Watchmakers target female market with complex pieces

Wed Mar 14, 2012 9:42am EDT
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By Victoria Bryan and Nathalie Olof-Ors

BASEL, Switzerland (Reuters) - Traditionally dominated by timepieces for men looking to show off their status with a Rolex or Omega, the $21 billion Swiss watchmaking industry is starting to design intricate watch movements for the neglected female market.

Until recently, the women's market was mostly focused on simple quartz watches for under 1,000 Swiss francs ($1,100) or luxury diamond-encrusted pieces with mind-blowing price tags.

But Swiss watchmakers at the Baselworld fair said they were now taking pains to design new collections of mechanical watches for women, especially as they will often buy more pieces than men as fashion changes, making them a lucrative customer base.

Tag Heuer, aiming for sales of around 1 billion Swiss francs this year, said it hopes to increase the proportion of its sales accounted for by women's watches to 40 percent from 30 percent.

Chief Executive Jean-Christophe Babin said there was little competition in the 1,000-10,000 Swiss francs price range.

"There is a lot of potential," Babin told Reuters at the fair. "In a lifetime, if you can sell two or three luxury watches to a man, you can sell between five and ten for a lady."

La Montre Hermes, part of handbag maker Hermes, said women were increasingly interested in mechanical watches -- which are driven by a spring as opposed to electronically -- but appreciated them for different reasons to men.

"For men, it's all about the technical aspects, while women appreciate the craftsmanship," CEO Luc Perramond said as he presented the watchmaker's two new in-house movements - one for men's watches, one for women's.   Continued...

Women walk past a window display of luxury goods maker Rolex in Paris' Place Vendome October 13, 2008. REUTERS/Charles Platiau