Diamond Guys

Diamonds may not be a guy’s best friend, but they certainly add elegance and status to his watch, as more men and watch retailers are learning. Indeed, one of the hottest niches in today’s U.S. watch market is men’s diamond watches—from moderate- to luxury-price ones—and it’s getting hotter, say industry insiders and experts interviewed by JCK.

“Men’s diamond watches are becoming the new gold standard in style and prestige for men,” says Gany Cohen, creative director for the Invicta Watch Group, echoing others. And these aren’t only oversize diamond-pavé timepieces popular with celebrities. A growing number of more subtle designs with diamond accents, markers, and/or bezels are available in several categories at accessible prices from more brands.

Rising Sales. Men’s diamond watches aren’t new; they’ve long been sales generators for some, such as Bulova Corp., which sells a substantial quantity, says Francie Abrahams, vice president of marketing, or Cyma USA, which carries a large selection. However, in the past couple of years, overall demand in this niche has taken off. Midprice brand Jules Jürgensen, for example, since 2003 has seen measurable growth, especially with contemporary designs, says Robert Jay, director of sales and marketing, while Croton Watch Co. has had significant growth since September in the $3,000 to $10,000 range, says Eli Mermelstein, vice president of marketing. Prestigious brand Hublot has done very well with them in the past two years, says Fabrizio Cocchiano, president of Hublot of America, and when it recently added diamond versions of its two best-selling men’s watches, they were pre-sold before they got to the stores.

Luxury brand Corum has seen a definite increase, says USA president Stacie Orloff, especially in its special editions and limited-edition Bubble watches. TAG Heuer reports increased demand for its Link men’s diamond watch, already a top seller for five years, while Bulova Corp.’s business—long centered on one category of men’s diamond watch—has really expanded since 2002.

These gains aren’t limited to fashion and media centers like New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, or even large urban areas. Bulova—which offers men’s diamond watches in its Caravelle, Bulova, Accutron, and Wittnauer brands—is seeing “sales in all our retail accounts, across all types, demographic makeups, and geographic areas,” says Abraham. “When we look at an account’s top-selling watches, we always find a men’s diamond watch.”

Others concur. Citizen Watch of America is “seeing growth in men’s diamond watches—especially our Eco-Drive Elektra—all across the United States and the Caribbean,” notes Stuart B. Zuckerman, senior vice president of merchandising, while Linda Passaro, general manager, Longines USA, declares, “This market is strong everywhere. It isn’t just a New York or Los Angeles phenomenon. With today’s Internet, TV coverage, and affluence, trends spread quickly and consumers have more access to watch trends and products than even a few years ago.”

‘Thirst for Diamonds.’ Some growth is due to women, many of whom, following the fashion for larger watches, are buying men’s sizes. But it’s predominantly a male preserve, and sales to men are definitely rising, many vendors tell JCK.

Some buyers are celebrities. A number of luxury brand Breitling’s new Bentley watches have been sold to professional athletes. IceTek’s big watches are popular with some baseball and football players. Actor Nicholas Cage just purchased a Corum Jolly Roger Bubble watch, while Academy Award nominee Leonardo DiCaprio is a collector of Jaeger-LeCoultre timepieces.

But for the most part, buyers aren’t just rock, movie, or sports stars, but men from all walks of life. “Sales are up for all demographics, from young to old, businessmen to blue collar,” notes Ali Soltani, founder and president of Ritmo Mvndo, an early leader in large, stylish, affordable diamond watches ($1,000 to $5,000). And buyers aren’t only the affluent. “Young professionals, college students, and labor workers are all looking for a product of status in an affordable category,” says Robert Jay of Jules Jürgensen, whose diamond watches start at $280 retail.

There are other influences, too, says Hank Edelman, president of Patek Philippe USA, the U.S. office of the luxury Swiss brand. One is the influence of America’s large ethnic communities, like the Asian-American market, one of the brand’s important U.S. markets. “When men see other men wearing these watches, and they see they’re not garish or overdone, that increases the acceptance of them” says Edelman.

He also notes more acceptance by men in general of dress watches, “but what they want is a simple, elegant diamond watch. That’s what works for men in the U.S. market.”

Responding to what Soltani calls a thirst for diamonds, more brands are producing more men’s watches and collections with diamond settings, bezels, and dials for both affluent and aspirational consumers. Longines, which added men’s watches with 2.5 cts. to 3 cts. to its Evidenza collection in 2003, for example, this year put “a whole range of men’s watches with diamond dials” into its Dolce Vita line, says Passaro. Invicta’s newest is a “regular guy’s diamond watch, more understated than a fully pavé watch, for men who appreciate diamonds, but with good taste,” says Gany Cohen.

Croton has a hot seller in its Swiss multifunction 18k tonneau watch with 1 ct. of diamonds (just under $10,000), while Ritmo Mvndo’s Jet Set collection features “our classic styles drenched in pavé diamonds,” says Soltani, who will also unveil his Jumbo Jet watch with even more diamonds at The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas this year.

Trendsetters and Fashion. What’s driving demand? Celebrity trendsetters in music, sports, and Hollywood are influential. “The U.S. market is in the middle of a huge trend toward ‘bling bling’ watches, largely because actors, actresses, rap stars, and musicians wear these very flashy watches,” says Croton’s Mermelstein. “That’s influencing a much younger crowd toward more ostentatious timepieces, and affecting the gent’s watch market on many levels.”

An additional influence is “the hip-hop culture, which has ushered new style sensibilities into mainstream popular culture,” says Soltani. “Call them bling, ice, or whatever, diamonds are everywhere, and for many men, they’re an important status indicator. So, as one of men’s few accessories, the diamond watch has really come into its own.”

Changing styles in fashions are factors, too. “In the 1940s and ’50s, elegance and diamonds were synonymous with black tie,” notes Passaro. “Today, elegance can be casual, and a man can easily wear a diamond watch with a turtleneck, blazer, and jeans.”

Fred Reiffsen, president of the luxury Concord brand, says a significant recent change in men’s fashion has been “combining diamonds with sport watches—the marrying of elegance with ‘everyday’ watches. Diamond watches are no longer just high-end jewelry for special events.”

Meanwhile, “current fashion dictates more luxurious accessories for men,” says Hublot’s Cocchiano, “and diamond watches are a natural extension of that.” As Lisa Roman, marketing director of Breitling USA, notes, “Many men already have diamond cufflinks and rings, so diamond watches are the next logical step in their wardrobing.” At the same time, she adds, “More men have embraced a little bolder styling in their timepieces, as well as in fashion generally. We see it not only in the size of timepieces but in colorful dials and diamond accents.”

As a main accessory, diamond watches are a statement of a man’s self-image and status. “Interest is increasing steadily because of the aspirations of today’s youth for a cleaner, more refined personal style,” says Robert Jay of Jules Jürgensen. “They feel having genuine diamonds with a little sparkle gives a sense of prestige and pride. It makes them feel good.”

A New ‘Confidence.’ Most demand comes from young men, especially those in their early 20s to early 40s, but older men, especially aging baby boomers, are buying, too. However, some vendors cite distinct age-based differences in sales.

As Mermelstein notes, “In the gent’s market, you have a very flashy watch for the younger, more Hollywood-influenced crowd, and toned-down but still iced-up conservative styles for older, more mature consumers.”

Jacob Arabo, founder and president of the luxury Jacob & Co. brand of oversize watches, agrees. “While there’s increased awareness of diamond watches by most of our male customers, what they buy varies with age,” he says. “Younger men like something flashier, while older clients, generally watch collectors, look for understated diamond watches and exclusive pieces.” For those specifically, he’s added this year a diamond tourbillon in rose gold and platinum.

Widening use of diamond watches by men also parallels what several watch vendors call a new “confidence” about what they wear. Years ago, wearing such a watch might have been considered “feminine” for a man. Today, following changes in recent years in culture and society, many men, especially younger ones, don’t care. There is, as Reiffsen puts it, “a strong comfort level, an acceptability that’s come as diamond watches have moved from fashion trends into the mainstream.” As Passaro notes, “More men are confident enough in their masculinity to wear watches with diamonds. They’re status symbols they enjoy. They say ‘I can be masculine and still feel good about wearing this.'”

However, it still must look like a guy’s watch. “To appeal to men, it must have a strong masculine design,” says Passaro. “It can’t be a ‘designer watch.’ It must be substantial—big, bold, authentic, a fine timepiece with [in more expensive models] all the features of a mechanical watch.”