Like many other things, the watch and clock business has become more complicated with time. Traditional timepieces are facing increasing competition from other consumer products such as mobile phones and MP3 players. To survive, the industry has been undergoing a revolution. Many watch companies now emphasise the look and style of their watches, recasting them as fashion objects. At the forefront of this change is o.d.m., one of the most successful Hong Kong watch brands and an exhibitor at the Hong Kong Watch & Clock Fair. The company's designs have won many international awards, including the iF Design Award China, Germany's Red Dot Design award, and other Good Design awards in Japan, the United States and China. It distributes watches in more than 30 countries. 'Watches are now used to either spice up a person's outfit, or to express their personality,' said Martin Ko Tat-cheung, general manager of o.d.m. 'People are looking for novelty in fashion watches. Good watch designs are vibrant and unique,' he said, adding that quality should never be compromised. Mr Ko said future watch designs would likely be infused with other fashionable elements. Ambre Asia, another watchmaker and exhibitor at the fair, is moving in a similar direction. It designs earrings and finger rings that show the time, which led the company to make other jewellery without timepieces in them. Eric Wong Wai-yin, marketing manager of Ambre Asia, said the watch and jewellery industries were merging as the techniques for making fashion watches and jewellery were similar. Instead of setting up a new brand such as o.d.m., Ambre Asia bought licences from existing watch and fashion brands. Names under Ambre Asia include Younger & Bresson, Tom Tailor, Kookai, Alviero Martini and Paco Rabanne. Mr Wong said it was difficult to enter the market with a new brand, and it was more cost effective to work on brands that had already developed. 'There are too many watches with very similar styles. We chose brands with a strong character so that we can build on the brand's image. When customers look at our products they don't think that it's just another watch. They see the uniqueness of the brands in our watch products, and can tell them apart from our competitors,' he said Clock manufacturers are facing similar changes in the industry. While watches are being designed to match clothes, clocks are being fashioned to match the interior decor of people's homes. NeXtime is a Dutch company that specialises in wall clocks. Michelle Tsui Yan-yan, the company's sales and marketing manager, said that just as people don't expect designer chairs to be the most comfortable, they should not expect the display on designer clocks to tell them the time most clearly. 'People no longer need big numbers for clocks,' she said. 'Most of our clocks don't have any numbers on them. We design clocks that can be the focus of the room. The function of telling the time is only a bonus.' NeXtime, which will exhibit at the fair, is testing the mainland market and will open its first store in Shanghai next month. The company believed the mainland market had huge potential, as many people had high purchasing power. But it didn't expect significant returns immediately. 'The mainland still hasn't developed a market for designer clocks,' Ms Tsui said. 'We will have to educate them on what a desirable lifestyle should be, and create a market for our product. 'The mainland Chinese have made a lot of money in recent years, but they haven't got enough exposure to world trends. We see it as a great opportunity as we expect them to be more ready to accept new ideas.' Ambre Asia, which is more experienced in the Chinese market, said Chinese consumers were more ready to accept brands that had eye-catching stores. Mr Wong said: 'It doesn't matter whether they buy our products in the flagship store or through other dealers. 'When you have a big and glamorous store, people who pass by have the perception that your brand is well developed and famous.' Ambre Asia does not distribute its watches through chain retailers. Mr Wong said putting the watches in select boutiques was a better marketing strategy than placing them in the battleground of a chain retailer to compete with thousands of other watches. 'Our watches are fashion watches,' he said. 'People buy our watches to match their clothes. We have a better chance in boutiques. When people buy new clothes, they look at our watches to match their new purchases.' Youngs Watch is a Hong Kong watch manufacturer, and another fair exhibitor. Director David Lai Hin-kiu said although people had many more consumer products to spend their money on, a watch was irreplaceable as it was the most portable device one could have. Besides working on the appearance of the watches, Youngs Watch tries to confront the challenges of increased competition by putting more functions into its watches. As a result, it has watches that can function as digital photo frames and USB storage. Mr Lai said in the future he believed that mobile phones and watches would combine. 'Though there are still some technical problems to be solved, it won't be too long before we can see such a hybrid in the market.'