Women’s timepieces: A slow revolution


The women’s watch market is there for the taking, say retailers and brands, but not everyone has been so fast to react. Kathryn Bishop reports on emerging trends, the growing fashion market and what female shoppers want from their timepiece.

Bright tartan straps, minute repeaters, Swarovski elements, crown protectors and 40mm cases. A heady mix, maybe, but also elements of current women’s timepieces and a mark of the variety and evolution of this sector of the UK market.

Each year, WatchPro takes a snapshot of the women’s market in the UK, addressing watch sales, new brands and styles and feedback from retailers operating both online and from bricks-and-mortar stores. This year the market continues to be in a state of flux, and while the speed at which it is evolving might be slower than anticipated, the women’s market is one that brands cannot afford to ignore, as female shoppers become more confident with buying decisions.


A review of the UK watch and jewellery market carried out by Mintel in the summer brought to light some of the shopping habits and brand preferences of female consumers when shopping for timepieces for themselves.

While Mintel says that the UK watch and jewellery market has remained almost flat in the past five years, increasing only marginally by 0.4% to £4.2 billion, the womenswear market has continued to grow in value over the same period.

Mintel forecasts that sales of women’s outerwear have risen by 12.6% to £20.2 billion between 2007 and 2012, with watches and jewellery making up 9% of the sector. The data also states that fashion remains the first spending priority within women’s discretionary spending budgets; something that is good news for retailers of accessories and clothing.

But how is this filtering into women’s watches and the current market situations? Mintel’s data also outlined the spending habits of female watch shoppers, notably that women are drawn to luxury brands such as Cartier and Omega, in particular the latter’s Ladymatic timepiece, of which Nicole Kidman is an ambassador, appearing in London for the brand during the Olympic Games this summer, of which Omega was the official timekeeper.

Interestingly, data from GfK’s latest figures reveal that there has been a shift with a view to spending habits, and in-keeping with Mintel’s view of a flatter market in 2012, Gfk states that, in the past 12 months, the value of women’s watch sales has fallen 8%. With the continued polarisation of the watch market, the middle market has dropped off, with sales of women’s watches priced between £500 and £1,000 dropping 14.3% over the same period.

With a view to styles, women have also been busy buying in to sportier models, with women’s chronograph sales up 24% in the UK, while the more slick and fashionable look of ceramic strapped models has left some behind, with sales declining 11.9% in the past 12 months.

It appears that classic women’s timepieces are still the bread and butter of most retail sales, with the value of diamond-set watch sales increasing 7.5% in the past 12 months, though this might be reflective of price increases of finished timepieces as well as the raw materials used to make them.

From a retail point of view, the style of timepieces that women are shopping for has been changing, albeit at a pace that matches the market growth. Wes Suter, co-owner of Steffans’ WatchWorks, says that chronograph models remain the most popular style among female shoppers.

“Michael Kors oversize chronographs are our out and out winner, in steel, rose gold and yellow gold,” he explains. “I think most women buy designs for women, but it is hard to tell the difference between men’s and women’s watches sometimes.”

He notes that women shopping for themselves is also very different to men shopping for women, with males tending to play it safe and opt for a brand name they know. “The men always go for the safe option focusing more on the name and less on the style,” he says.

Online watch giant The Watch Hut, part of DM London, sells a combination of fashion brands. Its top-selling women’s watch brands include Casio, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Fossil. Its junior merchandiser Louis-Sebastian Kendall notes a shift towards women’s watches with smaller cases. He says this is something that fine watch brands should be paying more attention to, especially in light of many creating women’s models with case sizes on par with men’s models.

“The new SS13 Marc by Marc Jacobs styles launching in January are looking great in the 21mm case,” he says. “The trend of mini ladies watches is emerging in the designer and fashion market, but it’s difficult for a fine watch brand to create an automatic movement in such a small case size, due to the processes of research and development on luxury watches as the lead times are longer, so they are less reactive to trends.”

The trend for smaller case sizes was noticeable among several of the watch brands showing new collections at BaselWorld this year, including Mondaine with its Aura watch – a timepiece wholly aimed at the women’s market – and Bulova, which has been busy promoting its women’s collection in the UK, including several timepieces with smaller case sizes of about 20mm.

Likewise, David Holmes, national account manager at Zeon, says the swing of the women’s market is beginning to sway back towards tradition. “The trend for the last couple of years has certainly been for oversized pieces,” he says. “However the growth and direction of travel we notice, on both the retail and original manufacture collections, is for more classic styling and sizing to match.”

Suter forecasts that smaller case sizes will become a trend in the coming year, as well as a reduction in blinged-up timepieces. “I think we may see a shift back to smaller dials,” he forecasts. “Not as small as they once were, just toned down a little. Also I predict there will be a lot less sparkle.”

Minimally styled brand Uniform Wares has this year enjoyed an increase in female customers, despite being a brand designed originally with colourways and styling largely tailored towards men. Co-founder Patrick Bek says says: “Our female customer seems to look for a watch that is less of a jewellery piece and more of a tool [and] most of our female customers find our product offering refreshing in a marketplace that largely offers oversized, statement chronographs or diamond set models. We find that our customers have been looking for a watch for some time but have found it hard to find a watch that offered simplicity, colour and elegance.”

Uniform Wares recently ran a pop-up shop in London and Bek says that it was a key moment for its growing female customer base. “We had an opportunity to meet our customers direct at a temporary shop that we set up over London Fashion Week and the London Design Festival,” he says. “We were surprised that just under half of the customers there were women buying for themselves.”

Seiko UK’s marketing manager Kirsten Crisford says that women are beginning to speak up about what they would like from their timepiece. “We believe that the female watch buyer is becoming ever more demanding about the watches they want to wear, and alongside style and sophistication they are looking for technical expertise and something a bit different,” she explains. “As with everything, tastes vary and so it is important for any brand to provide a broad selection of shapes, sizes, materials and calibres for people to choose from.”

The latest data from GfK, based on September 2012 vs September 2011, shows that the sales value of women’s timepieces with price tickets sitting between £100 and £500 are up 2.06%, while other price brackets have dropped off, fitting with the view that some of the most desirable women’s watches on the market fashion models.

At Zeon, Holmes says that women are becoming savvier when it comes to buying timepieces, especially with a view to materials and movements. “[Today] the offer needs to be more than just a cool colour or trendy styling,” he says. “With our Vivienne Westwood brand, for example, there is a certain expectation styling-wise from the customer. The key to success at retail level is being able to exceed this with Swiss movements and higher grade materials used in construction to surpass the customer expectations but also give the sales staff the stories to romance the customer with.”

At the luxury end of the market, Cartier has had continued success with its Ballon Bleu women’s timepieces. Pierre Rainero, director of image, heritage and style at Cartier, says that while he is unsure about whether female watch shoppers are becoming savvier with their purchases when it comes to movements and technicalities, he says they are less likely to be influenced by outside factors than male shoppers.

“Unlike men, when a woman buys a [timepiece] it is because they like the aesthetic and when it comes to the movement they are very pragmatic,” explains Rainero. “Women know more and more about recognised qualities like mechanical movements. Every woman buys a watch that corresponds to her taste and what she prefers in terms of convenience from a watch, but this tends to come after the aesthetics of the watch.”

So with female consumers seeking quality and functionality from their timepiece, how are the brands reacting? While high-end brands tend to be slower to react to fashion trends, owing perhaps to constrained output schedules but also to keeping reputations for quality over impulse, they are instead able to create well-considered women’s models with the same research and development, functionality and marketing of men’s timepieces.

At Cartier the brand is very much focused on creating beautiful “objects” that are relevant to today’s watch wearer. Rainero says that the brand does not follow trends when it comes to designing its women’s timepieces. “The way we work is in terms of a creative theme, there is nothing to do with so-called trends,” he explains. “In fact, attention is devoted to the object itself, whether we think it’s beautiful and whether we think it’s relevant to the way of life today.”

The brand also avoids market research as it feels it is largely unrelated to the ilk of watches it creates. “We never do it,” Rainero states. “It’s a creative process and only a creative process, and any consumer feedback we get is informal. We have stores and we have a reaction from people coming to our stores and we learn a lot about the way of life [of our customers].”

That said, in the UK Cartier’s bestselling timepiece remains its Ballon Bleu in its variety of incarnations, whether with a bracelet or leather strap. Rainero says this is all to do with its design and integrated crown, which makes it aesthetically pleasing and much more feminine in its shape. “We also see a good knowledge of shape [in watches], especially jewelled watches,” he says. “The last Delice model in its most jewelled version was quite successful.”

Rainero notes that women will often buy a quartz watch, for the sake of ease of upkeep. This is something that Hermès watches chief executive Luc Perramond agrees with. “Aesthetics is a must and on top comes the value of the watches, which brings the mechanical movement,” he says. “However, watches with quartz movements still appeal to women customers [they] allows them to change easily the watch for the day according to their mood and look.”

However Perramond does note that Hermès’ female watch customer has evolved as the interest in mechanical watches continues to grow. As a result, so too has its product offer; the brand this year launched its Arceau Ecuyère, a 34mm timepiece set with or without diamonds housing the Hermès calibre H1912.

At Patek Philippe, where the meeting of luxury design and smart complications is standard, annual calendar and world timers are the new in-demand timepieces for women. Its international communication and public relations director Jasmina Steel explains that complications are becoming ever-more appealing to Patek Philippe’s female clientele. In reaction, the brand this year launched its first women’s perpetual calendar – a range that is already evolving.

“In recent years there [has been] growing interest not only for ladies’ mechanical watches but for ladies watches with complications,” she reveals. “With ladies watches such as the annual calendar or the world time, we are answering a fast-growing appetite for additional functions and this year we are again answering the demand for ladies’ wrist grand complications. Firstly, with the introduction of the ultra-thin self winding Ladies First Perpetual Calendar Ref. 7140R and, in addition to this, the collection evolves with the introduction of moonphase models for ladies.”

At U-Boat, a luxury brand famed for its oversized men’s timepieces and bold styling, the move into women’s watches came in reaction to shifting market expectations from its clientele.

While the launch of its women’s range has been understated – it has launched with two watches – the models themselves are, in true U-Boat style, far from discreet.

The brand describes how it had registered that the demand for oversized ladies watches was increasing and recognised, refreshingly, that there was “no point simply shrinking our current design – if a woman wants a men’s-style watch she will just buy that”.

In reaction U-Boat created two 40mm versions of its Classico design in stainless steel, with details such as white diamonds set into the case and alligator straps – a first for the brand – with bright red and purple suede inserts hidden on the inside of the strap.

For men’s brands, making a move into the women’s market it might seem like tricky ground, but is something that retailers are encouraging. Suter explains that some of WatchWorks’ most successful brands are still very limited when it comes to their women’s offer, especially when the market is there for the taking. “Hugo Boss and TW Steel [could improve],” he states. “Boss is a powerhouse in the male market but still has plenty of space to grow in the women’s sector.”

At Argento Fine Products, UK distributor for Frederique Constant, Alpina and Giuliano Mazzuoli timepieces, its founder Giuseppe Ferro says: “It is important to show a watch has been designed for a woman instead of using the many adapted gents’ models we see on the market.”

He also notes the re-emergence of smaller case sizes but says these have begun to catch the eye of more than just female shoppers. “Giuliano Mazzuoli has just released a very intriguing small model called Manometrino, that at first looks like a ladies’ watch,” he explains. “However it seems some cutting-edge guys have been attracted by this new retro-looking watch.”
For Zeon the evolution of women’s fashion timepieces has been picking up pace at all of its brands, not just those that specialise in ladies’ watches, and Holmes believes that the women’s market is there for the taking.

“The ladies’ collections are the important elements that help make a brand,” he says. “Ladies buy and wear more timepieces than gents, as such this sector is one that takes the lion’s share of time and consideration when developing the various brands.”
Evidently then, while some females are on the hunt for complications – albeit mostly at the luxury end of the market – by and large it is the simple, unobtrusive timepieces that are ticking boxes for today’s shoppers.

Watch brands have long sought appropriate ambassadors to represent them, linking the qualities of the ambassador – whether actor, sportsperson or musician – with the brand, its latest model and its marketing messages.

This is where many brands are able to play a trump card, employing beautiful or inspirational women to front their campaigns and make the associations of their watches all the more relevant to the buying customers. While a man might dream of owning an Omega for its James Bond associations, or a Jorg Gray because it was worn by Barack Obama at his inauguration, female shoppers buy into elegance and strength.

TAG Heuer, a brand typically associated with motorsports, innovation and male-oriented chronographs, has had one of its most successful launches this year with the a hero women’s timepiece – the Link Lady – with actress Cameron Diaz signed as the ambassador of the line. She describes the watch as “modern, sexy and elegant” and claims that she is “equally comfortable wearing it on the red carpet or in my day-to-day life”. As a result, the Link Lady was recently highlighted in its parent company’s LVMH’s financial results as a key product in the first three quarters of 2012.

Beyond clinching the perfect balance between being a timepiece for red carpet appearances and walking the dog, the timepiece had a further message and purpose. It was launched in March to cleverly coincide with both BaselWorld and International Women’s Day, with Diaz’s associations with TAG Heuer also said to benefit and raise awareness of programs that empower women.

The empowerment story has also run into Omega’s marketing initiatives in 2012. In September it announced its Time for Women campaign – a private members website for women in positions of leadership around the world, launched to provide a platform for these women to discuss current affairs, the arts and business, while also offering a space for them to network.

Omega launched the site, which is accessible by invite only, after hosting a number of successful worldwide dinners for women in leadership roles. Afterwards many of them wished to stay in touch and the Time for Women site was created. The brand also signed two new and very different ambassadors over the summer – this year’s Bond girl Berenice Marlohe and violinist Vanessa Mae Vanakorn, who has now set her sights on a medal at the 2014 Winter Games, where she will represent Thailand in downhill skiing.

Omega president Stephen Urquhart explains why the brand is aligning itself with Vanakorn: “Vanessa Mae is a remarkable musician who has had an incredible concert career. By choosing this new path she demonstrates that she has great courage, incredible talent and a sense of adventure, and we are very much looking forward to this partnership.”

Victoria Azarenka, the women’s tennis world number one, was snapped up by Citizen this year, with the announcement made as the brand celebrated 20 years as official timekeeper of the US Open. She was described as the “perfect fit” for the brand, which has been running with its Unstoppable tagline for several years, and has previously worked with sportswomen to promote its offer as a mixture sporty instruments and elegant timepieces.

It is fair to say that the women’s watch market and the way it has developed in the past 12 months is indicative of the current global situation and the continued polarisation of the market.

With a reduction in case sizes becoming a trend that is bubbling below the surface at all ends of the market – see our trends feature on mineral dialled cases on p40 for some stunning examples from Piaget and Dior – and design remaining relatively classic, or even harking back to designs from the past, brands can be forgiven for playing it safe. At present, it seems, safe sells and while there will always be fiercely fashionable watches and those there truly represent haute horology at its pinnacle, arguably it will be the watches that can fit seamlessly into a woman’s everyday life that will win the market share.

As Cartier’s Rainero states: “A success is when a watch is worn, not just appreciated when it’s beautiful.”


This article was taken from the November 2012 issue of WatchPro magazine. To read a digital version of the issue click here



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