Watches: more than telling time

Watches continue to be a strong segment for many jewelry stores, with analysts estimating international sales at $10 billion annually. To effectively sell watches, jewelry stores must establish a wide inventory, covering all watch types from sports to fashion. In addition, sales personnel should have ample knowledge about inventories to help customers select the appropriate items.

Today’s watches offer a variety of styles and functions to suit every need, taste and lifestyle. If there is one product in your jewelry store that almost sells itself, it’s the watch.

The reasons are numerous. Virtually every U.S. consumer wears one. In fact, surveys show that Americans now own an average of three to four watches.

Watches also are one of the few branded products in a jewelry store  –  one that your customers know and ask for by name.

In addition, watch companies spend millions of dollars annually in marketing, advertising and promoting in the U.S. to attract consumers.

And watches are fun, functional and trendy. It’s been a long time since they were only time-tellers. Today’s watches are designed to be durable fashion, sports and lifestyle accessories. They’re status symbols, hot collectibles, high-tech multifunction marvels and stylish eye-catchers.

“With the advent of new watch fashions and distinct watch styling for different lifestyles and activities, the potential for repeat business is enormous,” according to one watch brand’s instructions to its retail clients. What’s more, a growing number of watch brands are adding jewelers as outlets or designing collections for the jeweler’s market.

Timely background: The $10 billion global watch industry produces almost 1 billion watches and watch movements annually. One fourth are sold in the U.S., the world’s largest and most lucrative watch market.

The major watchmaking industries are in Switzerland, Japan and Hong Kong (much of whose work is now done in China). But there are also strong industries in France and Germany and developing ones in Taiwan, China, Thailand and India. In sheer numbers, Japan is the top watch producer (40%), followed by Hong Kong (20%) and Switzerland (18%). In value of watches made, Swiss watchmakers claim 54%, followed by Japan (22%) and Hong Kong (9%).

In the past two decades, the watch business has changed dramatically. The inexpensive, easily produced and precise quartz watch movement, created by the Swiss but first used commercially by the Japanese, replaced mechanical movements and radically altered the industry and market. It paved the way for watches as trendy fashion and lifestyle accessories and as multifunction high-tech marvels.

More recently, mechanical watches have regained popularity as high-end handcrafted timepieces, while mid-price and high-end brands have lowered prices to make their watches more accessible to consumers, especially young adults.

Selling tips: Watch customers are predisposed to buy a watch when they come to your store. But they may be unsure what type of watch they want, in part because of the wide variety of brands, types and styles on the market now. Here are some tips that will help you help the customer make a choice.

* Ask who the watch is for. Is it for the customer or is it a gift for someone else? Women buy the majority of watches, often as a gift for men. It also helps to know the wearer’s age and interests (hobbies, profession, etc.).

* How will the watch be used? Will it be used primarily at work, with evening wear, for a causal lifestyle or as part of an active, sporting lifestyle? If the customer isn’t sure, ask about the intended wearer’s hobbies and interests. A weekend sailor may enjoy a yachting watch, while a gardener may want a sturdy strap model designed for casual wear.

* Ask about style preferences. Does the customer want a watch with a bracelet or a strap, with classic or trendy styling?

* Emphasize features that benefit the wearer. This makes the customer focus on the value of the watch rather than its price. In more expensive watches, explain features that account for the difference in price (an 18k-filled case instead of stainless steel, the addition of a perpetual calendar, etc.).

* Narrow the choice. Let the customer try on a couple of watches with the features specified. Start with more expensive models; the customer’s comments will help you determine his or her budget.

* Emphasize the value of buying the watch from an authorized dealer who can provide guaranteed after-sale service and support.

Watch basics: Depending on how it displays time, a watch is analog (a dial with hands to show minutes, hours, seconds); digital (numbers displayed on a liquid crystal panel) or an analog-digital combination. Most watches are analog.

There are two types of watch movements (the device that “runs” a watch): mechanical and quartz.

The mechanical movement (or ebauche as it is sometimes called) has only mechanical parts and is powered by a spring connected to gears and a balance wheel. There are two types of mechanical movements: hand-wound (connected to the mainspring) or self-winding (also called automatic) by the wearer’s wrist action. Mechanical watches are accurate to within an hour per year and require servicing every two to three years.

A quartz movement uses an electronic module powered by a battery. In analog watches, there is also a mechanical section (including a “stepping motor” continually activated by electrical impulses from the module’s integrated circuit and a gear train that transfers that to the hands). In digital watches, the digital displays receive impulses directly from the circuit. Nine out of 10 watches are quartz.

Quartz movements are accurate to within a minute per year; most need battery changes every two to three years. However, a small but growing number of quartz watches use lithium batteries that last five to 20 years.

Generally, mechanical watches are more expensive than quartz watches; most high-end watches are handcrafted mechanicals.

In addition to the movement and dial, a typical watch has a case enclosing the movement; a protective transparent crystal that covers the dial, usually made of plastic or mineral glass (chemically tempered glass, hardened and scratch-resistant); a bezel, the protective rim holding the crystal over the dial; and a band (strap or bracelet) that holds the watch on the wrist.

Watch words: Here are some watch terms you may need to explain to customers:

* Caliber. The diameter and factory number of a watch movement.

* Crown. A small knob or button on a stem (usually at the 3 o’clock position on the watch case) that sets time and can perform other functions. Chronographs usually have three buttons for their functions.

* Functions. These are activities a watch performs in addition to telling time. They can include day/date, moon phase, alarm and seconds hand.

* Shock-resistance. The ability of a watch to withstand an accidental fall or bump without being damaged. The government says a watch must be able to withstand a 40″ fall to a hardwood surface without damage and a gain or loss of no more than 60 seconds a day to qualify. It is illegal to call a watch “shock proof.”

* Subdial. A small circular “face” on the dial showing seconds, dates, moon phases, dual-time, chronograph or other functions.

* Watchband. Holds the watch on the wrist. There are three main types: bracelets (block, link, mesh and wire mesh metal bands most often made of stainless steel, gold, goldplate, goldtone or a combination; the latter is called two-tone); expansion metal bands (which stretch to fit easily over the hand and onto the wrist); and straps (made of leather or synthetic materials in a wide variety of styles and colors).

* Water resistance. A federally approved term to indicate the amount of pressure a watch can withstand under water without leaking or losing accuracy. It is illegal to call a watch “water proof.” Water resistance isn’t permanent; gaskets around the crystal and stem must be inspected periodically. General water resistance means a watch can withstand minor moisture (such as rain or hand washing), but shouldn’t be worn for swimming. Watches that are water resistant to 50 to 100 meters can be worn for bathing, showering or swimming in shallow water. Those resistant to 150 to 200 meters can be worn for recreational scuba diving, swimming and snorkeling. Professional diver watches can be worn to 300 to 1,000 meters for deep-sea activities.

Types of watches: The categories of watches available to consumers keeps growing. Here are some of the most popular:

* Chronograph. In addition to telling time, a chronograph can act as a stop watch, measuring intervals of time (start, stop and return to zero) down to fractions of a second.

* Diver watch. Designed to withstand deep water pressure, these watches have a screw down crown (so it can’t be pulled into a setting position under water) and a unilateral, rotating bezel that shows how long the diver has been down. Diver watch styling has become popular, creating a new category of “sport-look” watches.

* Fashion watch. This term describes colorful, trendy watches, often designed to complement popular fashion trends.

* Perpetual calendar. These watches have a calendar function that automatically keeps track of days, dates, months (including February and 31-day months) and years (including leap years) without adjustment. Perpetual calendars are preset for periods ranging from decades to several hundred years.

* Skeleton watch. The movement in this watch is exposed to view through a transparent face and/or caseback.

* Sport watches. These are designed for active wear, especially swimming, and are water-resistant to 50 meters (165 feet) or more. Many watches are designed for a specific sport, such as flying, diving, sailing, yachting, fishing, golfing or climbing. Chronographs, a category of sport watches, can be used in timing a number of speed sports, such as car racing, boating or track.

* World time watches. Also called travelers’ or travel time watches, these enable travelers to keep track of times at home and in one or more other time zones.

* Jewelry or dress watches. These are designed for evening wear and look like fine jewelry with a watch. Upscale models use real gemstones and precious metals.

REASONS TO BUY WATCHES

* They’re fashionable. Today’s watches are designed to be as stylish as they are durable and functional. In fact, many jewelry designers have added watches to their collections.

* They’re versatile. Today’s watches offer a variety of functions and designs to suit every need, taste and lifestyle.

* They’re durable. Today’s watch is water resistant (from crystal to strap), shock resistant and just plain tough. Many have stainless steel cases and bands and mineral crystals that are chemically hardened and scratch-resistant.

* They’re fun! Many watches are designed for specific activities, including flying, boating, fishing, golfing, climbing and racing. In addition, a variety of models feature trendy and popular cartoon characters at prices ranging from $25 to $5,000.

* They’re collectible. Once a prerogative of the wealthy, watch collecting is becoming a popular hobby of mass-market and midprice watch buyers. In addition to Swatch and Fossil watch clubs, a number of other popular brands regularly produce limited-edition watch series with collectors in mind.

* They’re affordable. Good quality, well-made watches are available at virtually any price point. Indeed, a number of mid- and upscale watch brands have lowered their entry prices or added more affordable collections to attract new, younger customers.

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