PUBLISHED: 5:10 PM on Wednesday, December 6, 2006
Is time ticking for watches?
Michele Fortunato, 55, always wears a watch. So does her husband, David.

But her daughter?

"I don't think Rachel even knows how to tell time on one."

Like most teenagers, the high school senior relies on her cell phone, computer or other digital readouts to give her the time of day.

Which could explain why watch sales fell 4.9 percent last year, capping off a total decline of $395 million for the previous four years.

A report by market researcher Packaged Facts recently examined the U.S. retail marketplace for timepieces, including wristwatches and clocks.

Some categories - luxury and mass-market watches - posted gains during the 2001-2005 period.

"A nice watch still is a status symbol," said Ron Boyd, owner of a Duncan and Boyd Jewelers store.

His store carries several high-end brands that he said sell quite well.

Jeff Fox, manager of Barnes Jewelry, said sales of pricey Tag Heuer and Rolex watches are up, especially for customers in the 25- to 40-year-old age range.

"We sell to people who are quality-conscious and want something that is not disposable," he said.

Last year, Rolex spent $41.8 million on media support "to impress Americans with the idea

that its products are the Cadillacs of watches," according to the Packaged Facts report.

At J.C. Penney, watches still sell pretty well, salesman Retha Cousin said.

The store carries fashion lines such as Armitron, in the $50 range, to $400 Seiko watches.

Not all stores are reporting positive watch sales.

Mike's Jewelry is closing out its watch inventory.

"We carry Citizen, a really awesome line," owner Carol Wood said. "But they just aren't selling very well. Watches used to be a staple, but not anymore."

Wood said her three teenagers never wear one.

"My daughter owns a beautiful watch, but she never wears it," Wood said. "She flips out her phone or checks the time on the microwave in the kitchen."

The Packaged Facts report said rival devices and amusements often render a watch unnecessary or unaffordable.

"Cell phones, computers, laptops, personal digital assistants, cable boxes, DVD players, fax machines and a host of other devices all give the time," the report noted. Since most of the devices are expensive, "Americans have less to spend on watches and clocks."

Wood said she was appalled to learn that most kids don't know how to read a clock.

"That's something we were taught in second grade," she said.

But the future of watches isn't entirely grim. Sophisticated fashion-inspired, high-tech and sports designs are key, ongoing drivers.

Fortunato said her son, Matt, owns several watches.

"He likes all the neat gizmos," she said.

And the attorney said she can't imagine a lawyer who doesn't wear one.

"We're so consumed with time," she said. "At the firm, we engrave nice watches for five-year anniversaries."

Quick facts

• Top 10 watch brands in 2005: Timex, Fossil, Seiko, Citizen, Casio, Armitron, Guess, Bulova, Movado, Pulsar.

• Rolex is the top luxury brand (prices more than $1,000). In 2005, Rolex had 769,000 purchasers, down from 816,000 in 2003.

• Wide leather, fabric, plastic or rubber watch brands, which harken back to the 1970s, are popular, partly a reaction to hip-hop bling and partly an extension of clothing trends.

Source: Packaged Facts