Saturday, August 13, 2011

Loafing at the Mall

I took my daughter and her friend school shopping this week and, at loose ends for a couple of hours, browsed watches at the mall. I never do this; I'm just not a mall shopper. But it was, well, not entirely uninteresting.

Except for one jewelry store that carried TAG Heuer, and another with Movado (blech), there were mostly just consumer and entry level affordable watches on offer. The brands were the usual suspects: Citizen, Seiko, Pulsar, Invicta, Skagen, Armitron, Bulova, Kenneth Cole, Fossil, etc. Turns our that JCPenney also carries Elgin, behind glass, which places my new Chinese watch somewhere on the cheap American jewelry scale. I guess that's something. Maybe.

It's interesting to see fashion brands (Fossil, Kenneth Cole) next to jewelery brands (Bulova, Movado) next to full-blooded watch brands (Citizen, Seiko). I'm a little surprised to say that, dollar for dollar, I don't think there is a lot of difference in quality between them all. Ignoring consumer-grade watches, most were otherwise equally well-made, all-stainless watches with Japanese quartz movements. Most are OEMed from the same factories in Singapore, Hong Kong, and China. I tried on a $50 Fossil, and the quality was honestly great. It's principally their superior aesthetics and design that makes some Citizens and Seikos stand out so strongly against their competitors.

But only some. I'm disappointed to say that Citizen and Seiko apparently have special branches dedicated to designing ugly watches for tasteless Americans. On the low end, many of their best watches are only offered in foreign markets. And on their high end, I think Citizen beats Seiko handily with their stateside offerings. (This a not the case in Europe and Asia.) The only surprise was to see a number of (regrettably, ugly) Seiko solar-powered watches. Seiko has traditionally ignored solar, which Citizen has embraced and dominated with their extensive Ecotech offerings. Not sure what to make of this.

Other trends? Watches continue to get bigger, especially in the fashion brands. I saw many 50mm and larger watches. A lot of watches still look very blingy, though there seemed to be fewer saucer-sized, "diamond" encrusted hip-hop models. Still, the number of watches sporting fake diamonds were legion. Ugly and baffling. Who wears such things?

I was very pleased to see many mechanical watches, mainly in the fashion segment. Most all were using Chinese movements (some Invictas used Miyota/Citizen movements), and most were of skeleton or open heart design. You pay a premium for them, but at least everyone can see you're wearing mechanical. In this sense, these mechanical movements are being employed for aesthetics as well as exclusivity, which is a new trend in itself. I hope their popularity continues to rise, not only because I love mechanicals, but also so that Seiko and Citizen may be incentivized to expand their mechanical offerings. Both make very high quality movements, but they are plain and dull and, at least in American models, used very rarely.

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