Fashion watch market heats up

The international fashion watch market has grown into a $650 million industry between 1984 and 1994. The significant growth of the market has prompted several watch companies such as Anne Klein II, Esquire Apparel Ltd., Bulova Corp., Gruen Marketing Corp., Seiko Corp. and Citizen Watch Company Ltd. to introduce their own fashion watch collections. A discussion of some the models included in such collections is presented.

A number of well-known brands have decided to debut models in the competitive under-$100 market

The under-$100 watch category — known for “fashion watches” like Swatch, Fossil, Anne Klein II or Guess — heated up this summer as prominent brands dove in for the first time or debuted collections. Among the newcomers were Seiko and Citizen, better known for their mid-priced, technically-sophisticated watches, but they weren’t alone.

Esquire Watch (the newest brand of North American Watch Co.), Surissi (the upscale “Eurowestern” brand made in New Mexico) and CSC Timepieces (distributors of Perry Ellis watches) each added new under-$100 lines. Revitalized mass marketer Gruen Marketing added several under-$50 collections. Anne Klein II, made and distributed by E. Gluck Corp., attracted strong sales with its new bracelet collection. And Timex, which owns Monet and Guess, was to debut its new Benetton line in late summer.

Lucrative: In the 10 years since Swatch launched the category, fashion watch sales have grown to $650 million a year in the U.S.; they’re still rising 9% to 12% annually. That’s why this is a lucrative target for brands with mature markets seeking new sources of revenue.

There are other attractions, too. One is a widening customer base. Though fashion watches built their U.S. market among teens and young adults, who remain key buyers, their appeal is “no longer limited by age,” says Gloria Maccaroni, director of sales for Seiko Corp. of America’s new JAZ Time division. Potential customers include anyone open to stylishly fresh and affordable timepieces.

Nor does income define today’s market. More upscale consumers now buy under-$100 watches, motivated by the current stress on value and the watch-as-lifestyle accessory, notes Lisa Barlerin, spokesperson for North American Watch Co. They buy citizen dive watches for various uses and occasions — from work place to leisure time — and want “inexpensive, but not cheaply made, watches with the quality and warranty coverage they’ve come to expect in more expensive watches,” she says.

Jewelers, too: While department stores are the primary outlets for fashion watches, more jewelers are hopping on the bandwagon. Some vendors — led by Swatch, starting several years ago — are seeking jewelry outlets and even designing lines just for them.

“More jewelers see the advantages of fashion watches,” says Tim Greene, general manager of Citizen’s Fashion Timepiece Division. Its new Life line targets department stores now, but may add jewelers in a few years.

“Fashion watches, which introduce new products several times during the year, create a reason for customers to come back to a store on a regular basis,” Greene says. “They use lots of point-of-sale and event marketing, which also builds traffic and brings in people.”

In addition, he says, “they attract younger customers, who can be turned into regular, lifetime customers, and people who might not otherwise enter a jewelry store because they think they can’t afford its merchandise.”

Lifestyle: The fashion watch market actually has become large and varied enough to be divided into two categories — “fashion” and “casual, active wear.” Barlerin suggests another, more-encompassing term: “lifestyle” watches. “People change these watches as easily and as often as they change clothes,” she says, “depending on what they are doing.”

Still, the characteristics of these watches remain unchanged. They are priced under $100 (though a few models just top that), with most sales in the $30-$60 niche. New styles are introduced every three months.

This is a very market-driven business. Thus Jerry Dikowitz, vice president of advertising for E. Gluck Corp., says fashion watches have “evolved into a very successful, aggressive and active business for us. We constantly survey demand and freshness, closely follow sell-through for what works and what doesn’t, [and are] very responsive to consumer demand.”

Newcomers: Here’s a glimpse at some of the new fashion watch offerings.

* Anne Klein II — the fashion watch offspring of the more upscale Anne Klein line, both produced by E. Gluck Corp. is enjoying its best year yet. That’s due in large part to a new bracelet watch collection featuring expansion bands, multi-chain links and unique bangle styles. Its styling represents the “cutting edge in fashion,” says Dikowitz. Retail is $55-$85. The bracelet collection builds on the success of Anne Klein II’s Link and Leather collection, introduced last fall and greatly expanded this year.

* Aviator from Esquire, North American Watch Co.’s value-priced brand ($60-$295), is an “easy-to-wear, easy-to-read rugged watch for people with active lifestyles,” says Michael Benavente, vice president of sales. Selling for $49, North American’s lowest-ever starting price, it “gives jewelers a moderately-priced watch to compete with department stores for customers,” he says.

Esquire officials stress this isn’t a “novelty” line. “We’ve taken everything we know about making fine watches and applied it to Aviator,” says Barlerin, spokesperson for North American, which distributes the upscale brands Movado, Concord, Corum and Piaget.

Aviator features a stitched and padded leather strap; stainless steel, black matte teflon or silvertone marie teflon case; Arabic numerals; luminous hands; a calendar window and extended lugs. It is water resistant to 99 feet.

* Caravelle, Bulova Corp.’s moderately-priced fashion line, has added a collection of sport watches for fall. The contemporary, multi-function sport watches priced at $74.95-$99.95 are water resistant to at least 30 meters (a black divers’ watch can go to 100 meters). They can be worn by the pool, in the office or at dinner parties, says Bulova.

Caravelle by Bulova also added several styles of diamond watches ($79.95-$125.95); women’s watches, including fashion bracelets with colorful stone accents ($69.95-$99.95); men’s bracelet watches ($69.95-$89.95); and Caravelle Tek analog digital watches ($59.95).

* Gruen Marketing has several new collections — in addition to its licensed designer name lines — for jewelers and department stores. Newcomers include Gruen Classics ($58), with classic styling; Weekender ($30) for casual wear, with braided straps; Signature ($45-$50), designed to compete with popularly-priced fashion watches in department stores; and Campaign ($45), a line of military-style watches.

* JAZ is Seiko’s new, very market-driven fashion brand. JAZ designers, aided by a fashion forecast service, closely track apparel trends and street fashions to stay on top of popular styles. Styles vary from very feminine to very funky, with two-tone dial treatments, faceted crystals and bands in special colors and textures. All sell for $50 to $70, and have a one-year limited warranty.

The first sets include Cross Cultures (nomadic and world cultural influences); Vintage Revamped (eclectic, emphasizing “recycled couture”); Contemporary Casuals (relaxed wear, with sport and military influences, using new fabrics and textures); Classic Accents (conservative, traditional styling); and the JAZ Mickey (Mouse) series. JAZ also plans to offer two limited editions annually, starting with six “American Heartland” watches by artist Ted Wright.

* Life, the first line from Citizen’s Fashion Timepiece Division, is designed for casual, active wear by people 18 to 35 years of age. General Manager Tim Greene describes them as “adventurous individuals who make the most of their leisure time.” Earthy outdoor hues color the watches, packaging and display materials. Each watch comes in a recyclable khaki package with a Life pack (themed cards with useful information on such topics as boating, America’s natural wonders or camping).

Watches feature straps (padded, braided, textured or stitched) or classically-styled bracelets in matte and polished stainless steel, goldtone or two-tone finishes. They have luminescent hands and markers, scratch resistant crystals and calendar windows; some have month, day and date subdials. Most are water resistant to 150 feet, have quartz movements and two-year power cells. Retail is $40-$115.

* Luger is a new brand of higher-priced ($75-$125) fashion watches created for retail jewelers by CSC Time Corp., distributor of Perry Ellis watches. “There is a niche of [jewelry store] customers who want fashion merchandise,” says CSC President Charles Kriete, “and Luger will also help jewelers reach fashion watch customers who go to department stores.”

The watches feature Swiss movements, a 10-year warranty and “classic design with a contemporary flair,” says Kriete. The 75 styles include dress, sport and multi-function watches with metal bracelets or leather straps in men’s and women’s sizes. They have two microns of gold plating and are water resistant to 100 feet.

* Trade Routes is the first mass market fashion watch by Surrissi Timepieces, the Albuquerque, N.M., firm known for upscale, handcrafted “Eurowestern” sterling silver and gemstone watches. “We want to give our customers a wider selection to offer their customers,” says owner and designer Gary Miller. “Otherwise, they’ll lose sales to someone else.” The new “contemporary Western” timepieces have silver-plated cases, braided straps and inlaid stones such as lapis and turquoise. They retail for $49.

Other affordable new eye-catchers include the spare, sharply-styled, black-and-white Basix collection from Benrus ($30-$35) and Timex’s Benetton collection, licensed by the Italian apparel firm. It retails for $60-$120 and will sell through department, jewelry and Benetton stores.

NEW LINES

Alarama featured a new line of Egyptian rings, pendants and bracelets, as well as an extensive slide and antique collection, at the July Jewelers of America show. Alarama Jewelry, 71 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10003; (212) 807-1600 or (800) 955-1894, fax (212) 807-0409.

Royal Chain, a leading supplier of 10k and 14k gold chain and jewelry, announces Royal Rope [TM]. This new solid diamond cut rope chain is available in 10k and 14k gold at popular price points; it comes with the Royal Chain Written Lifetime Warranty. Royal Chain, 2 W. 46 St., New York, N.Y. 10036; (212) 382-3340 or (800) 622-0960, fax (212) 382-3340.

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