Luxury is the prime factor for american consumers

CONSUMERS WANT TO GO NOWHERE BUT UP, AND THAT’S reflected in the growing interest inĀ watches and jewelry, particularly in timepieces with many complications, designer names and jewelry accents — namely diamonds. Further boosting sales, women and men are buying these baubles for themselves instead of waiting to receive them as gifts.

The jewelry and watch industry is a $43.6 billion business and, according to Jewelers of America’s Cost of Doing Business Survey, watches represent 5 percent of total fine jewelry sales. U.S. diamond jewelry sales reached $31.5 billion last year. According to a recent study conducted by the Jewelry Consumer Opinion Council, of the nearly 90 percent of female respondents who own diamond jewelry, almost 70 percent purchased it for themselves. Half of the 500 men surveyed own diamond jewelry and half of those were willing to buy more for themselves, a 23 percent increase over JCOC’s 2004 study.

According to the Platinum Guild International USA, dollar sales of platinum in the U.S. rose 9.6 percent in 2004 from 2003 and they’re expected to remain steady in 2005.

U.S. gold jewelry sales increased by 4 percent in 2004, to approximately $17 billion, the strongest growth for the category since 1999. Gold also showed a 5.6 percent sales value growth in the final quarter of 2004, according to a study conducted by NOP World, a market research firm, sponsored by the World Gold Council.

Titanium has also gained ground. Firms like Sector and Rado have included the metal, which is lighter in weight than stainless steel, in their watches.

It’s clear that the luxury companies, like Tiffany, 10th on this list, have met the challenge. But main-floor vendors have soared when it comes to meeting consumer demand, especially the leader of the pack, Timex.

Timex makes fashion a top priority and teamed with the sex-charged Italian house of Gianni Versace this year. The collaboration resulted in the Vertime watches that were launched at the Basel Watch Fair in Basel, Switzerland, in April. The line fuses technology and glamour, like the piece Donatella Versace wears — a white ceramic rendition encrusted with diamonds.

Number-two Seiko is going after the sparkle in a woman’s eye — or perhaps on her wrist. The brand developed a diamond-setting system that allows larger stones to be put in more elegant settings, retailing from $375 to $695. Seiko also unveiled its Spring Drive technology, 28 years in the making. The watch features one-second-per-day accuracy, a continuous-sweep second hand and a power reserve of 72 hours; most mechanical watches store power for 40 hours.

Third-ranked Rolex launched the Rolex Prince line of watches, part of its Cellini range. For the first time, a Rolex watch has a transparent case back that reveals a guilloche decoration on the movement echoing the dial.

Bulova, number four, recently launched a sport watch line called Marine Star. It’s also been including more diamonds in its collection, for a more sophisticated look.

Swatch, number five, has amped up its Bijoux jewelry collection, which has doubled in sales this year in the U.S. The line features high-end jewelry influences like enamel-like details and crystal-studded cocktail rings made of base metal or sterling silver. Yet Swatch has also jumped on the jewelry trend, and launched the Swatch Skin Diamond watch with 174 diamonds set in its face.

Citizen, at six, and Casio, at seven, have turned their focus to the latest technologies and fashions. Citizen has its sights set on its Eco Drive technology for watches that never need a replacement battery; the watches use natural or artificial light as an energy source. The company has also created charm watches, which are increasingly popular with women, and Swarovski crystal-encrusted watches.

Citizen also has versions of its Ladies’ Stiletto and Elektra watches with hand-set diamond details. The company launched the men’s Calibre 8651 moon phase titanium flight watches and 300M divewatches.

Casio launched its Oceanus watches in May. They use an Atomic Solar movement and keep perfect time, the company claims. Casio is also expanding its Baby G mostly digital watch line and has partnered with sportswear company E.vil, to create Baby E.vil, a limited-edition watch that will be exclusive to Federated Department Stores.

Banking on the trend of classic video game influence in apparel, number-eight Fossil is launching the Big Tic watch collection this fall. The watches take inspiration from Eighties video games with digitally animated dials featuring bouncing flowers, scrolling digits or robots walking across the face of the watch. Some styles feature games like Centipede, Breakout and Asteroids from Atari. Fossil also introduced a Palm OS wristwatch under its own moniker this year. Corporately, the maker ofwatches for Burberry, Diesel, Michele and Michael Michael Kors scored another coup when it nabbed a license with Marc Jacobs International to develop and distribute fine and fashion timepieces under the Marc Jacobs and Marc by Marc Jacobs names.

Number-nine Swiss Army recently unveiled the ST 5000, a navigation watch with built-in lighting and directional compass. The watch, with luminous hands and numbers, is available with a black or silver dial. It features a rotating compass rose and a black synthetic rubber strap.

Tiffany & Co. is often thought of as classic, fine jewelry, but the venerable brand is expanding in hopes of tacking on a few more adjectives — like cutting-edge, avant-garde and retro. Its 2005 collection includes a 233-carat Bahari tanzanite brooch wrapped in leaves of diamonds set in platinum, and a black opal and peridot bracelet in 22-karat gold resembling an ancient Roman mosaic. The Tiffany Grand watch also launched this year, with a rectangular case and a geometric black and white dial.

1. Timex

2. Seiko

3. Rolex

4. Bulova

5. Swatch

6. Citizen

7. Casio

8. Fossil

9. Swiss Army

10. Tiffany

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