The bridge niche a new category of watches is gaining momentum

The bridge watch business is cutting its teeth.

With business in the fashion category gathering steam and a bridge watch market still laying its foundations, makers are considering styling, quality and changing lifestyles as they plan fall and build a new category.

According to Charles Kriete, sales manager for Geneva Watches, which markets Reaction Kenneth Cole and Kenneth Cole New York watches, bridge is well poised to come into its own because of increasingly exacting quality requirements as well as sophisticated styling and the growing significance of brand names.

As we saw less resistance to our price points, we could bring in a more sophisticated product with all of the aspects of fine watch styling,” said Kriete, referring to Geneva’s Kenneth Cole New York line, which hit the market in fall 1997 and retails for approximately $250.

Kriete also notes that the injection of brand identity to the watch business has resulted in more updated looks that have punched up the category as a whole.

“Styling in fine watches was becoming stale, with comparable quality being offered by the new bridgewatches with updated silhouettes,” Kriete added. “Essentially, a bridge watch is a fine watch sold in the fashion watch area, which retailers have now segmented artificially.”

Kriete says that to stay ahead in the new bridge category, the quality and a steady introduction of new product keeps the assortment fresh and interesting.

A spokesman for Emporio Armani watches, which are produced under license by Fossil and bowed in fall 1997, echoed the importance of styling to drive business in this new category. He noted that the bridge watches don’t necessarily have to be dictated by the fine watch industry, but conceded that standing out as a quality watch amid a sea of fine watches is a formidable obstacle.

“We have been faced with the difficulty of overcoming the hurdle that our product is non-Swiss,” the spokesman said. “But the acceptance of our product is based on the intrinsic quality and styling that is associated with the Armani name. The idea that a fine watch has to be Swiss is becoming outdated.”

Natural rubber wristbands, pearlized gunmetal finishes, slim lines and stainless steel characterize the collection.

The firm also plans to add jewelry stores to its distribution.

“We are going step by step to offer an entire collection and not just concentrate on a limited offering of items,” he said. “We are in it for the long haul.”

Alejandro Toussier, who is in his second season with a line of Swiss- made watches, says that to be a player in the bridge watch business, “You have to offer the quality. But you must also have a fashion twist and a design concept.”

But not all manufacturers are jumping into bridge. Citing the difficulty of establishing credibility by brands not traditionally associated with watches, other watch manufacturers are banking on continued growth within the fashion category.

“As you get into bridge, you are talking about investments and expect customers to spend over $150 on a watch,” said Ken Genender, president of Genender International, which produces Perry Ellis and Levi Strauss watches. “You have to be able to face the serious watch brands [Tag Heuer, Movado], which have a longstanding identity.”

Brand names that have not been traditional watch brands are more viable in the fashion watch business, leaving room for such novelty treatments as off-the-wrist looks and technical innovations in sport watches, according to Genender.

At E. Gluck, which markets both bridge and fashion watch lines including Anne Klein Swiss, Anne Klein II, Nine West and Armitron, fashion watches will still be the mainstay of the business, according to Mark Odenheimer, vice president.

Brands will stay true to their original concepts. Styling for the Nine West line, which E. Gluck just launched, will remain consistent with Nine West’s small leather goods and accessories line. Noting that business for Nine West watches has surpassed original expectations, Odenheimer cited novel and cutting-edge looks and microfiber bands in an array of digital colors as lures for a younger customer. He said the company would also continue to build the Anne Klein II brand, featuring interchangeable bracelets and bezels for the more sophisticated customer.

Odenheimer stressed that while the bridge watch category is not negligible, the fashion category is still expected to drive overall business.

“In terms of high individual sale, retailers can’t ignore the bridge watch category. But volume will still be in fashion watches.”

Guess Watches, which are produced by Callanen International, has expanded its assortment to include a third line, G3 Steel.

Touted as an “extreme lifestyle” watch, complete with solid steel case, titanium bezel and oversized chronograph, the G3 Steel will cater to a sportier customer. In the Guess Watches line, the company’s core line — matte white metal looks and pastel dials — will be replaced by black metal with deeper colors, like dark blue and purple faces.

“People understand that fashion watches are an added accessory and not an investment,” said Jeffery Cohen, special projects manager for Callanen. “We have really tried to offer different looks for different wardrobes, keeping in mind fashion trends.”

A season for silver and gold: for holiday 1997, the big hand is on metal

Fashion watch suppliers expect strong holiday 1997 sales of metal watches. The major focuses, in terms of style, include gold, silver and two-tones. Charles Kriete of Kenneth Cole licensee Geneva Watch Co said that all-steel watches are the strongest trend at Cole. He noted that most products in Geneva’s line have steel, silver looks.

Watch firms are projecting ringing for holiday — not bells, but the cash registers — over fashion watches in metals.

Silver, gold and two-tones are all major focuses in the market heading into the season, with the pendulum mostly swinging between all-silver or all-gold tones.

“Basically, the biggest thing we’ve seen in Kenneth Cole is this trend that’s been big in the Far East and Europe — and that’s all-steel watches,” said Charles Kriete, executive vice president for the Cole’s licensee, Geneva Watch Co., based in Long Island City, N.Y. “In our line, out of 75 sku’s, we have six watches that have any two-tone at all, and even that is very subtle,” he added. “The rest of the line is steel, silver looks. The customer’s responding to that.”

Kriete said he felt consumers have been exposed to advertising for white metal looks by fine watch vendors such as Tag Heuer and Rolex, and that has been filtered down to influence the fashion watch business.

He said the trend toward silver tones has been strong overseas for several years.

The stainless steel watches are maintaining the current retail price structure, because it is just as costly to make watches of these materials than it is for metal. Yet, Kriete said, the “consumer is not balking at higher price points.” The Kenneth Cole line wholesales for $30 to $76.

“At retail, a $100 price used to be a psychological barrier to many of the fashion watches,” he said. “There’s no longer that resistance, if the product looks and feels like it’s worth the price.”

With the Kenneth Cole watches, Kriete said the newest elements will be in the bracelet or casual leather strap styles, as opposed to dressy straps and pocket watches.

Geneva Watch also produces the Swiss-made Luger Swiss fashion watches, which Kriete said will also tap into the silver trend by including many steel looks.

Kriete said the brand, at $29 to $56 wholesale, is bringing the “image of quality” of Swiss movements to an affordable retail price.

John Bernstein, president of Swatch U.S., also praised silver.

“The bulk of the presentation is going to be silver,” he said of Swatch’s metal categories. “We’ll offer some gold and two-tone, but Swatch is really taking a position in silver [toned] steel.”

He said Swatch is putting the big push on metals for the season. The firm, known for its pop-arty plastic styles, went into metals in 1994, and Bernstein said it has been a steadily growing part of the business.

“This fall, it will be larger and more important than ever,” he said. “We’ve been able to be developwatches that incorporate the Swatch personality, and we think they will sit well with the plastics.”

He said Swatch expects the metal business to account for as much as 35 to 40 percent of sales, a “higher proportion than it has been running.”

The steel watches, known as the Swatch Irony collection, wholesale for $27.50 to $62.50, while the plastic watches wholesale for $20 to $45.

Bernstein said the push for metals was in answer to the question of how to increase the business’s base, to “reach customers who have migrated to a more serious fine watch or, for whatever reason, want a metal watch.”

Of course, the firm will still limited-offer novelty styles for holiday, such as metal-tone styles with rhinestone accents.

Olena Race, a marketing manager for Callanen International, which produces the licensed line of Guess watches, said color and metals will be hot for holiday.

“Two-tones in metals are absolutely strong for women,” she said. Depending on the geographical region, women choose different tones, she noted. For instance, the West Coast and the South are strong in silver, while gold is strong in the Midwest.

Guess has added brightly colored dials to the watches — red, yellow, orange, green and blue — to attract customers in the stores.

“We think the bright color dials just pop and will get consumers to walk over and get a closer look.”

She also feels that the launching of the higher-priced Guess Collection watches at the end of September will grab customers’ attention.

The wholesale range for the fashion collection is $24 to $57.50, while the Guess Collection watcheswill be $75 to $125.

At Liz Claiborne Watches, the metal of choice is gold.

Cary Loomis, marketing assistant for Liz Claiborne watches, which is also licensed by Callanen, said the focus for holiday includes concentrating on Indiglo faces and gold.

The Indiglo feature, which illuminates a watch face for viewing in darkness, is that extra feature that women find useful in a fashion watch, she said.

Liz Claiborne Watches will offer about 15 percent leather straps for the holiday line, about 60 percent metals and about 25 percent interchangeable watches, which come with different straps and bezels.

The emphasis on metals is clear.

“Our metal business has been extremely strong, especially in the gold,” Loomis said. “So we’re focusing on keeping our customer happy with a variety of metals.”

At Carolee Designs, the emphasis is on details that are more often found in jewelry than in the watch market, according to president Carolee Friedlander.

“We’re trying to differentiate ourselves by using unique materials that most watchmakers wouldn’t dream about,” Friedlander said. “But we have the familiarity with them because we’ve used them in jewelry.”

As one example of the unusual materials, Carolee is offering a watch style with pave rhinestone accents on the face and a satin strap.

Friedlander also said that more delicate, feminine watch faces seem to be a trend among consumers.

The wholesale range at Carolee is $30 to $75 for fashion watches and $123 to $225 for sterling.

At Timex, Tracie Vaccaro, brand manager for fashion watches, said they’ve taken two different directions based on cues from apparel –feminine and petite or larger and slightly oversized.

“For holiday, we are concentrating on gold finishes — gold seems to be where things are right now,” she said. “There’s definitely a silver trend, but being a brand with more mass appeal, it’s more difficult to sell silver than gold.

“The trend is in finishes in either all gold or all silver, and we’ve taken the gold route,” she added. “For the first time in a while, we’re seeing a decline in two-tone fashion watches.”

The wholesale range for the brand is $45 to $58.

Luxury watches are running fast

Despite their weighty price tags, luxury watches are moving at-top speed.

Producers say 1988 is evloving into a banner year, nothwithstanding the fact prices have increased in some cases as high as 25 percent due to the devaluation of the dollar and the rise in the cost of gold. Moreover, last year’s market crash and the economic uncertainties that followed seem not to have dented the appetite or these nog-ticket timepieces. Generally, watches that start retailing at about $1,000 take on the status of luxury.

In some ways, the growth of luxury watches reflects an overall surge in the watch business. Last year 191,700,000 watches were imported to the United States, which reflects a 13 percent unit increase over 1986 and a 40 percent unit increase over 1985.

While there was no breakdown by price point, Emilio Collado, executive director of the American Watch Association in Washington said, “In the watches, like many other areas, the consumer wants better products and top quality.

Last year was a good year for watches all around, especially better-priced watches,” Collado pointed out. “And this year luxury watches are selling better than expected.”

Luxury watch firms here projected sales increases for the year from 15 percent to as high as 60 percent.

Robert Wexler, managing director of Tourneau, the five-store watch chain, said currently luxury watches are the strength of his business. “This is the continuation of a trend that started three to four years ago in luxury watches and over the past eight months the business has grown dramatically.”

Wexler said part of the surge is because the consumer is appreciating quality, and status products more than ever. Additionally, he said, the weak dollar against foriegn currencies is prompting tourists to purchased luxury watches here.

The strength of the business at Tourneau is between $5,000 to $15,000 retail. He said the leading brands are Cartier, Rolex, Patek Philippe, Baume & Mercier and Ebel.

Wexler does not see the trade dimishing, “All indications show its going to continue.”

Cartier International considers itself to be the largest firm in the better-price end of the watch market since its acquisition of Piaget and Baume & Mercier from the Piaget family at the end of April.

Alain-Dominique Perrin, president and chief eaxecutive office of Cartier Intenational, said Cartier’s total slales, all merchandise, would reach $1 billion this year; Cartier accounting for $830 million; Piaget and Baume & Mercier for the remaining $170 million.

Cartier reports watches and clocks accout for 43 percent its total sales. According to Ken Watson, president of Cartier here, unit watch sales in both retail and wholesale will increas more than 20 percent this year.

“It’s amazing to me how important watches have become to the American consumer,” said Watson. “People are buying multiple watches for different occasions.”

Ronald Wolfgang, president of Ebel her, said his firm had increase of 50 to 60 percent each year for the past three years, and he expects the same i n 1988.

“Luxury watch retail sales are estimated at $1 billion,” said Wolfgang. “My objective is to account for 20 percent of those sales by 1995.”

Wolfgang explained, “Our customer base is broadening. More people perceive having a nice watch as part of being accessorized.”

The 150-year-old Patek Philippe watch brand is also finding a growing demand for its watches, according to Werner Sonn, president, who pointed out the firm only produces 12,000 watches yearly for world distribution.

“We are coming off a record-breaking year in 1987. I expected we would be a little off this year,” said Sonn, “but for the first months of the year we are ahead.”

Sonn sees a change in watch business coming up. “The acquisitions by Cartier are the start of a few things.” He said, “There are too many watch brands in the United States and some will be weeded out.”

Meanwhile, those in the business tick off a number of reasons for the current upswing. One is the growing consumer awareness of accessories in general, as evidenced by the growth surge several accessories categories have experienced over the past two years or so. “Because of the importance of accessories,” explained Wolfgang, “the American consumer has become aware of luxury watches. It is a natural evolution.”

Ben Kaiser, president of David G. Steven, Inc., the distributor for Baume & Mericier in the U.S., said, “There is more visibility of better-price accessories across the board, and this has helped boost watch sales. Women and men are accessories-oriented today.”

Kaiser projected a 15 to 20 percent increase in sales in 1988. In 1987, it was reported, Baume & Mercier did $45 million in sales and sold approximately 65,000 watches.

Another major factor cited for the growth of the better watches for different occassions and functions — for daytime wear, sport and evening. Many watch suppliers agreed the lower-price watch market was instrumental in creating the trend toward multiple watch sales and tying watches into the idea of fashion.

“The lower-price brands such as Swatch have helped our end of the business,” said Watson. “Swatch was a brilliant concept. It was a fashion trend that made people think about watches more than ever before. It also helped put the design concept of watches in high gear.

“Watch producers have gotten more involved in the design stage,” continued Watson, “and madewatches more contemporary and fashionable.”

Wolfgang agreed design is becoming more important. “The customer buying a luxury watch is looking for style and design you can buy any watch for $25.”

Efraim Grinberg, senior vice president of marketing for North American Watch Corp., which distributes Piaget, Movado, Concord & Corum watch lines, projected a 22 percent increase in sales in ’88. He said all brands are growing at about the same pace, but with Movado’s growth slightly larger than the others.

Grinberg said the trend toward fashion in the watch business started almost seven years ago. “We are definitely in the fashion business.”

Grinberg said North American through promotion and advertising has pushed the theme, “that to be well dressed you need a good watch.” He noted his firm will spend $25 million on advertising in 1988, up to 20 percent from ’87.

Jacques Irniger, president of Omega Watch Corp., also sees the trend toward buying multiplewatches as fueling sales.

“A watch makes a personality statement. A person wants to project a different personality for work, sports and evening.” said Irniger. “This is a trend that started at th lower end of the business and is really taking off now at the higher end.”

Irniger projected a 30 percent increase in sales this year. “I am positioning Omega at the lower end of the luxury market with out sales at $500 to $2,500 retail.”

At Tiffany & Co., Maggy Siegel, division vice president of watches, pointed to the fact that there is a new watch customer, “the working woman who is buying herself a big expensive watch.”

Tiffany’s is seeing its watch sales shoot up, both in its own brand and through the selected brands it offers. While Michael Kowalski, vice president merchandising, would not specify amounts, he saidwatches are one of the store’s fastest growing categories, particularly over the past two years.

Watches will continue to grow in important because people perceive them as a tasteful way to display status, achievement and success,” said Kowalski. He admitted he was concerned about betterprice watch salse after the crash in October, but he said, “It did not affect sales. Maybe car sales have slipped and other high ticket items — but watches are still affordable.”

Tiffany added more private label watches last October, including its first bracelet watch. Siegel said, “In private label, watches are the cornerstone of our expansion plan in the U.S., Europe and the Far East.”

Tiffany’s also distributes its own watches to fine jewelry stores across the country. “We select top jewelers in a given area where we don’t have a branch store,” said Kowalski.

Fine jewelry stores are basically the only distribution channel for luxury watches, with the exception of a few specialty department stores. Most agree department stores cannot offer the services needed to sell luxury watches.

Armed with the Tiffany’s name, though, the retailer was successful with a watch catalog it sent to its customers. Siegel said, “The amount of watches we sold through the mail was amazing.” Among the watch brands the store offers are Patek Philippe, Rolex, Piaget, Baume & Mercier and Concord.

Kaiser, the Baume & Mercier distributor, said 99 percent of his sales are done with jewelers, but he does not sell to Saks Fifth Avenue, New York and Neiman-Marcus, Dallas. He noted more jewelers are expanding their watch selections. Baume & Mercier sells less than 800 doors. Amongh its top accounts are Tourneau, Birk’s Tiffany’s and Zale Corp.

Cartier began wholesaling its watch line about 10 years ago. “We are a brand first and then a retailer,” said Watson. Cartier sells about 300 jewelry stores in the U.S. “Our wholesale business is growing faster than our retail sales,” said Watson, noting “dramatic increases” have been developing at wholesale, while the firm keeps its number of retail accounts stable.

Watson said, “To sell a luxury watch you have to understand watches and fine jewelry and that is hard for a department store because they do not have a specialized sales staff.”

However, Watson said, “Department stores have an important role in the watch business. They help set the trend through display and put watches in a fashion context.”

Ebel sells about 400 jewelry stores doors in the U.S. Wolfgang commented, “The customer needs specialized trained help when making a expensive purchase like a luxury watch — its not an impulse item.” The only nonjewelry store Ebel sells is the Nordstrom chain.



Wolfgang admitted the watch business is more competitive today. “The U.S. market is perceived worldwide, particularly in Switzerland, as the top market. You must succeed here if you are going to be a factor in the watch market.”

Attracting a lot of attention these days are the complicated, multi-function watches. Wexler at Tourneau said best-selling styles are the chronograph, moonphase and perpetual calendar.

Patek Philippe is known for its multi-function watches, and while demand is up, their supply is limited. Sonn said it simply takes a lonng time to produce these type of watches and there are few people who have the skills to produce them.

Classics are stressed by Rolex, according to Bill Sullivan, vice president advertising at Rolex. “We do not bring out new models yearly,” he said. “We keep the same styles so that the customer will view us as classic and will know our watch lasts.”

Watson at Cartier sees a trend back to classics.

“Leather strap watches are hot again,” he said. The largest unit sales at Cartier are coming from a leather strap vermeil watch which sell for $895.

Bracelet watches selling from $10,000 to $15,000 are also strong sellers. Watson said the idea of a watch as a piece of jewelry is always a good sell. A new addition to the Cartier line is a diamond covered gold watch which has a detachable face and can be made into a bracelet. It sell for $55,000.

The third trend, Watson said, is the antique feeling in watches. The firm is showing more classic shapes from the Twenties in its line.

Wolfgang said people are more design and aesthetic conscious about watches than ever before. Ebel introduced a new series of colored shark skin straps this year, retailing from $1,000 to $10,000. He said Ebel is deemphasizing two-tone gold and steel watches. “People want more cleaner, understated watches.” However Wolfgang noted woman are looking for bulkier, larger watches.

At Baume & Mercier, the bulk of sales are at $2,000 to $6,000 retail. Kaiser said this spring diamondwatches were particularly strong and he said gold bracelet watches are always best sellers.

At Tiffany’s, the basic leather strap Atlas watch is a best seller. It sell from $1,400 to $1,900. The women’s gold sport watch is also a hot number, retailing at $7,800. The firm is adding diamondwatches in September. In other brands, Siegel reported, classic strap watches are strong, while the moonphase watch is declining in popularity.

Omega’s latest addition is Symbol watches, inspired by Yin and Yang, the ancient Oriental symbols of unity and the sun. Prices start at $595 and go up to $6,000 retail.

Demand soars for six-figure watches

Owning a million-dollar home used to signal that one had arrived. In today’s new Gilded Age, how about purchasing a million-dollar watch?

As wealth creation reaches unprecedented levels, uber luxury is thriving at Switzerland’s top watchmakers. Whereas $5,000 timepieces used to impress, watches in excess of $100,000 are the new bellwether for the extraordinary. Watches with a tourbillon – a complicated mechanism to compensate for the effect of gravity on time – or dripping with diamonds easily climb into the seven figures.

“It used to be stunning to sell a watch over $100,000,” said Franois-Henry Bennahmias, chief executive of Audemars Piguet USA. “Today, it’s no longer surprising.”

Bennahmias said Audemars Piguet sold more than 80 watches priced at more than $100,000 last year. “This year, we’ll sell more than 100 [watches of that caliber],” he added.

Executives said they see no reason for the trend to abate. These are, after all, boom years for high-end Swiss manufacturers, with most of the major players, from Cartier to Omega, reporting high-double-digit annual gains. Industrywide, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said sales ofwatches through the first half of the year gained 15.5 percent, with luxury watches growing at as much as twice that rate. The growth is coming worldwide, from New York to Hong Kong, as the increasingly wealthy splurge on rare, ultraexpensive watches as collectors’ items.

“The growth is spectacular in high-end mechanical watches, above $40,000,” said Caroline Faivet, president of Swatch Group US, which runs brands like Breguet and Blancpain. “We sell the watches as soon as we get them.”

Occasionally, that is a problem. Because of the labor-intensive nature of the trade – the most intricate pieces take years to assemble – watchmakers can’t always keep pace with demand. Likewise, years are required to train new watchmakers, making it difficult to rapidly boost production.

A prestigious name like Jaeger-LeCoultre, the Richemont-owned brand, for example, has an estimated annual output of 50,000. Patek Philippe made 38,000 watches last year, while Rolex produces more than 500,000 watches a year.

As in the art world, where limited supply has driven prices at auction to spectacular levels, so, too, has the rarity of the finest Swiss watches added to their mystique. Often, editions are sold out even before they are in production, as collectors scramble to get the latest releases.

“The demand is extraordinary,” said Jerome Lambert, chief executive of Jaeger-LeCoultre. “Customers are ready to wait two years to get the watch they want.”

Or more. Lambert said an order today for Jaeger’s new Gyrotourbillon watch, a 300,000 euro, or $414,000 at current exchange, supercomplicated piece with a tourbillon mechanism that rotates on a double axis, will be delivered in five years.

“Finding buyers isn’t really the challenge,” said Paul Ziff, president of Zenith North America. “It’s producing the watches to fill the demand that keeps us up at night.”

Severin Wunderman, the owner of Corum, the luxury Swiss watchmaker, said his firm had sold 22 watches retailing for $1 million-plus through the first six months of this year. Two were sold in the U.S., three each in the Middle East and India, five in Southeast Asia and nine in Russia. “This trend seems to find no end,” said Wunderman. “Big sales are the norm for the moment, and not the exception.”

Meanwhile, the trend is having a trickle-down effect to less-expensive mechanical watches by pushing average prices up across the board. Brands traditionally geared to the midmarket – from Tag Heuer to Omega – have reported double-digit hikes in average prices. Executives said it largely reflects market demand for more sophisticated watches, such as chronographs or watches sparkling with diamonds.

“We see sales daily on price points that hover around $50,000 retail,” said Andrew Block, vice president of Tourneau. “A $10,000 to $15,000 sale is no longer the highest sales of the day. We are witnessing more and more sales made that eclipse the $100,000 mark.”

Executives conceded that, while the most expensive watches were typically moving fastest in markets such as Russia and the Middle East, more Americans were willing to spend big bucks on Swiss mechanical pieces.

“Obviously, we see a tremendous amount of Wall Street money being spent,” said Block.

Faivet asserted that Americans have grown more educated in the intricacies of fine horology over the last decade.

“It’s an appreciation process,” she said. “Only now is the U.S. grasping the idea of high-end luxurywatches. They now understand that a watch that costs $40,000 doesn’t exactly mean it’s clunky. It can also be understated, and that the price is linked to the art of the precision movement. There are $300,000 Breguets without a single diamond.”

Nonetheless, diamonds are the requisite status symbol for certain customers. But even that is changing as conspicuous consumption supplants restraint among influential tastemakers.

“The very expensive watches [in diamonds] used to be for the Middle East and Russia,” said Philippe Leopold-Metzger, president of Piaget, which introduced a $2.5 million watch this year. “Today, Europeans and Americans are also buying diamond watches.

“It’s recognition that diamond-set watches aren’t ugly – but are beautiful objects in themselves,” added Leopold-Metzger.

Watches: a matter of novelties

Moderate and better watches take the spotlight. NEW YORK — The watch market has been flooded with novelty watches over the past several seasons. For those with the right item, it’s a hot area to be in, but it’s also becoming a very competitive market. Manufacturers feel their slightly different concepts will keep them from competing heavily with one another.

Colorful computer graphics give Art Watch by Gartel, based in Floral Park, N.Y., a unique look. Art Watch did $100,000 in its first year with the watches which wholesale for $75 to $125, according to owner, Lawrence Gartel. He said he expects to double that in the next year, partly because he entered the European market with an office in West Germany in December 1988. Art Watch is represented here by JHT.

I realized there was a place in the market for moderate to better-price novelty watches,” said Gartel, who has designed bathing suits and jewelry with computer graphics in the past. “Swatch opened up the fashion watch area a few years ago and many lower-price plastic watches have followed. But there are no watches with computer graphics, on leather bands, like mine.”

Holly Hardwick, vice president of marketing for Malibu Watches, said her firm sets itself apart with hand-painted reproductions of “Cezannes,” “Van Goghs” and other famous artwork on its watch faces. “We have exclusivity with the Chinese government on hand-painted watches and clocks,” Hardwick said, noting Malibu Watches has done $1,500,000 in sales in its first year in business. She projected second-year volume of $6 million, for the watches which wholesale from $25 to $50, based on new retail and catalog business.

American Indian looks make Cherokee watches different, according to Alan Bobin, vice president of sales and marketing for Cherokee, Sunland, Calif. “We have two groups which coordinate with the Southwestern theme of our clothing, and one which reflects the look of our swimwear, in neon brights. They’re in sync with our image and totally unique.” He projected $4 million in first-year volume for the 20 watch styles which wholesale for $18 to $24. The watches are made through a licensing agreement with Clox Time Fashion, Fallbrook, Calif.

Swatch Watch is not at all adverse to the presence of the new entries, according to Steve Rechtschaffner, vice president of corporate advertising and promotion.

Certainly any good fashion watch competes with us, because the consumer only has so much to spend,” he said. “But good competition is welcome. The more innovation there is out there, the more innovative we have to be.”

Rechtschaffner said Swatch is expecting healthy increases this summer, though he would not be specific. He said for summer, Swatch is concentrating on expanding its leather band and metal case groups and adding metal bracelet bands.

Watches keep time with fashion

The fashion watch market has evolved into a more sophisticated and fashion-forward classification with higher prices and a wider variety of offerings.

While the $30 retail plastic watch still has its place in the department, sales with watches retailing from $50 to $100 are seeing a surge in the marketplace, according to stores and makers.

Retailers and manufacturers agree that newness and a close connection to fashion trends is what is keeping the customer coming back to add to her watch collection.

Classic-looking watches with a retro feeling are key, and larger faces with textured leather straps are growing in important. Versions of bracelet watches are expected to be strong sellers for the holiday season.

The fashion watches have become more serious,” said Jane Tuma, vice president of fashion direction, at Saks Fifth Avenue, New York. “Everyone has a plastic, fun watch. Now they want new, more elegant watches.”

Tuma said a watch has to be special to perform at retail. Strong brands at Saks are Guess watchesand the Fossil watches, Tuma pointed out, adding that the bulk of sales are done between $50 and $100. “Big faces continue to be a strong trend, and all bracelet watches are good sellers.”

Doris Johanson, senior vice president of accessories at Bloomingdale’s, New York, said, “Fashionwatches are a hot area, and there is a lot of excitement in the department.” She added, “The look is serious, yet fun.”

Important watch trends at Bloomingdale’s include retro-looking watches, bracelets, double-face dials and ring watches. Johanson noted while the business appears to be getting away from plasticwatches, Swatch Watch is maintaining its business. “The consumer is looking for fashion in a watch because she is wearing her watch the way she wears fashion jewelry, changing it everyday.”

Mickey Callanen, owner of Callanen and Group, producers and distributors of the Guess watch line, said he is building his business with higher prices. “The trend is toward better-price fashion watches with more value.” He anticipates prices will continue to rise as the customer looks for more sophisticated watches.

The bulk of the Guess watch business is done between $19 and $27.50 wholesale. The firm also does a strong business with plastic watches, but Callanen noted sales in this area are geared toward the younger market. He projects his firm will see 50 percent increases in business this holiday.

The dominant themes in the new Guess watch collection are classic watches with ostrich, lizard and crocodile bands; western-looking watches and a group of watches with suede bands.

At Armitron Watches, producers of Anne Klein, Sutton and Peter Max watch brands, elegant, more sophisticated looks are dominating its new collection. “Initially, there was a tremendous explosion of colorful, fun watches,” said Jerry Dikowitz, director of advertising. “Now, the fun watches are just one segment of the business. It is a natural outgrowth of the fashion watch business. People now want elegant, more sophisticated watches.”

Dikowitz said his watches are in tune with the trends in apparel. Looks include dial treatments with enamel to simulate mother-of-pearl, tiger eye and lapis. Oversize dials continue to be strong, and stretch bands on watches are expected to be big business this holiday. Wholesale prices range from $15 to $95 at Armitron.

Jonathon Neetlefield, general manager, marketing and advertising for Pulsar Time, makers of Pulsar, Lorus and Jaz Time watch brands, said the market is moving away from what he calls “cheap chic.”

“Plastic watches still have a place in the market, primarily the younger customer, but ultimately the consumer is coming back to more serious watches,” he said. “However, the customer will not accept boring watches.”

Each Pulsar division is geared toward a different market segment: Pulsar, wholesaling from $25 to $100, is classic, fun watches; Lorus, which also offers the Mickey Mouse collection, wholesales from $10 to $30; and Jaz Time, a line designed in France, is high fashion, wholesaling from $35 to $100.

Different colored, textured leather watch bands are important at Pulsar, and Neettelfield anticipates the larger faces will continue to be a key trend.

Sandy Roland, executive vice president of Swatch Watch, U.S.A., expects strong sales from the new Pop Swatch this holiday market. It has a larger face and can be stuck onto almost anything. Also new are watches with designs on the band, and Roland said initial reaction to this has been strong. He projects 25 percent increases in the August market.

“The watch business is driven by important designs and key items,” said Roland. “To maintain the business, we need to distribute and stay in stock in these items.”

Roland said Swatch’s most recent designs are more mature. He said the customer is looking for a total look in a watch, and that is why they have added designs and details to the bands. Also new are holes and ribbing on the watch bands. Strong designs include animal prints, a tortoise look and a Vienna Deco design.

Amelia Kennedy, the fashion watch designer for Timex, also sees sales are slipping in the lower end of the watch business. “price is not as big a factor; the customer wants style and fashion and will spend more for it.”

Prices at Timex range from $10 to $50 wholesale, and Kennedy said the bulk of the business is done between $25 and $50 wholesale. Timex is offering a wide range of bracelet watches, which Kennedy believes will be the strongest trend this holiday.

Carol Dauplaise, fashion jewelry firm, started its watch division two years ago, and sales have been strong, surpassing the firm’s expectations. Diane McGowan, vice president said, “A lot of the important trends in the fashion watch business are initiated from the fine watch area.” An example of this, she noted, are the strong sales her firm has experienced with the chronographic watch, which she calls an updated version of the diver’s watch.

The Dauplaise collection wholesales from $35 to $50. Textured leather bands have been an important trend at the firm; however, McGowan anticipates textures will die down after holiday. Newness includes colored faces.


Time Bandits

Cousins Philip Feng and Ryan Bonilla are causing quite a stir with Bellum Classics, a three-month-old collection of vintage timepieces that they engrave, tattoo and style with their own rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic. From their appointment-only studio in New York’s SoHo district, the pair have built an influential clientele of stylists and artists willing to shell out $800 to $14,000 for one of their subversive status symbols. Whether it’s an obscure military watch, a Rolex or a Patek Philippe, no timepiece is safe. And vintage sports cars may be next. “We’re going to re-gut the entire car, change the engine and make it perform like a new car,” Bonilla says. But first, he sat down with Caroline Tell to talk about Bellum’s particular way of managing time.

Bellum is borrowed from the Latin word for war, what’s that about?

The war theme is based on our personal war against the lack of creative freedom and in not getting to do what we wanted to do. We created Bellum not as a line to make money but as something we really love to do, our loves and hobbies.

How did you get involved with classic watches?

Both of us are big watch collectors – our fathers collect watches. We always had a taste for them and were always around them, and it came a time when I was into watches but not really psyched on what was out there. So we customized watches for ourselves.

Where do you source the timepieces?

We work directly with Aaron Faber – he’s one of the biggest vintage watch dealers in New York. We go to a lot of estate sales. We travel all over the country.

How do you fix them up?

First we get them checked out, make sure everything is right internally. I also wear the watch for about a month straight to make sure everything works. Within that time, I gain a sense for what I want to put on it.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Growing up in New York City, you’re never one thing. The whole aesthetic with Bellum is that we take from everything we grew up with and twist it up and make it our own, whether its punk rock, rap or hip-hop. We think of ourselves as punk elegance and punk luxury.

Why mess with the best?

We made the watches originally because everyone had the same watch. It was getting annoying. You couldn’t get over the brand name. So we said, ‘Screw it. Rolex will never put a skull on the back, so we will.’ They’re meant to be fun and kitschy. The watch world is so serious. They’re snobs and we’re skateboard-type kids.

Is there a rare watch you’d never touch?

No, I’ll do anything. If someone gives me a million-dollar watch to customize, I’ll do it. We’ve had some pretty big watches come in, and I’ll do it. Bellum designers Philip Feng and Ryan Bonilla. / A Bellum Classics Rolex.

An Uptick in Style

When looking for inspiration for its fall collection, Timex asked what makes women tick. The company answered with its first diamond collection and an updated Ironman-branded sports line, Hi-Ti.

“The diamond collection combines elegance and the aspirational quality of having diamonds, bringing everyday luxury to the jeans-and-heels consumer base,” says Kate Shevack, chief marketing officer of the Middlebury, Conn.-based company. With a combination of silver and gold stainless steel bracelets and leather straps, the styles feature up to 24 jewelry-grade diamonds each.

Representing the fusion of fashion and sport, Hi-Ti was designed primarily with women in mind. It uses lightweight titanium on resin straps with pared-down digital faces for a more modern look, in vibrant two-toned combinations and neutrals. “With sports watches, the trend is that they are not just worn for sporting occasions; it’s really a reflection of who you are, your lifestyle,” Shevack says.

The diamond collection will retail from $125 to $325; Hi-Ti is priced at $109.95. Both will be sold at midtier retailers, with Hi-Ti also selling at sports specialty stores.

Fashion for Less

In reviving its Caravelle brand, Bulova is reaching out to consumers who want a quality product but don’t want to spend a fortune.

“Research tells us that 75 percent of consumers don’t expect to pay more than $200 for their watch,” says Francie Abraham, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the New York-based firm. “We are trying to follow the style trends that are prevalent in the jewelry market and incorporate them in a higher percentage of the watches in the Caravelle line.”

The initiative is starting with a 24-piece men’s and women’s diamond collection featuring silver and gold stainless steel bracelet and bangle styles with diamonds, which wholesale for $59.50 to $99.50. Bulova will also expand its regular line with an additional 34 styles. Wholesaling for $29.50 to $79.50, they will include stainless steel and leather straps and crystal accents on the case and bracelet, as well as more intricate detailing, finishing and technology.

“We talk about these watches as being more of an accessory because you have a range of products to select from under $200,” Abraham says.


Biker Chic

Every Steve Soffa timepiece begins life as an original artwork. “I start with a 30-inch canvas and reduce it for a 2-inch dial. Each piece is serialized, signed and ultimately retired,” Soffa says.

With 15 years experience designing promotional watches, Soffa launched Hardcore Watch Co. in 2005, placing an emphasis on biker culture and imagery. At first, his client base was predominately male, but Soffa says women’s styles now make up 40 percent of the line.

The watches are divided into two tiers: Hardcore, an edgier biker group, wholesales from $75 to $250, and Artistry in Time features signed, numbered editions for $325 to $850 wholesale. The latest 65-piece collection took nearly two years to complete and features high-grade black and silver stainless steel bracelets or Italian leather or stingray straps, mother-of-pearl detailing and Swarovski crystal or stone accents.

Hardcore recently partnered with Los Angeles-based accessories distributor French Craft to expand distribution to high-end specialty stores and boutiques all over the U.S. “Soffa has the designcapability and we have the connections to distribute it to the right retailers,” says Andy Fox, president of French Craft.