. “We have designed the watches to reflect our existing jewellery with colours, metal and precious stones. And we have allowed for the expression of individuality by creating changeable straps and bezels.”

Hanks says the watch collection will appeal to all consumers – with sporty, chunky styles alongside delicate, feminine pieces.

A Pandora logo-stamped bezel, decorated with white diamonds, is one option; it also comes with an alternative, edgier choice – adorned with a row of small black diamonds. Wearers can also change the strap for a different colour and look. All are Swiss-made.

“Such watches have been available for some time, but it’s rare to find models where quality is key and they look good,” Hanks comments.

Also focused on quality glam is Skagen – creating coloured glass watches for men and women for its new range: “Coloured glass and the continued subtle use of Swarovski crystal, carbon fibre and titanium combinations is a hot trend,” Rasmussen says.

Skagen is also going into the white with its new-season timepieces: “The application of white to different sections of the watch – ceramic white, enamel white, printed white on the underside of chocolate and black glass will be a key colour combination,” Rasmussen says.

Phil Edwards, managing director of Duraflex Group Australia (DGA) and head of the Seksy and Thomas Sabo watch brands, also adds ceramic to the list of what to look for in this year’s watches. “Ceramic remains the ‘hot’ material for watches and coloured ceramic will be the next step,” Edwards says.

The high-tech, glossy material is an alternative to more traditional metals and leather, but can also be combined with these materials, and gemstones.

Peter Petzold, managing director of Define Watches, which supplies Sinn, Sothis, Benzinger, Muehle Glashuette, Rainer Brand and Joerg Schauer labels, says the materials used for cases, dials and bands will soon become more of a focal point, with increased use of lightweight titanium, matte polished steels, precious metals, mother of pearl and ennobled surfaces (including skeletonising, guilloching and engraving).

“The use of special case materials and dial treatments is taking over from the pure colour experimentation that we have seen before,” Petzold says. “These finishes are becoming popular in Europe and the trend will hit our shores soon.”

On the flip-side, Edwards is betting on bright candy shades in watches this season, and – at the other end of the spectrum – the resurgence of brown: “Turquoise, orange and fuchsia will be the leading colours for watches, since the customer will be able to combine these colours with most of the latest ready-to-wear fashion,” he says, adding, "not to forget the colour brown for fall/winter, driven by the car industry. All the latest car advertisements in Europe have been showing in brown – from BMW to Porsche. Brown is the new white for car industry advertising and will have strong influences on the watches.”

Classic British designer Burberry – a brand best known for its beige checks – is also delving into darker brown, as well as bright colour, with its latest fashion watch collection. Its range, distributed in Australia by Fossil, includes a good-enough-to-eat ladies’ watch in magenta, turquoise or chocolate-brown Perspex. It also has a striking, ice-white and glossy-black collection, complete with rubberised band for men. The inspiration for the collection comes from Burberry’s jewellery collection.

Define Watches’ new models are opting for understated colour: “Neutral tones are still favoured by most, as they provide the highest degree of flexibility,” Petzold says, adding that this need for flexibility also applies to watches' shape and size.

“While big watches are still popular, we are noticing a definite trend towards slightly smaller cases, more subtle designs and understated faces,” he says. “The move towards 38-44mm for men and 28-35mm cases for women is beginning to take hold. This is purely for practical reasons as massive watches often dominate outfits and are sometimes difficult to accommodate under shirt sleeves.”

Petzold says another trend to watch out for is rectangular watches which he predicts are about to make a big impact on consumer trends.

Still on shapes, there are beliefs the industry will take a gigantic swing towards ultra-thin designs.

A report in The New York Times recently proclaimed the coming of ultra-thin watches: “Perhaps it has something to do with the fair’s new proximity to the fashion collections, but sleek is in for watches in 2010, with timepieces stripped of the usual ‘bells and whistles’ complications to produce a wafer-thin look,” The New York Times reported during the Salon International de la Haute Horology.

Piaget recently manufactured the world’s thinnest automatic movement at 2.35 millimetres.

Skagen has responded to the trend, creating a collection of watches with petite cases for women, and oversized ultra-slim cases for men.

Slim is not always attractive to all consumers, however. As well as Marc Ecko, Dunn also represents Maxum, a brand marketed at rugged, outdoorsy customers. She says these consumers want a chunky timepiece.

“Men’s leather cuffs continue to perform very strongly,” Dunn says, referring to the thick wristbands that have been popular for a number of years. “I think the casual nature of your typical Aussie guy contributes to this casual trend product. Anything with technical specs, like multifunction movements, is always popular.

“Big-sized watches are still a trend, as are all black watches,” Edwards adds of men’s styles, while for women, he predicts those who try the bigger sizes “will not go back to small watches”.

But Larry Porter, director of Bolt International, is banking on the popularity of big and bright watches as he launches Ice-Watch in Australia. Already available in around 50 countries, the Belgian-designed timepieces are high-fashion at an affordable price.

Price and style aside, watch trends are also driven by pop-culture. “Female celebrities have been seen sporting male watches,” Porter says. “This has influenced the trend of unisex watches.”

He adds that movies such as Alice in Wonderland also inspire watch fashions – encouraging eccentric colours and larger-than-life themes.

This can certainly be seen in the Ice-Watch range, which includes oversized dials, neon colours, jelly-like silicone construction and the option for plenty of bling. Despite his brand’s strong fashion focus, Porter emphasises that Ice-Watch models are an affordable luxury.

“Ice-Watch timepieces offer high-end style and design, exceptional quality and an enjoyable purchase experience at an accessible price point, “ he says, adding that a lower price point doesn’t allow Ice-Watch to skimp on quality: “Quality is essential as consumers are purchasing an experience associated with our brand that encompasses affordable luxury, and we must therefore exceed their expectations,” he says.

Edwards agrees, saying that no quality is an element that can never be compromised, no matter what the price point: “Thomas Sabo has installed several product testing and quality requirements to ensure a very high standard. The goal is a high-end, quality fashion watch.”

While the high-end watch range tends to market itself as an investment product, the fashion side uses the phrase “affordable luxury”. “This term definitely helps watches, because the customer can have the latest trends without paying for an investment,” Edwards says.

Dunn agrees, saying Marc Ecko pieces often belie their reasonable price tags: “Each watch is adorned with crystals and detailing, which gives the perception that the watch is worth $1,500, whereas it is $500.”

Again, while the high-end uses luxury and longevity to market its product – think Patek Philippe’s advertising line “You never actually own a Patek Philippe; you merely look after it for a generation” – the fashion market has different techniques.

Celebrity endorsement is often a focus, with the end goal to be seen on the wrist of the right movie star, model or musician.

Dunn explains that Maxum chooses to bypass mainstream, high-profile celebrities to instead focus on niche performers.

“We sponsor up-and-coming Australian sports people, such as the Manly Sea Eagles rugby league team, big wave surfer Mark Visser, and a combination of professional surfers and wakeboarders.”

This mix of sports stars “helps customers to connect with, and understand, the background of the brand”, she says.

German-based brand Thomas Sabo eschews sports stars in favour of an unconventional musician: “In 2009, we had the violin player David Garrett as our testimonial from Germany,” Edwards explains.

While not a household name in Australia, Garrett is a young violin virtuoso who combines his rock-star looks with an extraordinary ability to appeal to all audiences by playing everything from Mozart to Metallica.

“He is like our watches: classic outside, but with dragon and skull motives inside,” Edwards says.

Thomas Sabo has launched 60 watch models, featuring “dials with skulls, lily crosses and Chinese dragons in the Rebel at Heart Collection; radiant suns, rotating Eiffel Towers and shimmering elements for the It Girls; and elegant lines in the timeless Classic Collection,” according to the watch designers.

For Porter at Ice-Watch, celebrity endorsement is an extremely effective way to sell his product, “especially when selecting the appropriate celebrity who embodies the essence of your brand,” he says.

Ice-Watch sends celebrities down the red carpet wearing its watches, like Grammy-nominated DJ David Guetta who was featured wearing a bright-red Ice-Watch in the video clip for his hit, One Love.

But fashion brands are not only looking to celebrities to help sell their wares. Ice-Watch places advertising in the world’s top magazines, online and on radio, and uses publicity, like event sponsorship and placements.

Thomas Sabo, conversely, will unveil a new marketing strategy in 2010. “Our new advertising concept combines jewellery and watches as product heroes,” Edwards says. “We show our customers our concept and break the existing communication rules since all brands that carry both segments are advertising watches and jewellery separately.”

The message for 2010 is clear: bright, colourful and big watches will capture the market. Take note of what celebrities wear, because customers surely do, and don’t be afraid to surprise. Customers will seek a timepiece that accentuates their outfits and matches their image, whether it be a pretty girl wanting plenty of sparkle, or a wannabe rebel with skulls and dragons all over.

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Naomi Levin
Contributor •

Naomi Levin is a journalist who knows a little bit about a lot of things. She has worked as a sports journalist and is currently a political and general news reporter, in addition to writing for Jeweller.
Duraflex Group Australia

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