The upcoming Olympics will no doubt push more than a few people off the couch and onto the running track and there is a world of sports watches out there to help them get into the spirit of sports, from technically complicated chronographs to beach-ready plastic Swatches. Rachael Taylor reports.
London is set to be transformed into a multinational sporting Mecca this summer as the Olympic Games rolls into town, and there is no doubt that it will bring with it a reignition of passion for sports, creating a key opportunity for watch retailers to push some more athletic models.
Watch brand marketing can often be dominated by sports that require mechanics or technology – motor racing, aviation, diving – but there is a whole section of the watch world that is dedicated to the type of sports that are born from pure human endurance.
There are 26 sporting categories in the Olympic Games and nearly all of them require some type of timing, from measuring swimming laps to timing the length of a football game. While official digital stopwatches are used at the Olympic Games for the recording of time – provided by official timekeeping partner Omega – athletes in training, and amateur athletes, need a watch that can offer them enough functionality to train effectively.
For some this can mean a simple digital stop watch, while others will crave a more serious sports timepiece, and the market has a variety of watches to cater for all when athletic fever hits the UK.
Leading the pack of sports watches this summer will of course be Omega, as the official watch brand of the London Olympics 2012, with the Omega Seamaster 1948 Co-Axial London 2012 Limited Edition. The Swatch-owned brand has been sponsoring the Olympics since 1932 and the Games are interwoven with Omega’s brand history, making sports a vital element of its marketing.
Omega has created a special commemorative watch for this year’s Games with an engraved caseback showing off the official London 2012 logo. The Omega Seamaster 1948 Co-Axial London 2012 Limited Edition features the brand’s Calibre 3313 – a self-winding chronograph movement with column wheel mechanism and Co-Axial Escapement for greater precision stability and durability of the movement. It has a free sprung balance, with date, hour, minute and continuous small seconds hands, central chronograph hand and a power reserve of 52 hours.
While this watch is very much at the heart of London’s summer love affair with sports, there are a wealth of other brands creating watches for sports fans, from simple plastic timepieces to strap on while playing sport at the beach to more sophisticated sports inspired models to show off in the box at the football.
Citizen similarly has a strong connection with sports and has several sporting ambassadors – including tennis player Kim Clijsters – and so to back up this commitment it has invested in cutting-edge technology that delivers accurate timing.
The brand has created a chronograph fitted with the Calibre 2100, which it claims uses “the world’s most advanced technology to create the ultimate chronograph”. The watch has a 1/5 second chronograph that measures up to 12 hours, a 1/5 second sweep hand and the first instantaneous zero rest button in an Eco-Drive watch. In short, it is a chunky watch that offers excellent accuracy and at a retail price of £379 it is targeted at sports fans who want a watch with decent functionality.
Seiko, meanwhile, has also created a watch for the £400+ market that is mostly dominated by men over the age of 35, according to the brand. The watch is question is the Sportura, a sporty-looking model that has tied in with one of the best football clubs in the world, FC Barcelona.
The partnership was first announced last year at a time when FC Barcelona’s profile was rocketing as it stole the La Liga, UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup trophies.
Seiko UK marketing manager Kristen Crisford says that the Sportura-FC Barcelona watch has enjoyed a strong debut year in the market, even in the UK. “It has worked out much better than I thought,” she says. “In the UK we’ve got such a strong football league and fans, and by bringing in a Spanish team we worried that people wouldn’t relate but they have. Barcelona is one of those teams that is seen as a global team.”
Linking up with a strong team can have great effects; something that Unique Jewelry’s Daniel Ozel knows well. His company is the UK distributor for Festina, a brand of watches that has built up strong associations with cycling, most notably the famous Tour de France with which it has had a 20-year official partnership.
Its Chronobike watch has become its bestseller and Ozel is hoping that the new 2012 interpretations will continue to do well at a time when thoughts will be inevitably turning to sports. “In general the Olympics will make people more aware of sports and young people will probably follow more closely and will join sports clubs and do athletics,” he says. “And there are a lot of cycling fans around the world.”
The latest 2012 designs have sprocketed-style bezels, indices that look like cranks, while the sub-dials imitate wheels and sprocket-sets. The chronograph’s grooved crown and pushers are also reminiscent of defining details found on a racing bike. But while the designs look sporty – certainly more so than some of the more serious sports watches – Ozel points
out that the models are simple chronogrpahs that are designed to measure time but cannot perform more complicated tasks such as lap timing, for example.
Seiko UK has identified a gap in the UK market for watches that both look sporty and are functional, and in reaction to this it has taken on a new brand – Asics.
Asics has built up a reputation as a quality brand of running trainers that are both fashionable and functional, and this dual quality is something that it has brought to its line of watches, now distributed in the UK by Seiko.
The watches are bold in colour and shape but also impressive as athletics watches. The digital watches not only have stopwatch functions but also have features such as a 500-lap memory, a dual alarm and a function that will record weather conditions so that if it is raining, for example, it will note this as a possible influence on your average lap time.
Crisford says that the evolution of the sports clothing from functional to fashionable has now filtered through to athletic training watches with shoppers looking for a watch that is technically competent but that will also look good when worn with designer sportswear.
“With sports clothing and running shoes there is so much style and choice, so that is coming through in watches,” she says. “Asics watches are designed to be practical to use – they have a large face so you can easily read it and press buttons when running – but it looks individual, trendy.”
Due to its fashion-forward designs and attractive price points Crisford believes Asics will reach out to a wider network of shoppers – not just the serious marathon runners but those who jog around the park once a week. “It’s not as niche as serious sports watches,” she says.
Seiko UK has also recently taken on another watch brand that has derived from an athletic shoe – Converse. This watch sits at a different point in the market as it has less functionality that Asics and instead simply looks sporty, but Crisford says that this also covers an important spot in the market – shoppers who want to look sporty but don’t necessarily want to do any sport.
Catwalk trends have long been obsessed with what fashion writers will dub sports luxe – ranges of clothing designed to look like sportswear but made from materials, such as silk, that are definitely not gym friendly. Converse, with its range of bright colours and sporty look, fits this demographic perfectly.
“I think the Olympics is generally going to be a boost for so many areas, and leisure and fitness will be most positively affected,” says Crisford. “Asics and Converse both fall under that so I think it will provide a positive platform for launch.”
Another brand tapping into the fashion of sport is Swatch. It is currently sponsoring the FIV3 Beach Volleyball World Tour and has created a bright yellow watch to commemorate it. While not technically impressive, the low-cost watch is an ideal timepiece to strap on when playing sport that requires simple timing but a watch that can take a few knocks and splashes without its owner worrying about scratching or damaging a more expensive timepiece.
The diversity of sports is huge and with the Olympics coming to the UK young people will be exposed to brand new sports while older fans will be reminded of their love of sport. Whether it is tapping into the demands of teenage girls who want a bright, sporty watch to match their Juicy Couture track pants, creating a refined offer for mature sports fans who are more spectators than participators or tapping into the serious sports market with watches that sit somewhere in the middle, the sports market and the Olympic boost of summer 2012 should give retailers plenty of opportunity to exercise some interest in sporting timepieces.
This article was taken from the April 2012 issue of WatchPro magazine. To read a digital version of this issue online click here.