Dealing with escalating gold prices on one hand and concerns about lead content on the other, the watch and jewelry category has been nimbly responding to changing market conditions.
For despite those pressures on top of a weak economy, wholesale volume in the U.S. jewelry and watch sector is expected to grow modestly this year, up 1.7 percent to $41.1 billion, according to IBISWorld, a Chicago-based marketing research firm. Corresponding sales at retail are projected to rise 3 percent.
In June, the price of gold topped $1,000 an ounce, although it has since retreated. And the U.S. Senate and House are hammering out the details of a bill to regulate the lead content in children’s jewelry. There are already several such state laws that jewelry manufacturers are complying with, noted Michael Gale, chief executive of the Fashion Jewelry Trade Association. “We hope the federal legislation will set a national standard. We are in a period of transition right now.”
Through it all, America’s favorite brands have been relentlessly pushing ahead and showcasing more feminine styles, technological features and environmental benefits.
As IBISWorld noted in its new study on the jewelry and watch market, sales are driven by income earners in the top-20th percentile. With jewelry being a discretionary purchase, “A key success factor is having products that are in fashion and therefore in demand.”
“Obviously, people are being more cautious today in their major expenditures,” commented Britton Jones, ceo of AccessoriesTheShow, a trade event for the accessories market. “But if consumers are given a reason to buy, they are buying.”
Timex, the long-standing number-one brand, known for durability and a favorite of men, has been remaking itself with a fashion focus, including a wider selection of styles for women with details drawn from runways. Last fall it introduced the Diamond Collection. “That was a big, big step for us,” remarked Kristine Lumpinski, vice president of marketing for the Middlebury, Conn.-based giant. Now it is building on that with the Crystal Collection featuring Swarovski crystals.
To help in its makeover, Timex has tapped stylist Amy E. Goodman as its first fashion trend director and launched TimexStyle.com. Lumpinski said that while the brand’s core business is in the $45-to-$65 range, it has inched up with tags as high as $325.
Meanwhile, number three-ranked Fossil Inc. of Richardson, Tex., is embracing a green theme for fall with a collection called Naturally Modern. Watches will combine dark and neutral wood tones with textures and patterns inspired by natural elements, according to a spokeswoman. It is also ramping up its accessory store openings and projects it will add between 35 and 90 units this year. That is on top of the existing 113 accessory stores worldwide and 33 American apparel stores.
Ecological topics are becoming a part of the category in both fashion and function.
Citizen’s Eco-Drive watch, a forerunner in the use of light technology that made its debut 11 years ago, has evolved into a core business accounting for more than 80 percent of sales, according to Alyson Gottlieb, director of advertising for the eighth-ranked brand. The company calculates it has saved 15 million watch batteries.
If being green is not enough to keep its name out front, Citizen has expanded its stable of celebrity spokespeople with Matt Kenseth, a Winston Cup champion.
Once competitors, Citizen and Bulova Corp. are now siblings. The 133-yearold Bulova brand, which placed 10th, became a part of the Citizen Watch Co. Inc. this year in a $250 million acquisition. Citizen has said it intends to strengthen Bulova’s international expansion, improve operations and keep the brand’s headquarters in Queens, N.Y.
Mindful of its impact to the earth, Japanese brand Seiko Corp., in second place, recently announced a switch to mercury-free batteries. It is also looking skyward and has arranged for space explorer Richard Garriott to wear its specially designed Spring Drive Spacewalk watch when he blasts off on a trip to the International Space Station in October.
A bit closer to terra firma, sixth-ranked Victorinox Swiss Army Inc. is planning to get itself more exposure with the help of Kevin Connell, the newly appointed director of independent timepiece sales for North America. To give Connell more to talk about, the brand is adding several styles that refl ect a “practical luxury,” according to the company. Among the news are vintage styles in the Infantry Collection, and more stylish and legible faces for the Alliance Collection.
New York-based Tiffany & Co. has had no trouble keeping its name in the top 10, at number seven. Sales of the elegant brand rose 15 percent in 2007 to $2.9 billion and continued to climb in the first quarter of 2008 with a gain of 12 percent.
Driven by domestic new store openings and international expansion, Tiffany will open a concept store in Glendale, Calif., in October, featuring a smaller footprint. The 2,600-square-foot space will have a clean, modern look and will carry contemporary Tiffany collections, from diamond jewelry in platinum and gold to a range of sterling silver pieces.
Japanese watchmaker Casio Inc., number nine, has kept its name in lights this year with celebrations of the 25th anniversary of its G-Shock watch, a timepiece designed not to break. It has become Casio’s fl agship watch. Kanye West performed at a promotional event and the brand has also collaborated with director Spike Lee and artist Eric Haze.
In honor of the anniversary, Casio issued two new G-Shock watches this year — the GWM5625E-7 and the GW225E-7. Both are made with translucent material, but retain classic design features of the original G-Shock models.
Swiss watchmaker Swatch Watches is thrusting itself into the center of pop culture with the Swatch Fivb World Tour 2008, an international volleyball tournament and sponsorship of this month’s Blue Balls Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland. At the musical event, Swatch is presenting its fall watch and jewelry collections. Additionally, it continues a partnership with MTV’s “Best. Show. Ever.” program and collaborated with Italian artist Norma Jeane on a new watch design called Once Again, Again that reprises the famous plastic Swatch watch band.
Finally, it is the fine craftsmanship and exclusivity of the luxury Rolex watch that keeps it ranked among the most recognizable, in fourth place. It has been said that more than 200 artisans and technicians will work on a Rolex before receiving final approval. This year the Swiss-based firm opened its first European flagship in Milan. Among the exclusive styles shown there included a GMT Ice men’s watch adorned with white diamonds. The price? A cool $630,000.
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