Time slips away

Published 23 November 2011 15:13, Updated 01 December 2011 05:16

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Flick through the pages of most glossy magazines and it won’t be long before you come to a watch advertisement.

But although watchmakers are keen to present timepieces as an essential accessory to a stylish life, the rise of the mobile phone is eroding sales.

For some, a watch remains an essential item. But for many, a watch is no longer their preferred way to tell the time.

For the latter, the time is virtually everywhere but on their wrist.

“The time’s always in front of your face these days,” the joint founder, producer and director at film production company Clockwork Films, Jamie Cohen, says.

“It’s either in front of you on the computer, the laptop, the iPad or the phone, so therefore the actual need for a watch is becoming somewhat dated.”

Demand for watches has dropped since the 1990s, IBISWorld industry analyst Paul McMillan says.

IBIS World estimates show that in 1995, watches accounted for some 18 per cent of watch and jewellery retail industry revenue.

Now, outlay for watches is just 6.5 per cent of revenue, the research firm says. An important factor in the trend, says McMillan, is the rise of the mobile phone.

“Sales of cheaper watches have really suffered since mobile phones have become so ubiquitous,” he says.

“The regular consumer doesn’t see much value in purchasing a watch when their ever-present mobile phone can tell the time perfectly well.”

Young men, in the 12 to 20 age bracket, aren’t buying watches, the public relations and marketing executive for the Jewellers Association of Australia, Aphrodite Kant, says.

“They are the ones that are using the iPhones and the Androids to tell the time,” she says. But there are other market segments where watches are still selling well, industry watchers say.

“Analogue watches sell very well to the younger markets [children] because parents and grandparents buy these watches so that their child can learn to tell the time,” Kant says.

Luxury watch sales have “held up pretty well,” McMillan of IBISWorld says. That comes as consumer spending on luxury goods such as fashion, luggage and jewellery has been buoyant, he adds.

Those sales seem to be driven by professional men in their 20s and 30s.

“The feeling is this is because many men don’t really feel they have many other ‘bling’ options aside from a watch and the wedding ring,” he explains.

“They’ve also remained a very popular gift for this demographic to mark an occasion – 21sts and 30ths, graduations … You might find a lot of people own a nice watch but don’t find occasion to wear it very often.”

Indeed Cohen at Clockwork Films breaks out his Seiko, which he feels has a subtle, classy look, to wear with a suit for a wedding. But he regards it as an accessory for a certain look, rather than a necessity.

There are still some, however, who consider a watch a fundamental element of their daily attire.

Among them is the managing director of corporate consultancy Culture Strategy Partners, Tim Murray, who credits his Tag Heuer with saving his life.

On a pedestrian crossing in central Sydney, Murray was hit by a taxi. As he was thrown up by the car, his watch band hooked on the taxi’s windscreen wiper. That stopped him from flying off and hitting the kerb hard.

“I landed on the bonnet which was actually quite soft … and then just rolled on the road,” he says.

Murray went to hospital and was X-rayed but escaped with just bruises. “It could have been nasty,” he says.

He now uses his watch for everything, including sports such as diving and skiing.

“I sort of see it now as a safety blanket,” he says. “If I leave the house without it I’ll go back and get it.”

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