A lot of Swiss manufacturers scratched their heads when women started to buy fine timepieces designed for men a few years back.
It surely had something to do with fashion, which was out of character in an industry known for egghead engineers and men passionate about their watches that, for some, was their only accessory. But as women continued to buy expensive watches with zeal, many firms began to wonder if the fairer sex might represent the next great consumer frontier.
"It's a revolution," said Stanislas de Quercize, president and chief executive officer of Van Cleef & Arpels. "Women are interested in watches like never before."
Demand for the most expensive women's watches grew fastest in the U.S. last year, according to LGI Network LLC, a market intelligence firm that specializes in tracking luxury sales. Sales of women's watches retailing above $25,000 grew 15 percent, representing 21 percent of the entire market. Sales of women's watches between $3,000 and $5,000 increased 7 percent and during the last two years, sales of women's watches over $25,000 have advanced 35 percent.
Data like this suggest that women are ditching cheaper quartz models in favor of sophisticated mechanical pieces. Although the industry has yet to accept that idea — many manufacturers think women's interest in mechanics will prove but a flash in the pan — several key players have seized the moment to introduce serious pieces with women in mind.
Patek Philippe created a perpetual calendar wristwatch for women, Zenith introduced tourbillons — one of horology's most sophisticated movements — and Tag Heuer has reported strong business with its chronographs for women.
"We should adapt better to women and not the other way around," said Jean-Claude Biver, ceo of Hublot, which this year is introducing a smaller sized Big Bang directed at women. "[Women] have their requirements, taste and representation of what a watch should be."
De Quercize of Van Cleef & Arpels said, "Women today want mechanical complications, but they want complications that are made for them."
Van Cleef last year introduced so-called poetic complications on wristwatches, which include the likes of a rotating sun and moon, as a way to give a feminine twist to intricate mechanics.
"The watch industry has been very macho and has mostly considered women as an afterthought," de Quercize said. "Women won't tolerate that approach anymore."
Nonetheless, many firms have built an important female clientele by merely blinging out their existing men's models with diamonds and other glitzy stones or by adding a colorful strap in an exotic skin. Corum, for example, doesn't make a single women's watch. But Severin Wunderman, the brand's owner, estimated women account for a significant amount of business.
"Our women's sales are all men's-size watches, especially the diamond pieces and the artisan enamels," he said.
This approach resonates with some retailers who think unisex designs continue to sell better than watches designed particularly for women.
"While there are fantastic, complicated women's offerings from Zenith, TAG, Patek and now Hublot, I'm still unsure if there is a great demand in this segment," said Andrew Block, executive vice president of watch retailer Tourneau. "We see the women's market this way: Women are buying large watches, which happen to be labeled 'men's' by the brands. We feel that the brands should eliminate gender when categorizing their models and refer to them by size instead. By using small, medium and large descriptions, they open up the market to both genders."
At Piaget, about 60 percent of total sales are to women.
"Women have been buying men's-size watches more and more," said ceo Philippe Léopold-Metzger. "Women in most instances are not interested in mechanical watches. They do prefer quartz if they have a choice. This is likely to change in the future, but only progressively, and primarily in Asia."
Jewelry companies have the best track records in attracting women to watches. A brand like Cartier accounts for a large chunk of the segment's overall sales.
"We are jewelers," said Bernard Fornas, ceo of Cartier International. "We make bijoux that tell time. It's an alchemy between us and our clients that works."
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye