Watches: Manufacturers Embrace Midrange Timepieces



The Price Is Right

As the new year kicks off, a 2013 trend that’s likely to continue into 2014 should be good news to watch retailers: The death of the midrange segment has been greatly exaggerated.

At the 100-year-old family-owned Feldmar Watch Co. in Los Angeles, vice president Scott Meller says the biggest takeaway from last spring’s Baselworld luxury watch and ­jewelry fair was the return to successful, if predictable, products priced in a way “that makes more sense. Basel was very much a back-to-basics presentation.”

Unlike the years following the 2008 recession when many watch brands flocked to the high end (believing it was the only segment unscathed by the financial crisis), today’s economics appear to favor the middle class. The watch industry has jumped on the opportunity to nurture this once-neglected audience.

Fastrider Black Shield in 42 mm matte black ceramic case on leather strap; $4,925; Tudor, NYC; 212-897-9900; tudorwatch.com

Inspired by soaring demand for affordable fashion watches, such as the ubiquitous gold-plated timepieces designed by Michael Kors, watch executives are hoping to mimic their success with $1,500–$5,000 models.

The segment—epitomized by names such as Baume & Mercier, JeanRichard, Longines, Maurice Lacroix, and Tissot—also has been buoyed by the growing conviction that the best way to ensure a brand’s future is to curry favor with millennial buyers on the hunt for their first serious timepiece.

“We reintroduced quartz watches, and we have pieces that start at $950 retail,” says Maurice Lacroix’s Hartmut Kraft. “They’re a stepping stone to capture customers, bring them to [the more expensive] Pontos collection, and then to our Masterpiece line in their lifetime with Maurice Lacroix.”

Tudor’s renewed presence in the United States this past fall is another example of the midrange revival. Founded by Hans Wilsdorf in 1946 as a more ­affordable alternative to his iconic brand, Rolex, Tudor was pulled from the market in 1996, when it became clear that it lacked its own distinct positioning.

Pontos Chronographe in 43 mm stainless steel case; $3,900; Maurice Lacroix, Princeton, N.J.; 609-750-8800; mauricelacroix.com

The brand has spent the past six years engineering the relaunch and declared its intentions in a recent ­statement: “The company believed the time was perfect to re-enter the U.S. market, which is a crucial component of Tudor’s plans to ­establish a global presence in the fast-growing premium watch segment.”

The most convincing evidence of the midmarket comeback, ­however, comes via the Swatch Group, which is introducing its multibrand retail concept, Hour Passion, to the United States. One 2,500-square-foot store opened in New York City this fall and another is slated for Las Vegas. Both will carry the group’s premium brands, including Longines, Rado, Tissot, ­Balmain, Certina, Mido, Hamilton, Calvin Klein Watch and ­Jewelry, Swatch, and Flik-Flak.

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