MR. JONES PHLOX FLORIOGRAPHIC

MR. JONES PHLOX FLORIOGRAPHIC

Sporty or Chic? It's Her Choice

New York Times, November 24, 2011

If you came of age in the late 1990s, you may recall that of the five Spice Girls, Sporty and Posh were the two most diametrically opposed. During performances, Melanie Chisholm, aka Sporty Spice, would vault across the stage in colorful tracksuits, her ponytail swinging, while Victoria Beckham’s Posh would strut around in high heels, dressed to kill in form-fitting designer suits accessorized with the requisite bling.

Dated though it may be, the Sporty vs. Posh analogy is a helpful way to look at the women’s watch market this holiday season.

For all the hoopla over women’s growing interest in serious, mechanical watches, the two most prominent trends in ladies’ timepieces reflect very different philosophies of style.

“It’s either lower price point, rubberized, sporty chic, with color as a big directive, or the opposite: bejeweled, ladylike, decorative,” said Claire Foster, accessories editor for StyleSight, a trend forecasting service.

Ms. Foster noted the athletic-wear influence that dominated spring 2012 runways. “We saw visors, mesh fabrics, plastic clasps — a lot of detailing around this idea of luxury sport,” she said. “And there was also a lot of emphasis on fabrics: coating, see-through plastics, all those futuristic performance materials.”

The designers at Nooka, a New York fashion accessories brand founded by the artist Matthew Waldman, have been riffing on the futuristic theme for years. Their latest collection, the Zub 40 series of digital, brightly hued timepieces made of polyurethane, is perfect for fashion’s newfound love of sport. Available in black, red, white and charcoal/green styles, with interchangeable bands to allow customization, the pieces retail for $130.

The emphasis on sleek, forward-thinking design at unbeatable prices continues at Mr. Jones Watches, the four-year-old brainchild of the London designer Crispin Jones, whose steel models undermine time-telling conventions with their cheeky, original dial designs. One model, the Cyclops, dispenses with hour and minute hands and instead has a single circle that marks the time by moving around the dial. Mr. Jones Watches top out at around $250.

In keeping with their affordability, the watches in this segment don’t take themselves at all seriously. The new Cruise Original Lipstick collection by the Swiss brand TechnoMarine, for example, borrows its color palette from the cosmetics market, with interchangeable coral, fuchsia and violet covers and silicone straps, accented by trippy hologram dials. They retail for $475.

Even among makers of haute joaillerie timepieces, playful bursts of color provide the through line.

“Big-ticket items are not going to be bright, but small luxury goods are going to be colorful,” said Leslie Harrington, executive director of The Color Association, a color-forecasting agency. “They don’t seem like they cost a lot of money when they’re small.”

Seem is the operative word. With 17 carats of diamonds and 5 carats of rubies, the new Chopard Imperiale Full Set timepiece, in a 40-millimeter, or 1.6-inch, 18-karat white gold case on a red alligator leather strap, is priced upon request — meaning if you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it.

Fans of haute horology will recognize the watch’s street cred: It’s the first Chopard timepiece to house a movement entirely developed and produced in the brand’s Fleurier Ebauches workshops in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

The Imperiale leads the pack of ladylike, gem-set timepieces this season. But so robust is the selection that some market-watchers are hailing “the return of the classic cocktail watch,” said Nancy Olson, a watch editor at IW, a specialty magazine.

“Although I hesitate to call it a trend because Chopard and Cartier have always made them. But now they’re more fun.”

At Piaget, the Limelight Garden Party collection recently welcomed some whimsical new “secret” watches featuring dials obscured by lavish, diamond-threaded rose blossoms, while the new Dior VIII, a 33-millimeter watch rendered in black high-tech ceramic and white gold, boasts a bezel set with baguette-cut gems in four lively variations: orange citrines, green tsavorite garnets, pink sapphires and white diamonds.

Bucking the color trend, the new Alacria Swan from Carl F. Bucherer makes up for its lack of hue with sheer brilliance. Set with more than 1,300 diamonds, the quartz-powered timepiece, available in a limited edition of 88 pieces, leaves virtually no sign of metal beneath its shimmering carpet of stones.

Naturally, customers for such pieces are as scarce as the watches. At Betteridge, an upscale jeweler in Vail, Colorado, sales associate Sheri Wagenlander described a recent client who last month paid $30,000 for a dainty, diamond-studded Cartier Baignoire timepiece in white gold.

Otherwise known as the “bathtub watch” for its oval-shaped rim, the model came on a black satin strap.

The client purchased three additional straps — in pink, blue and champagne — to go with it.

“She already has everything else,” Ms. Wagenlander said, with a hint of wistfulness in her voice. “Must be nice.”