Want a Luxury Diamond Watch? DIY

“Do it yourself” usually refers to home handyman projects—repairing the fence, fixing the sink, shingling the roof—but now it’s also possible for consumers to “do” their watches themselves. And not just any watches, but luxury watches, sporting diamonds, and sold through jewelers.

The customizing of watches by consumers isn’t new and it’s not just a domestic phenomenon. Some popular brands in Japan, for example, have offered it online for years, with consumers picking up their customized watches at convenience stores. Here, too, some inexpensive DIY watches are sold directly online.

But DIY for fine watches is a new idea, and it’s beginning to attract more interest among consumers and retailers. Here are three examples.

  • Since 2005, Piaget has offered customized watches with the customer’s fingerprint—rendered in diamonds—on the dial. A customer goes to any Piaget boutique, orders the watch, and provides a fingerprint impression. It’s sent to Piaget’s jewelers in Geneva, where its swirls are copied in brilliant-cut diamonds and white gold.
    “The response to this has been very good,” says Keith Brown, Piaget USA vice president of marketing. “There’s real interest in the marketplace. People love the watch—and that they can personalize it with their fingerprint or that of their husband or child.” Worldwide sales have averaged two per month since the spring 2005 introduction, not bad for a made-to-order timepiece costing $30,000. It’s done well enough with affluent consumers that Piaget added a pink gold version in April.

  • A new company called Enila enables consumers to custom-design Swiss-made precious-metal and gem-set watches in-store, at prices starting at $1,800. Its tagline is “Designed by You, Crafted by Us.” Launched in 2005 in the Middle East, it may enter the U.S. market late this year.
    Aided by the participating jeweler’s staff, the customer uses a computer to review sketches, component samples, comparative models, dials (each timepiece has a unique rotating case with two distinct faces), bracelets, straps, watch movements, stone settings, and personalized engravings. The customer leaves with a dossier of printed images of the customized watch, which is made in Switzerland and sent to the store for pickup or to the customer’s home. It comes in an aluminum presentation case on a hand-sculpted polished human figure.

  • Some of the best examples of DIY luxury timepieces are those of Color Story, a New York manufacturer of gemstone and enhanced-color diamond jewelry. Its founder is Robert Leser, whose 30-year career evolved from diamond dealer to award-winning jewelry designer. In the late 1990s, he launched Color Story gemstone jewelry, and in 2005 expanded that with Diamonds by Color Story—jewelry using 10 color-enhanced diamonds, with new combinations every season—and his Strand diamond watch collection. Since September 2005, consumers have been able to either buy existing models in the watch line or create their own on an interactive page on Color Story’s Web site (www.colorstory.com/watch).

Leser notes that the DIY feature lets consumers design a watch that complements other jewelry in their wardrobe. He also cites an advantage for participating retailers: “It’s like having the inventory in stock to satisfy customers, without actually having to have it until it’s sold.”

Each watch has an Italian case, Swiss movement, leather strap, and 41 diamonds (0.55 cts.) on the bezel and 108 (0.85 cts.) on the dial. Clicking on a sample watch on the design page enables a viewer to choose the colored diamonds for the bezel and case, a dial (mother-of-pearl or diamond), a 14k yellow or white gold case (polished or not), and strap color.

“There are over 1,500 possible combinations of metal, dial, strap, and color of diamond on our Web site,” Leser notes. Depending on components, the customized watches retail between $3,475 and $6,450.

The customer’s final version gets a style number and is forwarded to a Color Story retailer (where the consumer will later pick up the watch), who sends it to the company. (Retailers are listed by ZIP code on the Web site.) Customers also can design on a computer in a Color Story retailer’s store. The company has some 300 retail outlets.

Depending on a consumer’s choices, delivery of a watch takes one to four weeks. However, since Color Story keeps in stock numerous cases with a variety of colored-diamond bezels, plus diamond and mother-of-pearl dials and all strap colors, it can put one together quickly based on a consumer’s selection.

Leser is pleased with the response thus far. “More and more people are using this [DIY page],” he says. The favorite self-design so far combines yellow diamonds with a yellow-gold case and a green alligator strap.

To boost public awareness of its Strand watch line and self-design opportunities, Color Story ran a nationally advertised contest in April and May, inviting consumers to its Web site to create their own colored-diamond watch (up to $6,500 retail value), which they could win in a May 26 drawing.

Giving consumers a chance to design their watches benefits both them and the watchmaker, says Leser. “For the most part, watch companies only offer metal-and- diamond or no-diamond choices,” he notes. “In-store choices are generally limited, because retailers are committed to buying large quantities of a major brand and keeping a narrow selection per style to ensure they sell what they stock.

“But Color Story’s design-it-yourself timepiece is a jewelry watch that lets consumers have something they won’t see on another wrist, and by using color-enhanced diamonds in our watches, it’s possible to offer customization at an affordable price. Stylish women find that uniqueness appealing.”