Strapped for Fashion

More women—and men, too—are taking the look of their watches into their own hands, literally, thanks to more watches with interchangeable straps. Indeed, it’s one of the most successful fashion trends of the moment and a key element in the accessories department of every store, says Franz Brunner, chief executive officer of Egana of Switzerland (America), which distributes Pierre Cardin watches.

Interchangeable straps aren’t new. The popular Anne Klein New York brand has sold them to women for years, while high-end Piaget, in its Miss Protocole women’s watches, has offered the option since 1998. But recently the idea has gained popularity with the growth of watches as fashion (and fashionable) accessories. Michele, a popular fashion watch launched in 2000, has built its success in part on interchangeable straps that are updated seasonally with new materials and skins. Watch-industry experts cite several reasons for the trend:

  • Ease of use. The ability to change watch straps quickly, without going to a watchmaker or jeweler, appeals to busy fashion-conscious consumers. More brands are offering quick and easy self-change methods, including mini screwdrivers, latches, and springs.

  • Variety. Customers like the variety of colors, styles, and materials available for watch straps, whether packaged with a watch or sold separately. Montblanc’s Lady Profile Couture, for one, rides a cotton strap in pink, green, or blue, interchangeable with one in black leather. A new Guess Collection women’s line comes with a Swarovski five-row pearl bracelet, interchangeable with a packaged leather strap. Ritmo Mvndo’s Divina watch (which TV talk-show host Oprah Winfrey liked so much, she ordered the entire initial inventory) comes with rubber and leather straps. The straps (sold separately) of Lorenzo Pozzan’s upraised Stratosphere include cobra, carbon fiber, calf hair, galuchat (stingray), and stitched leather. Bulova’s new women’s calendar chronograph, with 16 diamonds on the case, rides a black strap, with two more (white and pink) packaged with it. Pierre Cardin fashion watches come with three straps; more are sold separately. Straps for Philip Stein Teslar watches come in a rainbow of colors and in a wide variety of materials, including rubber, leather, and fabric. Baume & Mercier’s Linea collection features interchangeable bracelets as well as straps. IceTek’s new women’s floral watches come with two straps, “because so many people ask for straps when they wear out,” says president Juliana Shearer.

  • Versatility. Consumers appreciate “going from stylish to classic with the switch of a band,” says Montblanc spokeswoman Danielle Martinetti.
    Watches with changeable bands are “a very practical idea,” says Francie Abraham, Bulova Corp. vice president of marketing, “Women are more likely to buy a watch costing several hundred dollars if they can wear it as an accessory often and with different outfits. So, a watch in a fashion color at a higher price point needs some alternatives, like a strap in a fashion color and another in basic.”

  • Value. Interchangeability increases a watch’s “perceived value,” which is important to a sale, says Brunner. “When you buy a watch with several straps for different occasions, it’s like having several watches.”
    Interchangeability has practical value, too. “Wear and tear on a strap is worse than on a bracelet,” notes Abraham, “so having several makes a watch go further.”

VARIATIONS ON A THEME

Versatility and ease of use aren’t limited to changeable straps or bracelets. Cyma, Pedre, Pippo Italia, and Montblanc, for example, all offer women’s watches with pull-through straps. Hidalgo watches have interchangeable bezels and straps, while Façonnable’s Diamond Roll not only has interchangeable straps but also changeable rotating gemstone bars (between the case lugs). Movado’s Scarf Watch and Piaget’s Miss Protocole can each be worn on “pull-through” scarves that serve as wraparound “straps.” In a variation on changeability, Hermès’s Barenia watch—on a pull-through leather strap—has added reversible straps, each side a different color (e.g., orange/raspberry). “Coupled with the selling feature of changing your own strap, these reversibles are almost like having two different watches, or at least two different looks,” says Andrea Galella, East Coast sales manager, Hermès watch division.

Interchangeable straps aren’t limited to women’s timepieces. More men find them useful, too. Hamilton’s 40 mm Khaki King, for example, comes with a pull-through canvas strap, bracelet, or leather strap. Customers can buy a set of two interchangeable canvas straps (black and beige or green and black). Charriol’s new luxury Actor Square and Actor XL (on mesh bracelet) have changeable bands. Altanus’s colorful Racing Team chronos come with additional straps. Accutron’s new upscale line of large steel watches with layered square cases (with or without diamonds) has latched spring bars for easy exchange. (Each watch comes with two straps.) Nautica’s men’s Diver’s Watch comes with three interchangeable straps, in orange, black leather, and synthetic gray.