Timely innovations: fashion watches keep on ticking

The fashion watch industry has enjoyed a period of strong growth that is expected to continue through the 1995 holiday season. Sales of watches in 1995 are up to 20% better than in 1994, and 1994 was a growth year. The major factors that have kept the sector growing have been new styles and products. New lines from Timex, including licensed Timberland and Joe Boxer items, will debut for the season. Outdoor styles will be prominent, and gift-with-purchase promotions will become more popular.

Fashion watches show no signs of slowing the fast pace set over a year ago as the all-important holiday period begins. Unlike other segments of fashion retailing plagued by a shortage of fresh ideas, the watch category has been driven by a seemingly endless pipeline of line launches, limited editions and strong fashion trends.

Retailers are optimistic. Sales this year are running roughly 15 to 20 percent ahead of last year at many stores, marking the second year in a row of significant doubledigit gains.

Fourth-quarter offerings this year should add to the excitement. Several firms are launching divisions and licensed collections, in addition to items timed for the peak holiday selling period.

The category as a whole will see freshness from Guess Athletic, Defender watches from Fossil and Durasteel watches by Armitron, all new divisions of their respective parents. This is in addition to Timex’s licensed collections for Timberland and Joe Boxer — both of which have experienced exceptionally strong sell-ins, according to Susie Watson, Timex’s marketing director.

The top-of-counter Guess Athletic line is being positioned to fill a void in the market for brand name sport watches in the $48 to $55 price range, said Mickey Callanen, president of the Callanen Group, which produces the Guess watch line under license.

We believe that the line will fill a niche that could eventually account for as much as 15 percent of our total business,” Callanen said.

The Athletic line, scheduled to be shipped in November, is somewhat younger and hipper-looking, he said. It features waterproof sport watches in rugged, outdoor looks with alarms, dual time zones, lap timers and Indiglo illuminated dials — “all the buzzes and whistles associated with true sportwatches today,” as Callanen put it.

Fossil’s Defender collection is a “classically styled, durable watch line in stainless steel with a lot of special functions, heavily inspired by retro airplane cockpits,” said Merk Harbour, the firm’s marketing manager. It will retail in the $65 to $130 range.

Armitron‘s Durasteel line features solid stainless steel case and bracelet watches that are “ultra durable and hypoallergenic,” said Jerry Dickowitz, vice president of marketing for E. Gluck, which manufactures Armitron.

Also on tap are commemorative items from the Looney Tunes line by E. Gluck, limited edition pieces from Nautica and a Star Trek series from Fossil. There are many new takes on the two prevailing trends of the moment — rugged athletic and outdoor looks, and dressy, small-scale feminine styles.

Looney Tunes character watches have been a continuous growth area for E. Gluck, Dickowitz said. He expects this collectible series to further feed consumer demand. The initial series will include four styles that commemorate classic cartoons dating back to the 1940s. Each watch will be packaged in an 8-mm movie canister and will retail for $55. Additional styles will come every few months.

Watson said the Nautica sterling silver tank watch with a black or brown alligator band will be limited to 4,000 numbered units — 2,000 of each color. They will retail for $295.

Fossil’s Star Trek and Next Generation collector series is being offered under an agreement with Viacom. The first watch in the series will feature a molded dial of the USS Enterprise and will be packaged in a Starfleet emblem-shaped box. The buyer will also receive a molded coin of the USS Enterprise and a certificate of authenticity, Harbour said. The watch will retail for $85 and be limited to 15,000 numbered pieces.

On the trend side, Anne Klein and Anne Klein II, Liz Claiborne and Carolee will offer wide assortments of smaller-scale, dressy, feminine styles, many of which are trimmed in Swarovski crystal and have the look of fine jewelry.

Practically every firm will offer rugged outdoor looks to draw interest from the twentysomething crowd that participates in activities like mountain biking, snow boarding and in-line skating. Many will use either resin, rubber or rough-looking leather bands and offer a myriad of functional features.

While gift-with-purchase programs aren’t exactly a new phenomenon in fashion watches, this year they have increased. They are offering more than basic merchandise, and many will hit selling floors earlier.

Timex will roll out gwp’s for its Essentials, Joe Boxer, Nautica and Timberland lines in September. Consumers purchasing an Essentials watch will receive a selection of gourmet coffee, tea and cocoa. Joe Boxer buyers will get a bright yellow inner tube suitable for the snow or water. And Nautica purchasers will take home a baseball cap. The Timberland premium hasn’t yet been determined.

Liz Claiborne has created exclusive arrangements so that each store offers a different gift; these programs will run from the fall through the end of the year. Buyers of Liz Claiborne watches will receive such gifts as a Liz Claiborne bracelet, fragrance or umbrella.