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TRENDS: Wrists go wild

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Watches have been taking a walk on the wild side, with lashings of animal print and faux skins. Kathryn Bishop evaluates this feisty timepiece trend in both its tamest and wildest forms.

Animal prints undeniably make for eye-catching, look-at-me fashion, and watches are boldly tapping into this trend with some jaw-droppingly exotic prints.

The runways at the recent New York and London Fashion Weeks were not short of snakeskin and leopard prints, among others, validating a perennial fashion trend that has held fast from the high street to high fashion.

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While watch brands have hinted at animal prints over the years, there is now a wealth of designs, mostly aimed at women, that shout from the wrist with decorated dials, rich leather straps and the glitter of crystals and diamonds.

FASHION GETS FIERCE
At the fashion end of the market, the trend for animal print is easily combined with branded watches, creating seasonal collections of timepieces in the sub-£300 bracket.

Fashion accessories brand Paul’s Boutique – which is popular among teen girls for its embellished handbags and outerwear – has this season launched a collection combining zebra, leopard and tiger print designs with see-through watch cases. As well as classic exotic skin colourways such as soft grey for the snakeskin and caramel browns for the leopard print, Paul’s Boutique has also packed a punch by creating a bright pink watch that gives the animal print trend a modern vibe.

Vivienne Westwood is also getting in on the act. While for many brands such a walk on the wildside is a daring statement, the snakeskin watches produced under the brand name are a more understated and sophisticated take on the trend, despite the use of bright pink and lime green hues in 2013, according to Emma Cole, assistant product developer at Zeon, which licenses Paul’s Boutique and Vivienne Westwood watches. “For Vivienne Westwood the use of fine faux-snakeskin leather straps has been the focus of several models in AW11 and now SS13,” she says. “The Westwood use of snakeskin is a much more understated and sophisticated interpretation of the trend.”

ALL-OVER PRINT
Despite Vivienne Westwood designing watches to have an elegant edge, the use of animal print is rarely subtle and for some brands it is the raison d’être for an ostentatious design.

When Guess Watches launched its recent AW12 Fierce collection, it went – for want of a better term – wild with its design, making watches that were entirely animal print. In its own words, Guess said the collection was a “combination of predatory print and glamour”, describing its use of animal print as a “second skin” for Guess fans, offering an everyday exotic look.

The collection featured a special plating process specially developed for Guess Watches offering a reflective bronze and gold-toned finish to its leopard print designs, with a halo of crystals around the bezel adding a final sprinkling of glamour.
While the range was far from subtle, it was a big success, with the Fierce collection proving so popular that the watches were carried over into the brand’s SS13 and AW13 collections.

All-over animal print was also a feature of a recent women’s collection at Nixon. The brand strives to offer watches that are a little different to the norm, and its 42-20 Chrono and Timeteller collections were given some edge with the application of all-over leopard and tortoiseshell prints.

Faux tortoiseshell is also a popular motif across Fossil watches, both its own-brand range such as its Stella and Natalie timepieces, and its licensed collections such as Michael Kors, which has produced both brown and paler beige tortoiseshell in recent seasonal collections.

EXOTIC LUXURY
While the animal skin trend so far appears to be the reserve of fashion-led watches brands or licensed timepiece collections, it has also got its claws into high-end watchmaking, in particular through the more flamboyant brands such as Michele, Hublot and even Rolex.

Michele has decorated the dials of its 40mm Tahitian Jelly Bean chronographs with leopard, tiger and zebra prints, elevating a sporty timepiece to a design dubbed “a taste of playful luxury”. The result is eye-catching and would certainly hold appeal for female shoppers looking for a watch that has function as well as a stylish ferocity.

Hublot’s Big Bang Leopard Bang and Boa Bang marked the Swiss watch brand’s first foray into exotic animal prints. Upon the launch of its Boa Bang in 2012, the brand described how snakeskin could be found “in every aspect of the fashionista’s wardrobe”, used as a highlight rather than a complete look, evidently revealing its target shopper for the timepiece.

In 2013, however, Hublot says that the call of the jungle has continued. It unveiled its Big Bang Zebra, a monochromatic stripy timepiece, in Geneva in January.

A statement from the brand said: “After the success of the Leopard Bang and the Boa Bang, it is the turn of the highly fashionable zebra print to dip its hooves. The height of sexiness and cool, zebra print is everywhere.”

The Zebra watch, a 41mm black ceramic automatic timepiece, will be targeted at women, no doubt, with topaz and spinels set into the bezel and eight diamonds on the dial.

The watch is even finished with strap made from zebra-print calfskin leather that has been sewn onto black rubber. And to add a little more appeal, like all luxuries, the Big Bang Zebra is a limited edition with its three model options – black ceramic, white ceramic and 18ct rose gold, limited to just 250 watches per design.

Rolex’s DateJust 36mm women’s watch launched at BaselWorld 2012 boasted a zebra dial and bezel encrusted with a total of 442 diamonds and a contrasting black lacquer dial. Upon its release, Rolex described the Everose gold watch as the “flamboyant embodiment of Rolex’s creativity as well as its watchmaking excellence”. Indeed, while this Rolex was a shock to some commentators, it is sure to appeal to a particular client of the brand and marks Rolex’s recognition of the animal print trend.

STRAPPING ANIMAL PRINTS 
While the case and overall watch design tends to do the talking when it comes to animal prints on timepieces, watch straps offer a subtler way to tap into the trend. With ostrich skin proving to be a popular pattern among luxury handbag brands – Mulberry’s Bayswater and Dior’s Diorissimo bags are just two examples – the trend has now filtered down to watch straps.

Strap company LBS has launched a range of pastel-coloured ostrich straps for 2013, in keeping with the softer hues of spring. Its sugary pink and lilac versions add a delicate femininity to the animal print trend. LBS sales director Sam Rose describes how the trend for animal print straps has evolved across its genuine and imitation animal skin straps. “Black and brown was the norm until recently [but] we now stock pinks, purples and bold colours,” she says. “We are constantly developing new colours and ranges for the imitation and genuine skins that we carry [and] I would say there is more demand for variation of colours.”

At fellow strapmaker Hirsch, animal skins feature through its luxury watch bracelet offer and include ostrich, alligator and crocodile skins. One key collection from Hirsch is its Pythea line, which is a snakeskin-style strap bonded to calf leather with an additional lacquer finish.

Simon Walker, country manager for Hirsch in the UK, explains that while the brand offers a luxury selection of leather and genuine skin straps, it has chosen not to offer cordovan straps – leather from horses – purely based on a love for the animals and the company’s belief that horses should be for riding rather than used for their skins.

As we have discovered, to assume animal print is the reserve of the fast fashion watch brands would be a too-quick judgement; exotic prints in their various incarnations have proven popular motifs across all levels of watchmaking. And as shown by the most recent AW13 fashion catwalks around the globe, they are sure to remain a desirable trend for several seasons yet.

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of WatchPro. To read a digital version of the magazine in full online, click here.

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