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Designers Get Wound on Watches

Commercially viable, trendy, luxurious and often iconic, fine watches have become a fast-paced growth avenue for many fashion houses, boosting their sales...

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WWD Basel Preview issue 04/03/2008

Commercially viable, trendy, luxurious and often iconic, fine watches have become a fast-paced growth avenue for many fashion houses, boosting their sales and image.

And a string of brands, including Ferragamo and Moschino Cheap & Chic, are launching watch collections at the Baselworld fair, while others such as Versace, Dior, Cavalli, Guess and Armani are replenishing their offerings with new styles.

Proving the point that designers take this brand extension seriously, John Galliano postponed the launch of his first namesake watch collection, licensed to Morellato and initially scheduled for Baselworld, claiming he needed more time to fine-tune the prototypes and study more styles.

Designer watches are usually ingrained with the brand’s design signatures and offer innovative elements combined with sophisticated Swiss movements. The mixture offers an alternative to traditional watches, especially for those consumers who view watches as a fashion accessory.

Ferragamo’s launch watch, for example, was inspired by its storied Vara pump, with a stainless steel case that is slightly undulated to reproduce the shoe’s distinctive grosgrain ribbon buckle.

The watch comes with interchangeable lizard, crocodile or grosgrain straps in colors such as ruby red, silver, orange and black. The models are in stainless steel or solid yellow gold with plain cases or ones embellished with 44 diamonds, while the dial is in mother-of-pearl or full pavé. The watch features a quartz movement.

The Vara watch is the fruit of a 13-year agreement with Timex Group, a license projected to rake in retail sales of 150 million euros, or $219 million at current exchange rates, in five years.

“This is a very important business, with great potential,” said Michele Norsa, Ferragamo’s chief executive officer. “Watches are an iconic category for most luxury markets and even more so in Asia.”

Ferragamo will target 500 stores in 60 countries, including 200 Ferragamo boutiques, for its watches.

Celebrating the color blue, Dior will premiere Dior Christal Rubber Blue, an extension of its sporty chic and high-tech Rubber watch, a navy blue chronograph with a nautical feel highlighted by 76 white diamonds. Interspersed between the diamonds on the bezel are sapphires, also applied onto the deep sea blue rubber strap.

Also at Baselworld, Gucci will unveil Chiodo, a watch inspired by the iconic square nail head employed by the luxury goods house since the Sixties. Like the horse bit, the nail motif hails from the equestrian world and is modeled on the pyramidal nails used to hold the shoe against the horse’s hoof.

Further referencing Gucci’s past, designer Frida Giannini crafted a sterling silver variation of Chiodo. Other variations include diamond-studded versions, square or round faces and a mother-of-pearl dial.

“At Gucci, we have more than 35 years of experience in fine timepieces and they represent a powerful growth opportunity,” said Gucci ceo Mark Lee. “Watches, like jewelry, is a long-lasting category, different from seasonal fashion, so we are increasingly building the collections on iconic signs that have potential for a long life span.”

In 2007, watches accounted for 6.6 percent, or 144 million euros ($210million), of Gucci’s 2.18 billion euro sales, or $3.2 billion. Dollar figures were converted at current exchange rates.

Moschino’s Cheap & Chic is another brand to have hopped on the watch bandwagon thanks to a five-year license with Gruppo Binda, a $400 million watch and costume jewelry maker.

Versace, a forerunner in the use of ceramic in watches, will unveil Era, a women’s watch with a clean and contemporary design shaped as a bracelet. The gold-plated strap features ceramic insets, the face is white enamel and the bezel is embedded with 34 white diamonds.

Roberto Cavalli also has raised the glamour bar with Roberto Cavalli The Diamond Time collection that he claims was a natural evolution for his watches.

“As the clothes evolve in an extremely sophisticated manner with a couturelike approach, I felt the need to offer my customers an item which represents the highest level in the watch segment,” Cavalli said. “This watch is Swiss made, with a sleek design enriched by the use of diamonds and rock crystal that is an absolute novelty for watches.”

The case is sculptured from rock crystal, its milky whiteness a sharp contrast against the black face and same color alligator strap. There also are a stainless steel case version, a chronograph and a three-hand-movement model. Retail prices span from $3,200 to $6,000.

Jeweled watches are also a priority at Guess, with a new lineup produced by recently founded Swiss watchmaker Sequel AG, which includes the Arm Candy collection. The watch is set in a sexy and colorful bangle bracelet bedazzled with 300 Swarovski crystals in sapphire blue, amethyst purple and emerald green. The alternative version has a translucent resin and steel bracelet and no crystal.

The Gc line includes the Diver Chic Ceramic chronograph in either white or black ceramic, adorned with either pink sapphires or diamonds.

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