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Are Fashion Watches Any Good?

Posted on April 29 2020

Are Fashion Watches Any Good?

It’s a legitimate question. Do the big-name fashion labels produce good watches?

By fashion watches, we’re referring to watches produced by companies that aren’t primarily watch manufacturers. Brands that release watches as part of their overall range, that for the most part, isn’t centred on timepieces. Can a company renowned for making underwear make good watches too?

To answer the question it’s probably best to get a few of the basics of the watch industry clear. For watch fans, in terms of production, there can be a hierarchy when it comes to the desirability of brands. At the top are the companies that manufacturer their own watches in their entirety. This essentially means that they produce their own watch movements - what we call in-house movements. Examples of Swiss companies that do this include Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Blancpain.

Below this are the companies that manufacture their watches with movements supplied by a third party. Within this you have a preference for the type of movement used, be it battery-powered quartz or a more expensive mechanical movement. There can also be an additional hierarchy as to where the movement is produced with Swiss produced movements favoured over their cheaper German, Japanese and Russian rivals. At the bottom are the Chinese, although they are improving all the time.

Beneath that are the brands that have their watches produced entirely by a third party watch factory. This group probably makes up the majority of brands.

The next element to consider is the specifications and build quality of the watch.

Can a fashion house produce a well-made watch? Obviously it’s more expensive to create a watch with 300M water resistance rather than a one with 30M. Or to provide a stainless steel bracelet instead of a rubber strap. But if we accept that the watches will be made by a specialist watch factory then build quality need not be an issue - rather it’s a question of whether the brand is providing value for money.

We also need to consider the design. Watches are works of art and the design and styling are just as important to the wearer as the functionality. Indeed, if we’re honest, the look of the watch is of primary importance.

So with all of that in mind, we need to look at each brand and see where they fit into this watch hierarchy. Are the watches well made? Where are they made? Is the design original? How do the specifications compare to other brands? Are we paying for a well designed and well-made watch, or cheap tat with a top brand’s logo stuck on the dial?

With our knowledge of the watch industry and experience handling a variety of brands, we’ve come to some simple conclusions regarding fashion watches.

Firstly, there’s no impediment to the big-name fashion brands from having their watches built in the exact same factories as specialist watch brands. However, many fashion brands will charge more, as you’d expect, for their watches with their logos on.

Secondly, watch fans will often refuse to even consider these fashion labels due to a certain snobbery - not the design or quality. But we suggest you judge the fashion brands as you do specialist watch brands and hold them to the same standards.

However, there are pros and cons.

On the positive, fashion labels aren’t selling to specialist watch buyers so they can experiment a little more with quirky designs. They’re also easily available, often on the high street, and can make great gifts for people already familiar with the brand. If you’re not into watches even some of the bigger names might not mean much to you. But everyone has heard of Gucci.

On the downside, many of the fashion labels do seem to just stamp their name on very generic, off the shelf designs. There’s also a big emphasis on cheaper quartz watches with low specs, rather than mechanical watches with, for example, high water resistance and features such as a sapphire crystal glass or good quality illumination.

So what we’ve done here is to highlight some of our favourite fashion watches, paying particular attention to watch design and build quality. Though there’s a place for homage watches, we’ve tried to steer clear of the Rolex Daytona clones and the bland minimalist designs a lot of the fashion brand’s favour. We’ve tried to also make sure the watches listed provide good value for money and have included a couple that we think are real bargains.

 

Ted Baker Daquir

 

British clothing brand Ted Baker is a reasonably new company, having been founded in the late 1980s. In the UK they’re a household name, with stores throughout the country and concessions in large department stores including House of Fraser and Selfridges.

Ted Baker’s styling has been focused on smart casual so it seems fitting that the watch of theirs that most impressed us is a relatively dressy piece. The Daquir is on the smart side of smart casual, but also has enough colour to still catch the eye.
There’s a couple of nice touches, including the red second hand and the single use of numerals at 12 o’clock. Perhaps most surprising is the use of an automatic movement - most fashion watches tend to favour the cheaper quartz alternative. Whatsmore, this watch can be picked up for a little over £100 so there’s a lot of watch for the money. It also features a signed crown, a display back and a leather strap that has a colourful back.

  • Ted Baker Daquir BKPDQF901
  • 40mm Diameter
  • 12mm 0.9hick
  • Stainless Steel
  • Automatic movement
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

 

Fossil Forrester

 

It’s maybe a little unfair to refer to Fossil as a fashion watch brand, given their current role in the watchmaking world. The young company, founded in Texas in 1984, is now a legitimate watch manufacturer. Indeed, they now manufacture watches for other fashion brands.

Moving from a business that originally imported watches from the far east, Fossil then bought Swiss watch companies Zodiac and Michele Watch and Danish brand Skagen. Fossil now has its design studios in Biel, Switzerland and manufacturing facilities in China. It works as a manufacturer for other brands now and produces watches for Burberry, DKNY, Emporio Armani, Michael Kors and others.

The Forrester is a cheap and simple piece, reminiscent of vintage military and aviation watches. It has that attractive German Flieger aesthetic, although, at 42mm, it’s smaller than a lot of pilots watches. There are a number of variations of the Forrester, ranging from an authentic and relatively plain black design to some very bright and garish models. We’ve chosen this white dialled version that retains the classic look.

This is a relatively cheap, modern quartz watch that presents itself as a traditional military piece. Not what you’d expect from a fashion watch, which maybe suggests Fossil isn’t your typical fashion watch brand.

  • Fossil Forrester FS5610
  • 42mm Diameter
  • 14mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz movement
  • Domed Sapphire Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

 

Boss Hong Kong

 

We’re not normally fans of over-sized watches and we’re often cautious with busy dials. But sometimes the designers bring it all together well. This offering from Boss, available in a number of dial and strap combinations, manages to make the combination work.

The dial includes both 12 and 24hr numbering, as well as the addition of the minutes too. There’s also an enlarged date window displaying three dates. Handy if you don’t know what date comes after the 25th, or you’ve already forgotten yesterdays date. But taken together, and with the bold colouring and a large, knurled crown, the overall look is of a rugged watch. It doesn’t feel like a fashion piece, more a sporty watch for use in the outdoors. But, it is 48mm plus the crown, so it’s not going to appeal to everyone.

  • Boss Hong Kong 1550015
  • 48mm Diameter
  • 13mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Quartz movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

 

Larsson & Jennings Meridian

 

In our article about field watches, we highlighted a number of brands who use their watch business to benefit their local community or to fund charities the companies founders passionately support. Larsson & Jennings are another brand that has an interesting back story and a compelling company mission.

The company is the product of a marriage of styles and cultures, with the influences being equal parts London and Stockholm. Founder Andrew Jennings visited his Scandinavian friend Joakim Larsson, and inspired by the minimalism of Stockholm, he quit his finance career and together they launched the brand.

Central to the companies ethos is sustainability and the target of being carbon neutral by 2030. Refreshingly, the brand is open and proud of its Asian production facilities and combines this with a UK repair outfit that aims to keep their watches in service - rather than needlessly replacing pieces if issues occur. Added to their commitment to the planet is a pledge to run the business with a flat hierarchy, giving all staff a voice in the company. Overall, it’s the type of story that really attracts us to brands.

The watch featured here is clearly influenced by iconic pilot watches of the past. It has a 38mm cushion-shaped case and a dial with luminous hands and Arabic numerals. There’s a number of variations, but we particularly like this one with the navy dial and Milanese bracelet.

  • Larsson & Jennings Meridian
  • 38mm Diameter
  • 7.5mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Quartz movement
  • Domed Mineral Crystal
  • 30M Water Resistance

 

 

Barbour Bywell

 

Chronopolis is based in North Shields, UK.
Barbour was founded and remains in South Shields, a couple of miles away from us. Created in the late Victorian period, the company made its name producing the wax cotton jackets which are still their most notable product.

Current Chairman, Margaret Barbour, is credited with taking the brand from a specialist outdoors clothing manufacturer to the international fashion brand that it is now. She’s also been instrumental in setting up, along with her daughter, the Women’s Fund which helps local women reach their full potential.

The Barbour watch line continues this association with their immediate surroundings, with their watch names referencing places instantly recognisable to those in the North-East of England. We have models named after Bamburgh, Whitburn, Kenton and this, the Bywell. It’s a small village a stone’s throw from where my wife grew up in Northumberland.

The watch is a nice field/military-inspired piece. At 42mm it’s a little larger than the original watches of this style, but that’s to cater to modern tastes. There’s a couple of variations of the Bywell, but this version with the textured cream dial and tan leather strap manages a very pleasing vintage aesthetic. It has the red-tipped second hand in common with a number of classic field watches and can be picked up for a little over £100.

  • Barbour Bywell BB052SLBR
  • 42mm Diameter
  • 11mm 0.9hick
  • 20mm Lug width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Quartz movement
  • 30M Water Resistance

 

 

Ellington Timepiece Amare

 

Ellington Timepiece is another brand that’s close to us and has a clear mission. Again North East based, the brand is the brainchild of Teri Ellington. She created her first collection of watches in 2018 and named those initial pieces after her therapy dog Sheba. The first collection sold out within 10 months and was featured in our local press and sold through House of Fraser.

Teri has suffered from agoraphobia and has been passionate about using the watch brand and her personal story to promote mental health awareness.

In contrast to the more masculine and rugged watches featured here, Ellington Timepiece targets women and men, with the Amare collection featuring both women’s and men’s lines.

The men’s Amare is available in three finishes. Stainless steel, Gold and the Black that we previously mentioned here. It’s a straight forward men’s watch and each variation has a strong use of colour. Quartz powered and with 50M water resistance it makes for an attractive and functional dress watch. Each watch model is produced in small quantities and Teri places particular importance on the brands packaging. This model comes with a wax-sealed certificate of authenticity.

  • Ellington Timepiece Amare
  • 40mm Diameter
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Quartz movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

 

Emporio Armani AR11168

 

Fashion giants Armani need no introduction. They run a billion-dollar empire that includes everything from haute couture to cosmetics and home interiors. Within the brand, there are a number of labels each with their own branding and design specialities. The Emporio Armani line includes the production of watches.

We particularly like this vintage-style chronograph from the brand. There are some strong features, including the wire lugs and the use of an orange hand on an otherwise understated design. There’s plenty going on design-wise, but with the colouring being shades of grey and black it still feels like a fairly minimal piece. It’s reasonably large but has a slim profile and a leather strap rather than a heavier and bulkier steel bracelet. Overall it’s a versatile watch with the added functionality of a quartz chronograph.

  • Emporio Armani AR11168
  • 43mm Diameter
  • 12mm Thick
  • 20mm Lug width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Japanese Quartz movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

 

Calvin Klein Infinity

 

We hinted at the beginning of this article that we thought that there were a few opportunities for bagging a bargain if you were willing to take a closer look at fashion brands. Here is our choice for the best value for money fashion watch.

Produced by Calvin Klein this watch has one massive selling point. It's a Swiss Made Automatic watch. This is an ETA powered dress watch, produced in Switzerland and available for less than £200. That has got to grab your attention.

The styling is probably the most formal on the list and it features a silver dial and hands in a stainless steel case. There’s an obligatory 50m water resistance and a mineral crystal. The attractive movement is visible through the exhibition case back and there is a 22mm stainless steel bracelet. If there’s one watch on this list that demonstrates that a fashion watch can be a good quality this is it.

  • Calvin Klein Infinity K5S34146
  • 42mm Diameter
  • 10mm Thick
  • 22mm Lug width
  • Stainless Steel
  • Swiss Automatic movement
  • Mineral Crystal
  • 50M Water Resistance

 

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