What's Hot, How-to

Timepiece Makers Battle Technology With Fashion, Elegance and Timelessness

In the growing market for smart phone watches and cellphones, how are the world’s watchmakers fighting back? With elegance, fashion, their own take on technology and timelessness – the potential for an organization to intimately connect with valued people over an extended period. 

While smart phones, and particularly the Apple Watch, have gained some market share, most people buy smart watches for functionality, not fashion, according to a recent survey by Fluent Technology reported in C-Net. And even though the sought-after Millennials don’t wear watches nearly as often as their parents do, they are almost as likely as their parents to wear watches on special work or personal occasions, or any time they want to dress up for an occasion with an employer, customer, family, community or significant other.   
RRN recently caught up with some of the leading providers of timepieces to the rewards & recognition marketplace to ask them about some of the latest trends in the market. This category still benefits from the fact that timepieces remain an effective way to communicate key messages and reinforce lasting bonds with almost any audience. Says Adrienne Forrest, Vice President of Corporate Sales at Bulova: “Even when people don’t wear a watch every day, watches remain an heirloom item that can be passed on from generation to generation.” 
John Costelli, President of Castle Merchandising, a leading wholesaler of watches to the rewards & recognition marketplace, notes that “Technological watches such as Apple Watch and Fitbit have made an impact and have become trendy items to wear [and] they’re highly functional, yet probably not appropriate to wear for all occasions. The fashion watch brands are fighting back by creating watches with unique colorations and designs, as well as value added watch sets to persuade people to own multiple watches to accessorize with their wardrobe.” Jenny Durham, Premium/Incentive Senior Account Manager at Fossil, agrees. “We like the idea of gift sets,” she says. “They allow people to pair a watch and a bracelet, a watch with a matching set of earrings, or for men a watch and a wallet. This provides a higher perceived value because the recipient is receiving two items packaged in beautiful ready-to-gift packaging” 
Richard Low, Vice President of Special Markets at Citizen Watch, points to the communication power of fashion worn on the wrist. He believes watches go well beyond traditional applications in retirement and service awards by tying into promotional themes. “As organizations roll out new initiatives,” he says, “a watch can be presented as a lasting reminder of the new program. Now the program participant is reminded of the company goal every time they look at their wrist.” 
“Our timepiece business remains strong, as we’re a supplier to the award and incentive market of world-renowned luxury brands, such as Rolex, Cartier, Tag Heuer, Breitling and nearly 100 others,” explains Andy Finn, Senior Vice President at Tourneau, a leading watch retailer active in the rewards & recognition marketplace. “These brands are more than simply watches that tell time. Timepieces continue to be in high demand as an award or recognition gift, as they’re not only keepsakes, but convey prestige and status."
“Our products succeed as years of service awards, sales awards, sales incentives, business gifts, casino events and awards, and consumer loyalty programs,” Finn adds. “From Board of Director gifts to a gift to all employees of a company on a special anniversary, watches remain popular, and they can be proudly worn every day and act as a constant reminder to the recipient.” 
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So what’s hot today in timepieces? Kevin Dougherty, Director of Special Markets at Seiko, says that ladies watches are tapering down, stylewise. “In recent years they had become big and bold. Men’s watches have become specific to their lifestyle – watches for business, divers, pilots, compass watches. Watches have become so specific that there’s a type of watch for every business, techy or active lifestyle. Tone on tone is in. Cases in black PVD (a rugged material used in the military) and bracelets with a black dial or all gold-plated cases and bracelets with gold dials are an inspired look. Amazingly, a classic design – the three-hand movement – is making a comeback. Simply put, watches that indicate only the hours, minutes and seconds can be outwardly stimulating when they’re well made, and we at Seiko embrace this trend.” 
Says Citizen’s Richard Low: “We see a slight shrinking of the ladies face, growth in blue face and stainless bracelet choices for men and women, and a tremendous acceptance of watches by Generation Z. For the younger watch-wearer, fashion is critical, resulting in the ownership of multiple watches to match different moods and events. Many consumers are buying multiple mid-priced watches instead of one very expensive piece.”
“We recently started supplying Wrist Armor brand watches that are specifically designed for military men and women,” says John Costelli. “These are military watches that look the part and also play the part…designed with innovative materials, tough looks and even tougher construction. Approximately one of every four people in America are either military, ex-military, or have an immediate family member or friend in the military. That makes for a huge market for these watches. Plus, a portion of the sales of this line go toward programs that support military members and their families.” 
Watch makers might be fighting technology with fashion and by targeting different lifestyles, but they’ve also added tech touches to traditional watches and wall clocks to combine both fashion and functionality. In fact, Fossil has fully embraced the wearable trend. “Around our building, the latest trend is definitely connected accessories,” says Jenny Durham. “Chaps, Diesel, Emporio Armani, Fossil, Kate Spade New York, Michael Kors, Misfit and Skagen will each launch product in the wearables space in 2016. Since acquiring Misfit in November 2015, we’ve increased capabilities for the development and production of the technology supporting Fossil’s wearables products. 
Durham explains that the company’s wearable technology platform includes “proprietary power management technology that enables coin cell battery-powered non-display watches and trackers to be deployed across the entire Fossil Group brand portfolio. Without the need for daily, weekly or even monthly charging, the new devices function much more like traditional watches and lifestyle accessories than as typical consumer electronic products that require daily maintenance. Each brand has added its own personal touch to how the connected accessory will celebrate as you hit goals throughout the day. For example, as you reach your goal with the Kate Spade connected accessories, they have a champagne glass on the dial that fills up.” Features, she says, include step counting, sleep monitoring, alarm, call and text notification and movement reminders, among many others, adding that the accessories come with an easy-to-use app allowing wearers to view their progress. 
Bulova’s Forrest says that her company now offers Bluetooth clocks for walls and mantel-pieces that wirelessly support any type of programming from a smartphone or tablet. Seiko’s Kevin Dougherty notes that the company’s Melodies in Motion clocks “are truly a piece of art as well as entertaining. On the hour, the clocks play one of up to 18 high-fidelity melodies, whether it be popular, classical, Lennon/McCartney-inspired or Christmas music, along with the dial opening and ‘dancing’ to the music – these clocks have become a collectors dream.” Citizen’s Low says that Millennials and Gen Z “especially gravitate to products that are environmentally conscious,” adding that Citizen introduced Eco-Drive in 1976 and is “celebrating 40 years of bringing the first light-powered watch to the market – watches that never need a battery.” 
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Timepiece makers committed to the rewards & recognition market have long known what new research is now telling us: that presentation is as important as the reward itself.
Bulova imprints and etches dials and engraves case backs and engraving plates, says Forrest.  Dougherty explains that, “Dial imprinting of a company logo, along with a personal message engraved on the caseback of your watch, goes such a long way to the recipient. It truly makes the gift unique…another option is to let Seiko design a medallion that can replace the dial of your watch. This gives the timepiece a ‘Coin’ or ‘Medal’ look to its face and can add a one-of-a-kind look to the watch.” 
Citizen’s Low offers this note of caution: “A watch cannot be trusted to just anyone due to the intricacies of the watch and the care that must be taken when taken apart and re-assembled. Citizen partners with several of the top decorators in the country that are able to decorate the face or engrave the case back. Our incentive reps help our clients find the right solution.” Jenny Durham notes that in addition to traditional watch customization, Fossil also debosses or foil stamps on their leather collections.   
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All of the major timepiece makers we interviewed offer various types of fitting experiences for events. “We’ll work with you every step of the way,” says Bulova’s Forrest, “paying attention to your budget, your guests and your goals. Pick the plan, pick the product and we’ll take it from there, providing displays, signage, tablecloths, shopping bags and even on-site sizing. As an ideal finishing touch, boxes can also be customized.”
For events, Dougherty says that Seiko has teamed up with corporate gifting experience company Global Gifting and its President John Crisci: “Global Gifting can seamlessly offer the innovative and fashion-driven styles and technology timepieces Seiko and Pulsar have to offer and bring excitement, class and ease to any corporate occasion or meeting.” 
Tourneau’s Finn notes that “in recent years, we’ve sent our watchmakers across the USA and overseas to size watches for recipients in person at their events so the awardees can wear the watch at the event and on their way home.” 
“Fitting experiences have received significant interest in the last several years,” says Citizen’s Low, suggesting that each program is unique and deserves a personal touch versus a cookie-cutter approach. “We encourage our clients to work with our premium reps to design an event that works for them.”
Depending on the size of the event, says Durham, Fossil “will bring in a tablecloth, fixtures, signage, gift bags and a wide variety of watches, and sometimes brand representatives for the event, giving the recipient a great selection to fit their own personal style.”
At least one timepiece maker has a line exclusive to the rewards & recognition marketplace. Seiko has created a product line for the rewards and recognition market place it calls Seiko and Pulsar PRIME (Premium, Recognition, Incentive, Military Exclusives). Dougherty explains: “The collection includes 10 well-crafted styles in the Seiko brand and 12 styles within Pulsar.  These watches cannot be sold at retail, are always in stock for continuity and provide extended discounts to all of our customers.” He adds that Seiko is developing a transactional platform for pre-approved, authorized Seiko customers to purchase Seiko products online for uses approved by the company.  
Naturally, one of the advantages of timepieces is the range of options for every price point and demographic. “On the fashion watch side, we see retails under $150 as the stronger sellers,” says Castle’s Costelli, “most likely because it’s affordable fashion giving people the ability to wear different watches with different outfits without breaking the bank.”
Says Forrest: “Bulova is unique in that we have watches from $35 to $1,000 and can address all budgets and styles. We have experienced success across the board, based on the client budget and taste.” 
At Seiko and Pulsar, Dougherty says, “We hit the core and most important price points that fit all corporate programs. With Pulsar retail price point from $100 to $200 and Seiko from $200 to $1,500, and with the Prime line being retail priced at $295 to $795, we hit the important and most redeemed levels of every incentive and recognition program.” That said, he adds that Seiko has a new Grand Seiko Spring Drive 8-Day Power Reserve watch that costs $55,000 at retail. “It’s a special piece, with an absolutely stunning artisanal dial created by Seiko’s Micro Artist Studio.”
Says Low of Citizen: “We offer watches from $79 to $6,000. The most successful programs incorporate a mix of Citizen at every redemption level or plateau. Many program participants will save points in order to redeem for a Citizen watch.” 
Fossil focuses on watches in the $100 retail price point, Durham says, appealing to people who want to wear different watches based on the occasion or their moods. 
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Contacts for People Quoted
Adrienne Forrest, Vice President, Corporate Sales
Castle Merchandising, Inc.
John Costelli, President
516-292.4143, ext. 103
Citizen Watch Company of America, Inc.
Richard Low, Vice President, Special Markets
800-321-1023, ext. 4509
Fossil Group
Jenny Durham, Premium/Incentive Senior Account Manager 
469-730-7619; jdurham@fossil.com
Kevin Dougherty 
Director, Special Markets
201.615.7107; kdougherty@seikousa.com
For Seiko events
John Crisci, Seiko Global Gifting 
310.970.2887; jcrisci@globalgifting.com
For Custom Gifting and Personalization:
800-545-2783; customwatches@seikousa.com,              
Andy Finn, Senior VP, Corporate Sales, Tourneau 
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