LONDON — Most fashion watches, the category of timepieces produced by high-end clothing brands as part of their accessory lines, used to look like rather bland reproductions of fine Swiss watches.
But today, the fabulous, cutting-edge designs turned out by those same brands look as if they came straight off the runways — and, in some cases, they have.
The trend is all part of a holistic “image overhaul,” as brands have started to take a thorough, cross-category approach to their offerings, said Stephen Eggleston, vice president of the commercial business at the online retailer Farfetch. “Creative directors,” he said, “are getting involved not just in ready-to-wear but in beauty, fragrance, watches and jewelry.”
And Erica Redgrave, a watch buyer for the British department store Selfridges, said fashion watches were a way for customers to connect with brands. “They don’t have to buy the designer dress,” she said. Instead, they “can buy a watch to wear every day and that will go with most things. It’s worth it, and at an accessible designer price point.” (The average price for fashion watches is around $1,000, but some are as little as $100).
Observers routinely cite Gucci and Fendi as popular names at the moment for both fashion and watches, thanks to their strong, branded designs.
Gucci’s signature colored stripes, just one of the house motifs that have appeared in Alessandro Michele’s magpie looks in recent seasons, have made their way onto the luminous mother-of-pearl dials on its G-Frame collection, like the 21-millimeter-by-34-millimeter rectangular design ($1,450) with a red, white and navy stripe dial, set on a tan leather strap.
Both Fendi and Louis Vuitton have embraced logomania. (As Mr. Eggleston said, “There’s been a real move towards big logos and things that will make a brand stand out.”)
At Fendi, the latest Selleria collection for men (from $2,960) features sun-ray dials in the house’s favored brown hue, punctuated with double F motifs and paired with three interchangeable straps. Its new Run Away line (from $895) has a similar dial but is given an extra dose of logo with a large asymmetrical F slashed across the face.
Louis Vuitton took on logos in a nostalgic way for its Tambour World Tour (from $3,250), introduced in December in four sizes, ranging from 28 millimeters to 41.5 millimeters. The dial and straps feature either the house’s signature monogram canvas or Damier check motif and are punctuated with vintage-style luggage stickers, each bearing the Vuitton name, a strong echo of the house’s own travel heritage.
The classic quilted 2.55 Chanel bag — the name referencing 1955, the year Coco Chanel created it — directly inspired the geometric Code Coco watch. The timepiece has a clasp that resembles the one on the 2.55 and it also appears on the watch’s diamond-trimmed dial. A quilted-pattern bracelet further echoes the 2.55’s finish. Introduced in 2017 in steel and diamonds, the Code Coco now comes in ceramic (from $6,500), a material that the house loves, having had such success with its signature J12 ceramic watch.
At Versace, Palazzo Empire is a collection name that the house has used for fashion and accessories. When it was added to a watch, the design included a sculptural gold Medusa head, surrounded by a Greek key motif, and is offered in a range of fun and fashionable dial and strap colors.
Some brands are taking their styles to the max, unapologetically bedecking their watches with house colors and designs. Olivia Burton was founded in 2011 on contemporary, clean looking dials, but today timepieces produced by the London-based house — which is synonymous with flowers, femininity and the color pink — are a far cry from its early pared-back look. For example, its latest Wishing watch ($150) comes in a silver sun-ray dial paired with a silver mesh strap for spring. Other dials showcase marbleized effects or glitter detailing, while the steel-plated Case Cuff line with lace-patterned dials ($195) has a bough of sculptural metal flowers that can be added or removed from the side of the case.
Dior’s Grand Bal watches use oscillating weights to move dial detailing, recreating the swaying motion of ball gowns. The latest novelties recall the grand masquerade balls that Christian Dior himself enjoyed (the designer, who dressed as a king of beasts for the 1949 Kings and Queens Ball in Paris, once said: “Those kinds of parties were veritable works of art. They may have irritated for their very sumptuousness, but they are desirable, necessary and important if they restore a taste for and sense of authentic celebrations”).
The majestic 36-millimeter Plume Noir ($31,000) features a sunburst in a black-and-gold palette of graduated threads, feathers and diamonds. And the new 36-millimeter Grand Bal Miss Dior ($51,800) nods to a 1949 couture dress of the same name that had six petticoats and hundreds of embroidered silk flowers. The watch’s two palettes, with petal colors reflecting day or night, also have a voluminous 3-D effect thanks to translucent ceramic on the oscillating weight that is further embellished with gold, diamonds, mother-of-pearl and lacquer.
Dials, however, are not the only canvas for embellishment. Versace’s 28-millimeter Medusa Stud Icon watch ($1,295) features a wraparound snakeskin bracelet — in colors including black and burgundy — with multiple Medusa-head studs. Other collections have Versace spelled out across the strap, either in studded gold letters or white printed text. And at Gucci, the latest Le Marché des Merveilles watches feature the striped kingsnake, a time-honored motif of the house, which winds its way up the leather strap and onto the dial.
Colors and straps
Trends in dial colors and watch strap finishes at the fine watch houses continue to influence fashion watches, Ms. Redgrave of Selfridges said. For example, the gray dials favored at several top Swiss maisons now are on Hugo Boss’s chronographs and its understated 40-millimeter with a gray sun-ray dial — a timeless design that Emporio Armani also has channeled in a gray-dial 43-millimeter watch. Blue dials also have become a mainstay, with Louis Vuitton adding blue faces to both the men’s and women’s lines of its curved-case Tambour Moon collection (from $4,850), created in 2017 for the Tambour’s 15th anniversary. Elsewhere, Salvatore Ferragamo has added a blue dial to its sport-luxe F-80 ($1,295) and Tommy Hilfiger is using a deep-blue dial on its new funky dual-time design.
Jewelry trends also indicate where design for women’s watches will go. Several houses, including Coach and Michael Kors, added rose-quartz dials to popular models. “Semiprecious stones are trending in jewelry, and we’re seeing it move into watches,” Ms. Redgrave said. The material follows on from a trend in rose gold faces, she adds, but is more “feminine with a bit more texture.”
Milanese straps are another trend that has spread to the fashion watch sector, including at Hugo Boss, Olivia Burton and Tommy Hilfiger. The mesh straps “are just that bit more contemporary and younger,” Ms. Redgrave said.
The popularity of the Apple Watch has spurred fashion houses to jump on the connected-watch bandwagon, with brands like Michael Kors and Emporio Armani already moving their models to fourth-generation technology with payment functionality and watersport tracking. But, for now at least, the storied Swiss houses still dominate the field, including Montblanc’s Summit series, now in its second iteration (from $995); TAG Heuer’s Connected Modular (from $1,200); and Tissot, whose new T-Touch Expert Solar II ($1,195) uses solar power to fire its 20 functions, which include a chronograph, perpetual calendar, regatta function and two time zones.
A new headline in the category, however, is Louis Vuitton’s latest Tambour Horizon smartwatch, which boasts an extended battery life and new travel-minded features like syncing with hotel and flight bookings, a built-in step counter, and a real-time air-quality index display. The watch (from $2,250) is to be available in finishes like polished white ceramic and a coating of matte brown PVD, or physical vapor deposition.
Individualism reigns supreme in fashion, and one-off personalized pieces are now de rigueur. “It’s an exciting trend and not just one that’s specific to watches,” Mr. Eggleston said. “It’s a sign of the luxury customer really demanding something that is unique and special.”
The fashion brands are taking note. Fendi has introduced an online customization tool for its IShine collection, a line of bejeweled watches featuring gemstone indexes that rotate by turning the crown (starting at $3,380). The customer is asked to choose dial color, size, case finish and strap options, with 210 possible variations in all.
And, while it was introduced in May, it’s hard not to mention the Tom Ford 001. There’s just one model, but it comes in a host of iterations, most notably about 50 different and interchangeable straps. Completely customizable online (from $2,100 to $10,100), one can select 40-millimeter or 44-millimeter, eight case finishes (including yellow gold, steel and matte black DLC), a white or black dial, and strap options including hand-woven braided leather, stitched leather, pebble grain and alligator.
Calling the 001 “versatile and unisex,” Mr. Eggleston said it embodied that winning formula for a fashion watch today: “It’s really true to the brand DNA. If you could draw a Tom Ford watch, you’d probably come up with something similar.”