TIME CRUNCH
NEW FACES ARE HEATING UP THE MARKET FOR FASHION WATCHES

Byline: Jill Newman

As the jam-packed fashion watch market gets more congested still, the pressure’s on to do whatever it takes to stand out.
New names on the scene are DKNY, Ologi and Techno Marine. And Tommy Hilfiger is preparing to enter the fray, with a launch slated for early next year. All this new action puts fashion brands in a crush for market share, and they are turning to innovative designs, high tech novelty and beefed-up marketing and advertising to hold or gain ground.
Some established American brands are seeking relief in the international marketplace as an arena where they can build volume. Anne Klein, for instance, is aggressively pursuing international business and projects sales gains of as much as 50 percent this year globally. The Guess watch line, already sold in more than 70 countries worldwide, projects gains of 40 percent in 2000.
Back in the U.S., the lines are blurring between fashion, sport and fine watches. Techno Marine, the fine watch line launched just last year in the U.S., is a prime example. Although the collection’s opening price point is about $135, the hottest style is its $2,000 Techno Diamond chronograph, which comes with two interchangeable colored PVC nylon straps and is trimmed with a double row of diamonds on the steel bezel.
“The diamond model is a piece of jewelry that can be worn on the beach, but it’s also a fashion statement for everyday,” said Franck Dubarry, Techno Marine’s owner. “We can’t keep them in stock. People are responding to the newness of plastic and diamonds, and they love color.” Dubarry said Techno Marine’s sales will reach $30 million worldwide this year.
Other fashion watch makers are making moves within the bridge segment to fill vacancies left by luxury brands.
“There is an opportunity to build the bridge market, since upscale brands like Gucci and Fendi have moved away from that segment,” said Cindy Livingston, president and chief executive officer of Callanen International, which produces Guess watches. “There is an opening for bridge watches in the $200-to-$400 retail price range.”
To that end, Guess will introduce its “Diamond Collection” for fall, featuring five models with diamond accents with retail prices of approximately $300.
Anne Klein is infusing its fashion business with themes typically reserved for fine watches. During the May accessories market, for fall store deliveries, the company will launch a collection of sterling silver and goldplated brass watches with real diamond accents.
“We need to keep creating newness and give consumers another reason to buy a fashion watch,” said Mark Odenheimer, vice president of the Anne Klein, Anne Klein II and Nine West watch divisions at E. Gluck Corp. “We also have to protect our real estate because the stores are not getting bigger and there are so many new players.”
Top executives in the industry agree that the only way to maintain and build market share in this intense environment is to present newness and value. Focusing on a specific niche can help, too.
The Swatch brand will debut new case shapes and materials for fall, including pieces trimmed in fur. New plastic styles highlight sophisticated tones of gray, burgundy and forest green.
On the technology front, the company will concentrate on Swatch Access, an analog model that contains a built-in computer chip and loop antenna, enabling it to store information and also to communicate with digital readers such as a turnstile, door opener or debiting scanner. The product is the result of a joint venture of Swatch and SkiData, an Austria technology company.
In addition to new products, Swatch intends to increase its market presence through an aggressive expansion of freestanding stores, according to Holger Dahmen, president of Swatch USA. The company plans to boost its U.S. store count from 22, currently, to 100 units within two years. Dahmen noted that the U.S. division experienced strong double-digit increases last year and that he expects the same level of volume growth in 2000.
Fossil is developing titanium and aluminum watch designs. New metal designs for women feature iridescent crystals and dials, and digital styles in sleek metal cases. The brand is also wielding a 20 percent bigger marketing and advertising budget compared with last year, focused primarily on consumer magazines.
The Nine West line is also gaining support from more dollars invested in marketing, advertising and in-store events intended to propel the business, according to Michael Feagan, senior vice president of Nine West, a division of E. Gluck. The year-old line has been enjoying success with sterling silver models that retail for $99. For fall, it is emphasizing colorful digital watches.
Aside from its higher-priced diamond watch line, for fall Guess Collection will add leather straps to its lineup in marine blue, gray, cordovan and black. In the lower-priced Guess line, new styles feature a double-wrap leather-strap watch and “G Square,” with square faces set in snake, patent leather, denim or suede cuffs.
“It’s very important that our color and themes work with current fashion trends,” said Livingston. She added that Guess watches will get a facelift this fall with new packaging and point-of-sale materials. Like many of its competitors, the company is pouring money into marketing and advertising, with a budget increased by 35 percent for 2000.
Novelty is the chosen niche for the new watch brand Ologi, which is concentrating its efforts on styles priced from $35 to $140 retail, said Nicole Huseby, designer and product manager.
“Functionality has its niche, but in true fashion watches, it’s all about styling,” said Huseby. “People buy the watch like any other fashion accessory.”
Ologi’s novelty designs include concealing the timepiece inside jewelry such as a charm-bracelet watch, and a style where the watch is part of three bangles, each in a different color of gold plating.