It’s a Woman’s (Watch) World

That’s the impression from watch trends seen at 2007’s international watch shows this spring in Basel and Geneva, Switzerland, and in June at The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas.

Whatever category—color, new calibres, more diamond and sport watches, or those with complications—watchmakers are catering to women self-purchasers.

“Women’s business is becoming very important,” said Rachel Branch, TAG Heuer spokeswoman, and her comment was echoed by many others at the shows. Whether it be popular brands like Timex with its first diamond collection; prestigious ones, like Audemars Piguet or Zenith, targeting women; or fashion brands like Dior, with its first celebrity endorsement for its women’s watches—watchmakers are actively cultivating the women’s market.

These aren’t just traditional petite, bejeweled watches for the evening. Watchmakers are creating all kinds of watches—work, leisure and sport, and social wear—specifically for women, rather than basing them on men’s. New examples include Tutima’s pilot watches, Rado Original’s automatic flyback chrono, Wenger’s Elegance series, and TAG Heuer’s automatic Carrera, with skeleton back.

Many are upscale watches with complications—functions traditionally associated with men’s timepieces—such as Milus’s new Merea line of tri-retrograde watches. “They’re not, like some, scaled-down versions of men’s watches,” says Doron Basha, Milus USA’s chief executive officer.

This focus on women watch buyers means more designs with feminine nuances, like tapered straps, use of diamonds, and this year’s frequent use of white.

Bigger watches, too, are increasingly available to women, such as Zenith’s His Watch for Her line of 43 mm timepieces. “It addresses the fact that women are wearing men’s-size watches,” says Tamara Grove, Zenith’s U.S. marketing manager. Other examples include Michele’s oversize Deco fashion watches, Corum’s 40 mm Competition, and Audemars Piguet’s Ladies Royal Oak Offshore. “For years, we’ve heard women want bigger watches. This is a response,” says François-Henry Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars Piguet North America.

Watchmakers have even created sophisticated new movements specifically for women’s watches, like the world’s smallest tourbillon from Franck Muller and Citizen’s new calibre for women’s chronographs.

Even some men’s timepieces reflect the influence of women on watchmaking, as evidenced by subtle uses of diamonds, the restyling of women’s watches for men (e.g., Bertolucci’s 41 mm men’s Garbo chrono and Gucci’s first automatic for men), and the use of white. Another sign of women’s importance was an exhibition at the SIHH fair titled “Fine Watchmaking: A Tribute to Women,” with examples from every exhibitor.

Today’s trends aren’t centered just on women, of course, and this month and next, JCK spotlights all the major trends and products from this year’s watch fairs.

White Cascade

White is the most frequent hue on new watches. “It’s widely used in fashion now as an accessory, because it lends itself to wider use,” noted Roland Streule, president of Rado worldwide. “Like black, it can go with anything.”

While white has long been on the design palette for women’s watches, this year sees an abundance of new models featuring it—in straps, like Baume & Mercier’s Riviera L White Wave and Audemars Piguet’s Ladies Royal Oak Offshore; ceramic inlays of bezels or case sides, like Festina’s women’s Road Warrior and Ebel’s Brasilia chrono; and all-white models, like Rado’s True White and Longines’s limited-edition Les Elégantes.

When white combines with diamonds, the results can be striking. Examples include Blancpain’s Léman Lady; Zenith’s Star Open Sea, with pearls for hour markers on mother-of-pearl dial; Chanel’s pearls and diamond Première; and Patek Philippe’s Calatrava Travel Time, with blue-gray mother-of-pearl in white gold.

White isn’t just for women’s watches. It is, notes Adam Gurian, president of Callanen International, “a unisex color.” One example is Cuervo y Sobrinos’s white 43 mm Robusto Buceador diver’s watch, with orange sapphires on the bezel and orange stitching, a fast seller worn by some NASCAR drivers.

Brown—or “chocolate,” as it’s often called—remains popular for dials and strap designs. Examples include Oris’s limited-edition Dizzy Gillespie square automatic; Omega’s Speedmaster Broad Arrow; Victorinox Swiss Army’s Chrono Class, with speedometer scale; and Frédérique Constant’s Lady Double Heart Beat, with heart-shape opening to view the movement.

Good hues news isn’t limited to brown and white. Chopard’s Happy Sport Mark II chrono, with movable diamonds under the crystal, for example, is pretty in pink. Fabergé’s oval Anastasia, with diamond-encircled soleil dial, beguiles in blue, while Xemex’s sporty XE 5000 Python chrono stands out in yellow. Deep black models include Hublot’s Bigger Bang all-black skeleton chrono, Rado Ceramica’s ChronoMat, Nautica’s black epoxy NMX chrono, and Alpina’s hand-wound Extreme Full Black, with off-center hour display.

Metals’ Mettle

While stainless steel dominates watchmaking, there’s much more red gold (also called pink or rose, depending on the copper alloy) on fine watches, partly due to “more demand for rose gold cases in watches targeted at men,” notes Peter Kramer, Cartier’s watch marketing director. Examples include Cartier’s Masculine Elegance, Piaget’s Altiplano Double Jeu (two superimposed pink gold cases), Montblanc’s TimeWalker Chronograph Automatic, Breit-ling’s Bentley Flying B No. 3 chrono, Eterna’s rose gold version of its Vaughan Big Date; Zenith’s Defy timepieces, Wyler Genève’s Chronograph (with triple protection system), and Guess Collection’s Sport Class chrono with PVD rose gold–plated finishing. Rosy gold graces women’s watches, too, like the Hermès pink gold Cape Cod Moon Phase, Montblanc’s Sport Red Gold Lady, and Chopard’s pink gold women’s Two O Ten XL.

Another precious metal getting more mileage is platinum. Despite cost ($1,340 per ounce at press time), more platinum watches than usual debuted this year. Most high-end brands unveiled single or limited-edition platinum versions of new models. Among them are Martin Braun’s moonphase Selene, Victorinox Swiss Army’s Legacy Réserve de Marche Platine, Harry Winston’s reshaped women’s Ocean retrograde (with 667 diamonds), the 1 million Swiss franc ($821,000) Movado tourbillon retrograde, and IWC’s Edition Antoine de Saint Exupéry pilot’s watch (auctioned for charity).

Some midprice brands follow suit, such as Tissot’s platinum T-Touch, and Citizen and Rado “platinum tone” (though not platinum) watches.

Among many sports watches using titanium are Seiko’s Velatura marine collection, Corum’s Admiral’s Cup Tides watch, Festina’s black automatic Shockwave, Zenith’s Stealth series, and Nautica’s NMX 100.

Titanium isn’t only for sports. Boccia’s affordable Super Slim series (7 mm thick), for one, combines titanium and high-tech carbon, while Porsche Design’s Worldtimer titanium dial and case is an eye-catcher. Others include Eterna’s World Timer, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s 46.3 mm Master Compressor Extreme, Carl F.Bucherer’s TravelTec GMT (palladium with titanium pusher), and Oris’s TT3 Day Date.

The Shape of Things

Angular watches—square and rectangular, often with round corners—cut a wide swath through 2007’s trade shows. Examples include Oris’s limited-edition Leonhard Euler watch (honoring an 18th century Swiss mathematician), also called the Sudoku watch for its dial’s squares; Gucci’s Signoria line, with Gucci’s iconic horse-bit in links around the case; de Grisogono’s Instrumento Novantatre, its first annual calendar; and JeanRichard’s Paramount, with no hour hand. Also notable is newcomer ceramic Toy Watch, high-end Pierre Kunz’s square tourbillon, Tissot’s Quadrato, Hamilton’s Jazzmaster Square Auto Chrono, and Raymond Weil’s domed Don Giovanni Cosi Grande automatic chrono (37.5 mm × 50 mm).

Other brands are putting more focus on curves. Some are oval, like Charriol’s Force collection. IWC’s redesigned Da Vinci line uses tonneau cases. Cartier’s “major focus this year is on the round watch,” says Peter Kramer, Cartier watch marketing director. Its new Ballon Bleu, in three sizes, represents “a new direction for Cartier,” well known for Tank and Santos watches. The global launch is Cartier’s largest ever.

The Sporting Life

A category more active than usual this year is sports watches. More mid- and upper-price brands are adding or expanding them to strengthen their position with a maturing but active baby boom generation, while widening their market among younger, active adults.

Longines, for example, this year is spotlighting and expanding its Sports Elegance line. Additions include its automatic HydroConquest divers line and its Grande Vitesse chronographs, inspired by motor sports.

Many new sport watches are geared to water sports. Seiko’s Velatura collection is a marine watch for men and women “who love the oceans.” It has 11 models (including a women’s diamond watch) and two new calibres—a new Kinetic and a yachting timer.

Corum is focusing strongly on its Admiral’s Cup line, which provides much U.S. business. Its automatic Tides 48, with tides data module, has been redesigned. The original 12-sided case is echoed in its crystal. Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual Yacht Master II Regatta chrono has a programmable countdown function.

Among new divers’ watches are Guess Collection’s Divers Class Lady Square; Bulgari’s Diagono Professional Scuba chrono, developed in consultation with professionaldivers; and Breguet’s Marine Tourbillon, composed partly of titanium.

Breitling has revived its Superocean diving watch (1957) with the automatic Superocean Héritage, in two sizes (38 mm, 46 mm) and two types (Ocean Classic, Ocean Racer). Jaeger-LeCoultre’s newest are “the ultimate diving watches for women,” say its officials. Also eye-catching:Hamilton’s Sea Queen, with galuchat straps.

New watches aren’t all wet. Zodiac has reintroduced Astrographic (125 years old this year) as a “sport/adventure watch.” Tissot’s several sports-related watches include two honoring motor sports champions.

Some are sporty yet stylish, like Raymond Weil’s 44 mm Sport Chic; Ebel’s 1911 Discovery automatic chrono; and Pulsar’s Dress Sport watches, with gold tone accents.

Others are influenced by gentler activities. H.Stern’s new Sfera Arpoador unisex chrono line is inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s Arpoador Beach. Parmigiani Fleurier’s Kalpagraph chronograph series, its first, is influenced by hot-air ballooning, which it sponsors, says a spokesperson.

The Sparkle of Diamonds

Diamonds are not only forever, but apparently for everyone—or at least everyone with a watch. A sign of their widening availability was the announcement by Timex of its first diamond watch collection. Retailing for $125 to $325, the watches come with a Gemological Institute of America certificate of quality and a Kimberley Process warranty. These “everyday luxury” watches are designed to be worn with “jeans and heels,” says Jennifer MacLean, U.S. brand manager. The collection, debuting in October, aims to build Timex’s market with women.

Other popular brands also offer sparkling timepieces. Guess Collection has added bezels with full diamonds (starting at $500) to its Swiss-made watches. Citizen, which claims a third of the $150 to $800 U.S. watch market, debuted several watches with diamonds, while widely sold Seiko added two classically styled ones with diamond bezels (starting at $750). Both say women’s diamond watches are among their fastest-growing segments.

Tissot presented Nuyba (starting at $2,395), “with 58 diamonds, for the woman who wants to pamper herself,” said U.S. brand manager Olivier Cosandier. Montblanc’s Star Lady Moon Phase glitters with 80 diamonds. Omega’s women’s De Ville Chronoscope (in palladium) is set with 36 diamonds, while Dior’s 38 mm Red Heart mixes red sapphires and diamonds.

More brands also offer men’s watches with diamond accents. Examples include TAG Heuer’s Aquaracer, with 47 diamonds; the Omega Planet Seamaster with baguette diamonds and orange sapphires around the dial, and Carl F. Bucherer’s Manero with diamond bezel.

Luxury watches are diamonds’ natural territory, and the artistry and craftsmanship of many new diamond timepieces can take one’s breath away. Examples include Patek Philippe’s women’s tonneau with diamonds set under the crystal, around the inside; Milus’s all-diamond Helios Tri-retrograde watches; those of Backes & Strauss Diamond Watch; Hublot’s all-diamond One Million Dollar Big Bang with tourbillon; Leon Hatot’s Zelia Bamboo, with gold cover with green enamel bamboo leaves and 84 diamonds; Harry Winston’s haute joaillerie Ducesse, with pear-shape diamonds; and Audemars Piguet’s Starlit Sky (with its own complications calibre). It isn’t all white diamonds. Carl F. Bucherer’s Alacria Fancy Diva Wildcat, whose tiger-stripe design covers case and dial, uses black, cognac, and golden yellow diamonds, (962 in all).