Timely Trends

Fine watchmakers have discovered women—or more specifically, female watch enthusiasts. Debuts at 2003’s Swiss watch fairs in Basel and Geneva—launch pads for watch market trends and innovations—included not only the expected ladies’ jewelry watches but also an exceptional number of mechanical timepieces—even complications—for women. That parallels growth, overall, in mid-priced mechanical watches. Also notable among hundreds of timepiece debuts were enough larger-sized watches for a market niche, upscale digital watches, and wider watches. JCK’s reports this month and next spotlight these and other trends at BaselWorld 2003 and Geneva’s Salon International de la Haute Horologerie and World Presentation of Luxury Horology.

Mechanical Ladies

Quartz watches rule the watch business, but mechanical watches’ share—led by rising consumer interest—is growing, judging by debuts at Basel and Geneva. Among many unveiled at BaselWorld 2003, for example, were Hamilton’s automatic Khaki Aviator line, Oris’s automatic Artelier collection, Ebel’s La Carrée for men, Longines’ 1920s-inspired Evidenza collection, Ikepod’s Poterpoo perpetual calendar, and Glasshütte Original’s PanoMatic automatics. Tissot added several automatics, as did Movado to its Museum and Elliptica series. Swiss Army’s AirBoss aviator-style watches come in quartz and mechanical versions. Luxury jeweler H. Stern, a Basel first-timer, debuted its first automatic, as did Festina, with its Manhattan line.

Female focus. Notable is the rise in mechanicals for women, part of a growing industry focus on the female watch buyer. Overall, scores of popular-, mid-, and luxury-priced brands unveiled timepieces (besides jewelry watches) just for women. Many, of course, use quartz movements, like Nautica’s first-ever woman’s watch; Bulova’s Chamonix luxury sport watches; Seiko’s youthful Tressia series; luxury watchmaker Franck Muller’s Long Island chrono; Timex’s fashion watches with self-adjustable links; David Yurman’s Madison, with attachable cases; and Concord’s Saratoga “Fancy Dials.”

But many brands are also expanding women’s watch wardrobes with hand-wound, automatic, and complications timepieces, either as single models or in unisex, men-and-women, or women-only collections. This parallels growing interest by many women, especially working women, in such watches. As they become more watch-savvy, says Helénè Poulit-Duquesne, deputy manager of watches for Cartier worldwide, “Women want to know more about what’s in a watch and what happens there.” Also, owning a fine mechanical watch is “a personal statement” for more women, notes Alice Rice-Rolley, marketing director of Audemars Piguet North America. “It says, ‘I’m successful in my career, and can afford a fine watch like this, if I want it.’ “

More watch firms are responding to the demand. In Basel, Maurice Lacroix debuted “Phase de Lune Dame,” its first Masterpiece watch for women, a fact underscored by its introduction by Miss Universe 2002. Gucci added its first-ever automatic, Chanel has a self-winding version of its all-white ceramic J12, and Cartier’s mini Tank Divan is its first automatic jewelry watch. Patek Philippe added a haute joaillerie mechanical, with see-through back, to its successful women’s quartz Twenty-4 line and a moon phase model.

All mechanical. Some brands offer a choice of quartz or mechanical, such as French fashion house Leonard’s watches or high-end European Company Watch (ECW) women’s pastel line (in mini and mini-mini sizes). Many new women’s collections, however, are all mechanical. Examples include Audemars Piguet’s Millenary (its shape based on Rome’s Coliseum) and Cartier’s gold Tortue, redefined as a smaller hand-wound woman’s watch. Daniel Mink’s new mid-priced Fusion-D offers stainless-steel automatics with precious stones, mother-of-pearl dials, and colored alligator straps. Zenith, known for its mechanical movements, has created the automatic Chronomaster Star El Primero, based on a 1920s design. Daniel Roth’s luxury-priced elliptical-cased automatics target “women who appreciate feminine elegance coupled with mechanical virtuosity,” while high-end Vacheron Constantin’s gold and diamond Egérie line, inspired by 1920s Art Deco, is for “active, innovative women.”

More watchmakers realize that women can be connoisseurs of watchmaking—just as much as men are. Longines’s limited-edition Les Elegantes watches, replicas of 1929 models, for example, are “designed first and foremost for women with a collector’s eye.” Gerald Genta women’s Solo Retro and Arena Contemporary feature two complications (jumping hours and retrograde minutes). Breguet, which invented tourbillons 200 years ago, unveiled its first-ever tourbillon for women. Dubey & Schandenbrand’s Aerodyn Lady Star, with moon phase and pointer calendar display, is a limited edition. The Bulgari-Bulgari series added two 38-mm “petite complications” (moon phase and annual calendar) for those who “appreciate refined high technological watches.”

Women’s interest in mechanicals is also energizing watch design. “Women are more accepting than men of new things in watches,” says Mitchell Caplan, president of Daniel Mink USA. “You can do things for a women’s watch in color or design [that] you can’t for a man’s.” Also, “it’s more of a challenge for a watchmaker to design [complications] for the smaller dials” of women’s watches, notes Lisa Hagendorf, U.S. spokesperson for Geneva watchmaker Pierre Kunz, whose colorful new women’s line offers retrograde seconds and moon phases in three small, different case shapes.

The trend in larger watches continues to grow, thanks to the rising popularity of mechanical watches, the introduction of more multi-function watches, and the establishment of both as fashion statements. Bigger watches were featured players in this year’s timepiece debuts across all price categories, as many more brands upsized existing models or added larger ones (36 mm to 48 mm) for both sexes.

Guess Watches’ new Looking Glass and Off the Cuff lines are “intentionally oversized,” while Bulgari’s popular Scuba grew from 38 mm to 40 mm “due to demand for increased size,” says a spokesperson. Glycine, long known for big watches, debuted its Nine diver (46 mm). Breitling’s Bentley chrono is 48.7 mm, its largest ever, while Hamilton’s hot Khaki Aviator is 44 mm, also its biggest. Swiss Army’s new AirBoss series comes in 40 mm, 43 mm, and 45 mm. IWC’s popular Portofino Automatic is 38 mm, four millimeters wider, and its new contemporary Spitfire line ranges from 38 mm to 42 mm. High-end Lange & Söhne’s unique, limited-edition Grand Luna Mundi is 41.9 mm rather than its usual 35.5 mm. “Bigger watches are much sought after today, and we’ve had many requests for one,” said company spokesman Arnd Einhorn.

Some collections even promote the larger sizes in their titles, like Balmain’s Excessive watches (with cases bulging at the sides), Damiani’s EgoOversize, or Alfex’s Big Line.

Most bigger watches are for men, like mid-priced Cyma’s Grand Imperium chrono, Chronoswiss’s Timemaster, and Patek Philippe’s 43-mm Gondolo. However, larger timepieces are popular with women, too. “Bigger watches are sexy,” says Chanel spokesperson Amy Horowitz. “It’s the juxtaposition of feminine and masculine features.” Examples include Blancpain’s elegant Villeret Ultraflat (40 mm), cK’s Bold Summer chronograph (41 mm), Nautica’s Clipper chono (42 mm), and Baume & Mercier’s Hampton City, which includes a unisex 42 mm.

Size change didn’t necessarily mean maximal upsizing. Jaeger-LeCoultre’s newest Reverso (with power reserve window on the caseback) is only 10% larger, while Hermès’s 50%-bigger H-Heuer is just 30.5 mm, suitable for both sexes, say its marketers. And some watchmakers went the other way. Italy’s Grimoldi, known for oversized oval watches, has smaller women’s models in its Giotto and Spider lines, while David Yurman’s mid-sized men’s chrono is 35 mm, down from 41 mm.

There also are more “big date” watches (with large “date” windows) and larger numerals on more dials, a concession to fashion, and—admit some watchmakers—the eyes of aging Baby Boomers. New “big date” movements were unveiled with some fanfare by both Ronda (quartz) and ETA (automatic), a sign this trend will continue.

Shaping up. While some watches grow, others stretch. A number of new models have horizontal cases—wide, “east/west” elongated ovals or rectangles. A good example is Baume & Mercier’s Hampton City collection for men and women, which could become its signature line. Others include Leonard’s Wide Screen collection; Guess Watches’ oval Looking Glass line; Seiko’s oval Vivace; Cartier’s diamond and gold mini Tank Divan; cK’s Clasp, whose rectangular case forms a loop for its leather bracelet; Rama Swiss Watch’s 7th Sense; and Ventura’s digital wide-screen V-tec Alpha.

There are many variations on tonneau (“barrel”) shapes, such as Ebel’s reinterpreted Beluga Tonneau, or Michele’s pillow-shaped, multi-gem-set Coquette Color watches. Also being seen more frequently are creative uses of “screen” shapes (as in TV or movie), like JeanRichard’s double retrograde Grand TV Screen, with unique date and seconds displays; Façonnable’s Cocoon, with semiprecious gems set in steel; Philippe Charriol’s Lady Jet Set line; or St. Honore’s Roma Horizon, with Swarovski crystal bezel tracks and “graffiti” leather strap.

The round watch also is being redefined. One standout is Alfred Dunhill’s automatic X-centric, with concentric circles and off-center dial, based on a 1903 Dunhill dashboard clock. Others are Seiko’s revitalized kinetic Acutra, featuring a new signature design; St. Honore’s Coloseo (based on Roman amphitheaters); and Movado’s Elliptica Round, a marriage of classicism and avant garde.

Designers are experimenting with other shapes, too, such as Bertolucci’s Doppia line, unlike anything it has done, with a thick sapphire atop the case (no bezel); Christian Bernard Balenciaga’s Satin case (offset opposing Ls); Guess Watches’ sideways-square Shield line; Pierre Kunz’s “roca” case (merging round and square shapes); and Grimoldi’s Spider (rounded square pushed in at each side).

Sparkle, Sheen & Straps

More brands are accenting watches or framing dials with precious and semiprecious stones, such as Rado’s ceramic Sintra Superjubile (diamonds, blue and pink sapphires), Montblanc’s Lady Profile Jewelry Royal (258 sapphires on white gold), Bulgari’s Rettangolos (blue topazes, pink rhodolites, black diamonds), and Façonnable’s steel Cocoon line (citrines, topazes, garnets, black diamonds).

There are more diamond watches—like Cartier’s wavy Swing watch or Balmain’s elliptical Excessive, with 100 diamonds framing the dial—and watches with diamond accents are more prevalent, too. Examples include Dior’s Riva Sparkling series, with diamond-sprinkled square bezels; Philippe Charriol’s Azur Lady Oval, with diamond hour accents; Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Lena, with a water-ripple design on the cover; Bulova Accutron’s Chamonix women’s sport series; and Omega’s newest Constellation Quadra Mini. The “look” of diamond accents—achieved by using Austrian crystals—is spreading, too, as seen in Delma’s women’s Versaille Cube and ESQ’s Cassidy.

One intriguing niche is men’s diamond watches. “It’s a clear trend,” says Alice Rice-Rolley, marketing manager for Audemars Piguet North America. “More men with higher incomes wear diamond watches, especially younger men and those in [certain] geographic areas, like Florida.” Examples include Longines’s diamond bezel Evidenza chrono; Chopard’s limited-edition Prince Charles, with diamond-set case and bezel; Hermès’s Tandem with 44 or 66 diamonds; and Cyma’s Imperium LS, with or without diamonds.

Metallica. Stainless steel remains watches’ most widely used material, but new gold watches are proliferating in mid- to upscale categories. Festina USA, for example, is focusing on its 18k watches, including its Century series. There also are more pink and rose gold timepieces, such as Eberhard’s Postilla, Gevril’s limited-edition Avenue of the Americas, Hublot’s Super B chrono, and IWC’s Portuguese Perpetual Calendar.

Titanium is gaining some ground, too. Its light weight makes it popular for sport watches like Panerai’s Luminor Submersible Diver, Oris’ TT1 Diver, Audemars Piguet’s commemorative Royal Oak Alinghi, and Baume & Mercier’s pink gold CapeLand S chronograph. At the same time, its fashionable sheen enhances dressier designs like Danish designer Jacob Jensen’s titanium, steel, and rubber series for men and women. Other entries in the titanium category include Tissot’s titanium line, Seiko Actura chronos, David Yurman’s limited-edition men’s chrono, and Junghans’s solar-powered Spektral Mega Star with automatic time setting.

Strapping. What binds watches to wrists is changing as well. Straps and bands are larger—a necessity for big watches—and use a greater variety of materials. “Following fashion, there’s a move away from metallics into other materials like fabrics, washed leather, or soft polyurethane,” says Cindy Livingston, president of Callanen International.

With greater use of various leathers and skins, watch colors are more muted, with numerous browns, tans, blacks, and dark blues. Eyecatching, too, is the small but growing use of grainy sharkskin or stingray, such as Bertolucci’s Doppia, Leonard’s Screen line, and de Grisogono’s Instrumento S10.

More mid- and high-end watches are using black rubber (first used by Hublot 20 years ago), such as JeanRichard’s Grand TV Screen Diver; Hermès’s Clipper diver chrono, its first-ever rubber bracelet; models in Seiko’s relaunched Actura collection and Dior’s Riva Chrono Sparkling series; Ebel’s Class Wave automatic chrono; and Bulgari’s 18k and diamond Diagono series. Rubber-like synthetics are found on models in Swiss Army’s Summit XL and Alliance lines.

Watches are sporting a variety of fabrics, too—sometimes atop leather, such as bamboo (Gucci), denim (Dior, Tommy Hilfiger), khaki (Hamilton, Coach), and durable satin-like materials (Cartier).