Tempted by Timepieces

Women self-purchasers have become important watch customers, say jewelers across America in an exclusive JCK survey. More than half expect that business to grow in the next two years, especially in mid- and luxury-price watches. These findings confirm statements by leading watch-company executives in a recent JCK roundtable on the growing segment represented by women watch buyers (see “From Timepiece to Fashion Accessory,” JCK, March 2006, p. 96).

JCK‘s poll of more than 600 U.S. jewelers who sell watches was conducted in late 2005 and had a response rate of approximately 19 percent. One in four respondents say the number of women buying watches from them has increased since 2003 to an across-the-board median of 40 percent of all their watch customers. Most significantly, seven out of 10 jewelers say that when a woman buys a watch from them, she’s usually buying it for herself.

Why the increase, especially in self-purchasing? Many jewelers surveyed echo comments of the watch executives in the JCK roundtable. As one jeweler put it, “More women have higher disposable incomes. More single women are buying for themselves, and more are more brand conscious.”

The focus on the watch as accessory, note many, as opposed to simply being a time-teller, is also a factor. And with fewer watches being bought as presents for women, according to some jewelers, more women are interested in selecting the watches they get.

Some jewelers also credit the increase in women watch buyers to the watchmakers themselves, noting that Swiss watch manufacturers have broadened their lines with attractive styles, some different enough to spawn a small but growing niche of female watch collectors. But a number of jewelers say watchmakers could do more to cultivate the women’s market. Much advertising, for example, is still geared toward men’s watches, they note.

It isn’t only jewelers that are benefiting from the increase in women watch purchasers. Some respondents noted there are serious competitors for the business of younger women, especially. “There are more inexpensive fashion options available to women,” said one jeweler. Others complained of “too many fashion watches in department stores” and said women looking for inexpensive fashion watches are more likely to buy one at a discounter or department store.

The main reasons women buy watches, say jewelers, are almost evenly divided between fashion (43.4 percent) and lifestyle (41.4 percent), with only 15.2 percent saying purchases are work driven.

Some of the most interesting results of the survey concern women and luxury watches. Of the surveyed jewelers, 12.4 percent say most of their luxury-watch sales are to women—with a 40 percent median of their female customers buying upscale timepieces. For 21.1 percent of respondents, most such sales are for $1,000 or more.

The fact that more women are buying luxury watches—most of which are mechanical, self- or manually wound, and examples of horological craftsmanship—doesn’t automatically mean they’re more knowledgeable about their technical aspects. Eighty-six percent of jewelers polled say their women watch customers “aren’t interested” in that. “Fashion is more important [in women’s buying decisions],” said one, “unless [the watch] has a very specific reason, such as for a nurse, diver, or swimmer.”

A more influential factor than what’s in it is who wears it—such as a friend or celebrity—or if it’s one they’ve heard about. Many jewelers told JCK that most (though not all) of their female watch buyers are not concerned with the technical aspects of timepieces. As one jeweler put it, “They just want to wear it 24/7, have it keep time, and be trouble free.”

Many jewelers remain unconvinced of the value or growth of the female-self-purchaser watch market. “Women don’t care about watches,” said one. “They just want a piece of pretty jewelry.”