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."
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast