From Timepiece Fashion Accessory

One of the most vigorous segments of the U.S. watch business is the multibillion-dollar women’s watch market, spurred by the growing buying power of the woman self-purchaser. JCK recently brought together top executives of leading watch brands to talk about the woman watch buyer and her impact on the market. They are Francie Abraham, executive vice president of marketing, Bulova Corp. (Accutron, Bulova, Caravelle, and Wittnauer); Michele Barouh, creative director, Michele Watches; Cindy Livingston, president and chief executive officer, Callanen International (Guess, Guess Collection, Marc Ecko, Nautica, and Versace); Stacie Orloff, president, Corum USA; Sue Rechner, president and CEO, Victorinox Swiss Army Brands (Swiss Army and Victorinox); and Alice Riese Rolley, marketing director, Audemars Piguet. JCK senior editor William George Shuster moderated.


William George Shuster: Some in the U.S. watch business say women self-purchasers are “a market of untapped potential.” Do you agree?

Cindy Livingston: Yes. Accessory purchases are traditionally a self-purchase related to fashion, and watches have become part of that category.

Francie Abraham: Based on our sales, I would say women self-purchasers already are an important segment of our business, with growth potential, rather than being “untapped.”

Sue Rechner: I don’t believe this market is untapped. Many brands over the years have developed and marketed collections to women aggressively. But I agree it has huge potential.

Stacie Orloff: I don’t believe it’s untapped, either, but it’s changing and broadening. Female customers are becoming more discerning and as their earning power grows, they’re spending larger amounts on single purchases.

Alice Riese Rolley: Above $5,000, though, a watch is still perceived as a gift or jewelry, rather than an accessory.

WGS: Conventional trade wisdom says men provide 70 percent of U.S. watch sales, women 30 percent. Is that changing?

CL: Yes. Watches are now a “respected” fashion item, and more women are becoming self-purchasers of major-ticket items, like fine jewelry and cars.

MB: Women are purchasing watches for themselves more and more often. As watches change from just being a timepiece to a fashion accessory, women are looking for watches that match different occasions, and aren’t afraid to buy them for themselves.

SR: I don’t believe business is so skewed toward men. Women have always been major watch consumers. However, I do believe women are becoming more knowledgeable about timepieces, and that strengthens them as a purchasing group.

FA: Statistics I receive [for total U.S. watch sales] aren’t consistent with those you mentioned. For jewelry-store and department-store distribution in the United States, women’s watches represent 40 percent of all watch sales (in dollars) between $50 to over $10,000. For watches $50 to $150, women’s watches are 59 percent of sales, and 57 percent between $150 and $300. The ratio reverses for watches $300 to $500, where men’s sales are 67 percent, and between $500 and $1,500, they’re 59 percent.

Our research also indicates women buy more watches than men but spend less per watch and are buying watches priced under $300 as accessories. Self-purchases represent over 50 percent of those sales.

WGS: Where is this increase in women watch self-purchasers most apparent?

CL: Age 30 and up. Upper income.

MB: Mostly the 20s and 30s.

ARR: Particularly 25 to 35.

SR: Women with more disposable income drive much of the increase.


WGS: What about luxury watches? Are more U.S. women buying these for themselves than in past years?

SR: Yes. Their disposable income and the importance they put on the timepiece as an accessory drives this.

CL: Fashion advertising and diamond pieces that command luxury pricing also drive it.

FA: As women earn higher salaries, it seems inevitable they’ll adopt purchasing behavior typical of male consumers in the past. So, appreciation of an upscale watch as a statement or a status symbol seems to be increasing among female consumers.

SO: Definitely. Corum is developing a very nice female collector market. These women can afford one-of-a-kind and limited editions—that’s the real driver—as opposed to the mechanics inside.

ARR: Women are becoming more educated about watches, through more watch editorials in the lifestyle and fashion press, and because high-end fashion brands, like Vuitton, Dior, and Chanel now produce watch collections that don’t focus only on design but also on mechanical functions.

WGS: Are U.S. women becoming more knowledgeable about technical aspects of fine watches?

ARR: Definitely, because high-end fashion brands have picked up on that. It’s still far from what it is in Asia, though, where women are very educated about mechanical watches.

MB: U.S. women are much more knowledgeable now about technical features, just as the average consumer is much more educated about purchases.

SR: The growth and demand for women’s chronographs is just the beginning. There’s an emerging opportunity in fine mechanical timepieces for Swiss watchmakers to offer complications in smaller sizes.

FA: My impression is that neither American men nor women are truly interested in watch complications and mechanisms. A small group does appreciate that, but I believe the larger group is simply attracted to the appearance and intricate design of a more technical watch.

WGS: What accounts for U.S. women’s growing attraction to watches, including fine watches?

SO: Consumerism, natural evolution, and more expendable dollars.

ARR: As with men, it’s education: They’re more exposed to fine watches through editorial and advertising.

MB: A watch is now viewed more as a fashion accessory.

SR: Women created the idea of a timepiece as an accessory and have driven the watch business in this regard since the 1980s. What’s changed in recent years is their appreciation for fine timepieces and especially those with complications.


WGS: What’s most important to U.S. women when buying themselves a watch: looks, functions, or prestige?

CL: Looks and fashion.

MB: Women want it all. Today, watches must not only be fashionable but also have the quality and functions of a prestige watch. We offer that in our collections—the fashion aspect with use of color, plus Swiss movements, sapphire crystals, and the finest materials. Why settle for one if you can get all three?

SO: To achieve all three in one watch is a challenge. I believe women put looks first, prestige next, and function third. When a female consumer buys more than one watch, she’s “wardrobing” and thinking about entire looks and ensembles.

SR: It depends on the woman’s mindset and price range. However, across all purchases, style is probably the determining factor. Most women still consider the fashion aspect more than the technical.

FA: It does seem women care more about a product’s styling than its technical aspects.

ARR: “Fashion/accessory” is still the main one, but technical aspects are starting to play a role in the trend of women wearing men’s watches, like chronographs.

WGS: Are U.S. women buyers affecting watch design and marketing?

FA: The increase in colored straps and dials and the use of diamond and crystal accents in traditional and new variations indicate women’s growing design influence. Advertising of watches priced under $300 has more and more targeted female consumers in the last decade. The ad focus on women is starting to be seen in higher-end brands, too.

CL: Watchmaking allows now for female design attitudes. A woman’s watch doesn’t have to be a “male takedown” in size or feeling. There’re also more unusual shapes.

WGS: Where are you seeing more activity by women watch buyers?

CL: $800 to $4,000.

ARR: $2,000 to $5,000.

SR: Timepieces with complications. Women are more aware and appreciative of them, and Swiss watchmakers have created styling that makes them more appealing to women.

MB: I think that it’s pretty much across the board.

FA: With growing demand for diamonds on plated watches and Bulova’s diamond introductions in recent seasons, ladies’ watches now represent more than 50 percent of total Bulova sales between $300 and $500. That’s partly from an increase in self-purchasers.

SO: At Corum, the trend is to a higher average retail, as the female market grows and changes. Our female consumer is increasingly more sophisticated, and as we raise the bar on the type of watches we produce, female collectors are emerging who appreciate their uniqueness.

WGS: Are more women buying collectible and limited-edition watches?

SO: At Corum we see it. These women have buying power, [collecting] gives them clout and status with their peers, and they love to own these first.

SR: There’s a small increase in interest, but auctions for rare and fine timepieces are still dominated by male buyers.

MB: A woman wants to express her individual style through her watch, as well as other accessories. Limited-edition and vintage watches are a way to do so and stand out from the crowd.

CL: It’s a small percentage. This market is still driven by men.

ARR: [Women’s involvement] is very small, but the reason is surely the same as for men: Collectibles represent a good investment.


WGS: Is there more awareness in the watch business, especially Swiss brands, of the potential of the female self-purchaser?

ARR: Of course. Audemars Piguet, for instance, had a major launch of four women’s collections in 2004.

CL: Yes. There is, for example, female- driven advertising, in some cases backed with high-profile female spokeswomen.

SO: Yes. Just look at whom advertising and magazines target. Also, trunk-show attendance by women is a very good gauge.

SR: Swiss luxury brands have always been aware of the power and opportunity of female self-purchasers, but clearly, product design and marketing attention to them has increased in recent years.

FA: At Accutron and Wittnauer, the two Swiss brands in Bulova’s portfolio, consideration is definitely given to female self-purchasers. Wittnauer’s Krystal collection is predominantly women’s watches, and there’s a high percentage of self-purchasing.

WGS: How are watchmakers and suppliers tapping into this potential?

CL: With more fashionable, bolder design; “fashion-right” watch bands; and the introduction of precious and semiprecious stones.

SO: New designs, often based on fashion trends and colors. Without doubt, the creative factor has been kicked up a notch.

SR: While the industry has tapped into the potential, with significant marketing dollars invested, the approach isn’t fundamentally different from in the past. Special collections, targeted advertising, spokesperson and/or celebrity endorsement continue to be the marketing platform.

ARR: High-end fashion brands lead the trend. Women’s watches aren’t just jewelry watches or smaller quartz versions of men’s models anymore. Swiss manufacturers know they must have exceptional, fashionable design and quality.

FA: In recent years, a new category of ladies’ watches has emerged, with sporty styling and diamond accents on bezels and dials. We’ve had success with this in both Accutron and Bulova watches. This sport/diamond combination is one example of a category targeted to the woman self-purchaser.


WGS: Does marketing watches to women differ from marketing to men?

CL: It’s probably easier selling to women, because there aren’t as many complications for salespeople to know. But they do need to understand diamond and stone quality, carat weight, and so on.

MB: It’s not very different. Ultimately, the person buying a watch, whether male or female, wants to feel good about the purchase and look good with it.

SR: It’s more challenging, because the sense of style among women is so important, well-defined, and varied. Retailers must respond with the right mix of brands and style collections. And as women become more knowledgeable about timepieces, retailers need knowledgeable and observant sales associates.

SO: I believe women put beauty first, so it’s not easier or more difficult to sell to them, just different. Figuring that out is what makes a retailer or salesperson successful.

FA: Since women are buying watches as accessories, they’re demanding more variations in watch categories, colors, and styles to complement their apparel and trends in clothing and accessories. That’s more challenging for manufacturers and retailers, because fashion-based watches have a shorter life cycle than traditionally styled watches. The female consumer also demands a broader range of styles.

ARR: It’s more difficult, because watch brands compete with all products, including fashion brands. It’s also more costly, because women are more reachable through ads in fashion magazines, which tend to be expensive. Retailers and brands must work together to better cater to woman customers [in ways ranging] from store events to more feminine store designs.

WGS: What can watchmakers do to make watches more appealing to women self-purchasers?

CL: Pay attention to fashion trends. In retrospect, it isn’t hard to understand why black and white ceramic timepieces have become successful. They make a standout fashion statement.

FA: It’s essential that watchmakers keep up with fashion trends in apparel, jewelry, shoes, and other accessories and interpret these in watch design.

SR: Combine sport and luxury. Provide style versatility.

MB: We do that through our interchangeable straps and bracelets.

SO: To attract professional women, particularly, move away from big and flashy. It’s about sophistication and using platinum, gold, and precious stones while delivering unique designs. Give beauty and value with substance.

ARR: It’s anything original, fashionable, and functional, as TechnoMarine did, combining plastic and diamonds at a great price point. Rubber, ceramic, diamonds definitely, and stainless steel. In terms of functions, chronographs are popular, but women are also interested in the concept of time and romantic aspects of many complications, like moonphases.

WGS: Can U.S. jewelers and watch stores do more to market watches to women?

MB: Most important is erasing the idea that buying watches and jewelry for yourself is taboo, or that you must wait for a man to buy them for you.

CL: Have trunk shows with expanded assortments, and carry a broad selection of fashion watch bands and straps as add-ons.

SR: Have events dedicated exclusively to women’s collections. Introduce and educate women to functionality and complications.

SO: There’s always more. Corum works hard to build strong partnerships with its retailers and promote their regional needs.

ARR: Have more events specifically for women and design stores to be less intimidating.

FA: Do more to promote ladies’ watch collections that have a fashion orientation and uniquely styled watches as accessories and less like fine jewelry. This will encourage impulse purchases by female customers of watches—instead of shoes, a blouse, or handbag—if presented as an accessory.