It is a critical question in the watch industry: How do you get young people to wear analog watches?
The rise of connected devices has sent exports of low-cost analog watches into a spin. In Switzerland, exports of watches valued at less than 500 Swiss francs, or $538, declined by 7.5 million units a year between 2015 and 2019, a third of the total, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.
One entrepreneur has taken on the mission. In August, Cara Barrett introduced Parchie Pal, playful watches aimed at children and priced at $50, putting it in competition with established dial names such as Flik Flak, Timex and Ice Watch. Like the Swatch Group’s Flik Flak, the new brand’s website says it wants to educate children about telling the time, keeping it — and understanding it.
“People are obsessed with watches and collecting, and a lot of their stories started with their first watch at a young age, 5 to 10,” Ms. Barrett said in a phone interview from her home office in New York. “But what’s out there for kids today is really limited. So I thought, let’s come up with something new.”
Ms. Barrett, 35, is well known in the watch sector. Until earlier this year she was an editor at the influential online watch portal Hodinkee, where she had been since 2015. “When I joined, I was the fourth employee,” she said. “It was a hands-on MBA.” Hodinkee, once a blog, now employs almost 200 people and retails high-end watches by brands including Vacheron Constantin, TAG Heuer and Hermès.
Parchie Pal’s initial offering was one watch in three zingy, high-contrast colorways, including hot pink and orange. The timepiece, made in Hong Kong, has a 32-millimeter aluminum case with an oversized crown, a nylon strap and a Japanese quartz movement.
Ms. Barrett described the models as “little mini dive watches in fun colors” and said she had no plans to create a connected watch. “I don’t want Parchie to be a screen watch,” she said. “We’re all on screens enough as it is.”
The name is very personal to her. “Parchie was the name of my imaginary friend growing up,” she said. “I want kids to bond over shared appreciations and parents to bond with their kids. That’s the genesis of Parchie.”
Ms. Barrett said she funded the business herself and is not looking for investment. She declined to share numbers, but said she sold half her inventory in the first six weeks and now two models are sold out (although she is still taking orders). Sales have been through her own website and WhatsApp, but she said she has been in talks with retailers, including Hodinkee.
When it came to design, Ms. Barrett said she used her industry experience. “When you look at the big brands, the most successful are the ones with the simplest designs,” she said. “I wanted to implant longevity into Parchie, to make it timeless.”
She said she designed the watch and the whimsical Parchie Pal character — a watch gear that has sprouted arms and legs, with a big U-shaped smile — and worked with a New York design agency on branding and the typeface that appears on the dial. “I wanted them to be wearable for everybody,” she said. “So I incorporated colors that are not traditionally for boys or girls and kept things as unisex as possible.”
Ms. Barrett said she believes children’s watches made in partnership with toy brands and movies do not stand the test of time. Oliver Müller of the Swiss luxury watch industry consultancy LuxeConsult appeared to agree. “There are many gimmicky kids’ watches and most of the time these are just accessories of a toy brand,” he said in an email. “Parchie takes the angle of being an instrument for the child to teach them to measure their day. That’s the right approach, but compared with Flik Flak, the learning element is very thin.”
Flik Flak, established in 1987, includes a time-telling game with each watch and offers a free app that includes games, lessons and tips on the subject.
Others referred to the need to appeal to young watch wearers.
“We have a responsibility as a community to educate children on what time is, and what watches are,” said James Marks, international head of the London boutique Phillips Perpetual, which sold 200 vintage Swatch watches at a selling exhibition in London two years ago, achieving sales of more than 29,000 pounds, now the equivalent of $39,475. “Swatch was so clever. It pulled children in with the design, and taught them time.”
William Rohr, the former managing director of the Timezone online watch forum and founder of Massena LAB, a high-end watch start-up, said in an email that Parchie Pal “adapts the primordial watchmaking rule that form should follow function in children’s watches.” More than that, he said, “Parchie watches are everything a child needs in a wristwatch; a solid tool that is comfortable to wear and easy to understand.”
But Mr. Marks isn’t convinced Parchie Pal will have the same impact as Swatch or Flik Flak. “Swatch transcended the young,” he said. “It was a design exercise that captured the minds of people of different generations. A simple children’s watch is never going to be in the same league.”
Ms. Barrett said 85 percent of her sales have been to customers in the United States, with Britain, Canada and Australia making up most of the rest.
“People really bond over watches,” she said. “I realized there was no reason it couldn’t be the same for kids. I would love Parchie to be a household name globally, but I’m well aware that takes time.”
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