Face Time: Watch Sector Booming for Designer Houses

For the designer-watch boom, it’s all about how you look.

Clockwise: Coach; Burberry; Calvin Klein; Gucci; Armani Exchange; Marc by Marc Jacob's; Michael Kors
Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Accessory issue 08/13/2012

With the digital age came the obsolescence of the primary function of a watch—no one has to look at her wrist to tell time anymore.

This story first appeared in the August 13, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Yet lest anyone presume that a decline in sales was inevitable, the fashion-watch sector has been booming for designer houses. From Michael Kors to Calvin Klein to Coach, practically every major label is represented in the category. Those who aren’t are making plans to get in on the action. Tory Burch is reportedly looking into watches, and Karl Lagerfeld will launch them in a licensing deal with Fossil next spring.

Defined by materials and price, most fashion watches are made from plated metal, with no real gemstones. Some feature Swiss movements, which can increase the price, but typically these retail below $500, with some going up to $900.

There’s an aspirational aspect to the category. “The watches are a universal entry point to the brand and help round out our complete lifestyle offering,” says Ulrich Grimm, creative director of Calvin Klein’s men’s and women’s shoes and accessories, which has produced watches under a license with Swatch since 1997.


Coach first entered the market in 2010 via a license with Movado and, according to Javan Bunch, Coach’s senior vice president of licensed businesses, there continues to be major opportunity in this arena. “This is a category with great momentum behind it,” says Bunch, noting that Coach’s watches retail from $158 to $398. “In our view, this has been triggered by a shift in perception of watches from timepieces to fashion accessories and jewelry.”

For Michael Kors, timepieces are one of his company’s largest licensees. “Watches are a fashion statement these days,” he says. “It’s not crazy for someone to own six or seven different styles.”

Since late 2008, the category has taken off for Kors, which counts 250 stockkeeping units in the collection and sells it in 3,000 doors worldwide. The oversize Runway style, in gold and silver, has been a breakout hit for men and women since it launched in fall 2007. “It can be sporty, sexy or elegant, but it’s always a statement piece,” says the designer.

Increasingly, customers are buying watches to layer with other bracelets and jewelry—an “arm party,” in the parlance of style blogs. Tom Kennedy, executive vice president of Fossil Brand, reports that the stacked-bracelet trend took off about 18 months ago, and since then watch trends in this price range have turned toward rose gold, yellow gold, leather straps and mixed materials. “If we’d had this conversation two years ago, white watches were driving the market,” says Kennedy. “Now women are using watches to individualize their look.”

Still, it’s important for designer labels to stay true to their own aesthetic. “There was a time when if you put out a good watch, the customer was generally accepting of that,” says Steve Woodward, senior vice president of licensed brands and jewelry for Fossil, which produces watches for Burberry, Michael Kors, Emporio Armani and Armani Exchange, Marc by Marc Jacobs and DKNY. “Now, customers really want what they’re buying to tell the story of the brand.

“There have been comments about whether people needed to tell time on their wrists, because they have it on their phones, but it’s more about the fashion,” Woodward adds. “With these watches, it’s the best value in the world, because it’s almost more expensive to go out and buy yourself groceries.”


From Left: Coach’s rose-gold-plated stainless-steel watch with rubber strap; Burberry’s rose-gold-plated stainless-steel watch; Calvin Klein’s stainless-steel watch; Gucci’s leather and stainless-steel watch; Armani Exchange’s rose-gold-plated stainless-steel watch with leather strap; Marc by Marc Jacobs’ silicone-wrapped rose-gold-plated stainless-steel watch; Michael Kors’ stainless-steel watch.