As Time Goes By - Luxury Travel Magazine

As Time Goes By

By: Christine Hogan, Issue 17 – Summer 2004
(luxury watches, Romang, Cartier, Christian Dior)


Times were when a Cartier watch really meant something. They were exclusive, exquisite and very, very expensive. A simple gold Tank watch, with a black leather strap and a cabochon jewel inset into the winder, signalled a person of rare good taste, refinement – and money. The same went for people who chose other classic watch brands – among them Patek Philippe, Piaget, Ebel, Omega, Rolex, Tag Heuer, Corum, Maurice Lacroix, Baume & Mercier, Raymond Weil and Zenith. These brands are all about workmanship – Zenith even opens its glossy presentation book with images of the Swiss movements of four of its watches – quality and simplicity (though sometimes, in truth, a simplicity laced with enough diamonds and other external jewels to satisfy the most demanding Saudi sheik.) But then came a remarkable explosion in the market – everyone from Gucci to Louis Vuitton, Dior to Fendi, Tiffany to Hermes, was offering watches to their customers. They came in a range of prices (slightly) more affordable than those at Cartier and were designed for people of taste and money who wanted a fashion statement on their wrists. Cartier, renowned for its incredibly beautiful jewellery, initially responded by creating watches in a similar, lower price range. It started to make less expensive wrist-watches for a market that wanted some of the Cartier cachet but couldn’t quite afford to pay the full Cartier freight – yet. Well, those days are over – Cartier is going back to its core business in its flagship boutiques around the world. The house has decided that the entry level for its watches in Australia will no longer be around $2,000 duty-free and upwards for a stainless steel and leather strap watch. If you want to buy into the Cartier experience now, you will find yourself looking at a small Tank watch – gold body, leather strap – and a bill of $7,000 (more if you don’t buy it duty-free).

The thinking, according to Olivier Romang, Cartier’s marketing communications manager in Australia, is strategic. “This is a developed market, and we want to target the high end,” he says. “We want to be perceived as a quality jeweller and watch-maker.” There is a very simple explanation for the shift towards the top end of the market. “This area has the highest growth potential, and the highest margins,” adds Romang. “We have noticed that the sales of our precious watches are growing strongly, and we want to focus on that.” The luxury market is undergoing an explosion in terms of timepieces – and a division into the classic brands versus the fashion statement brands. Forget fast-moving consumer goods – fashion watches, like handbags, are the fast-moving designer goods. International high fashion houses are changing the face of the watch – and the band, as well. They are now true fashion accessory items, based on seasonal looks from designers such as John Galliano at Dior and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel. So does this mean the days we had one watch for life, a graduation or 21st birthday gift, are over? Will consumers now surrender to seasonality – another year, another collection, another watch? That all depends on the customer, says Valerie Lachaux, international brand president and CEO of Christian Dior Watches. “Dior’s designs will piggyback on the designs on the runways,” she says. “The watches are designed for consumers who are very conscious of fashion, and want something to complement their wardrobes.” It’s all about disposable income, of course, and fashion houses are eager to give their regular clients an extension to the look of the season – and something new to spend their money on.

The market needs a kick-start right now. In a world where the luxury goods market early in 2003 endured the worst three months on record, the luxury houses are looking for a boost to sales – and a hook for their consumers. Is it time for the watch-led recovery? Dior’s designer Victoria de Castellane references classic Dior looks in the new designs – the signature fabric, the CD initials worked into a bracelet band, as well as more adventurous (and enormous) watches. They’re priced from around $1,200, and can range up to around $30,000, depending on the style and what they are made from. At Chanel, the chocolate bar quilting – a constant in designs from the house offering everything from shoes to handbags and jackets – has turned up on the mouth-watering Chocolat watch range. With its deep, glossy colour, the watch becomes an avant-garde piece of jewellery as much as an essential of everyday life. The entry point here is the ceramic watch, but it flows up to white gold and 240 diamonds, white gold paved with 456 diamonds, yellow gold and steel. Prices are similar to those for the J12 watches, first released in black in 2000, and now available in white as well. The smaller white J12, set with 112 diamonds, costs $12,440, while the least expensive in the range costs $4,710. Designer watches are certainly not cheap and a long way from the single-band, multi-coloured watch that was a staple for Gucci in duty-free shops for years. The question for the consumer is whether to buy into fashion, with its built-in obsolescence, or stick with the conservative classics.

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