Watch Watch

VENDOME GROUP BUYS VACHERON CONSTANTIN

The Vendome Luxury Group – owner of Cartier, Piaget and Baume & Mercier – has added Swiss watchmaker Vacheron Constantin to its stable of

luxury product brands. Vendome bought the ma- jority-stake shares of the 242-year-old company from Sheik Ahmed Yamani, the former Saudi oil minister. Though no price was disclosed, industry sources estimate the cost at $77 million to $85 million.

Vacheron is the oldest continuously operating watch company making handcrafted timepieces. Its current production and illustrious past contribute to the inclusion of its timepieces in some of the world’s finest private collections and at watch auctions worldwide.

“The development of Vacheron Constantin will be pursued in accordance with the philosophy of the Vendome Group, which respects the identity, the individuality and the philosophy of each of its brands,” says Joseph Kanoui, president of Vendome.

The acquisition is good news for the Swiss watch industry, says Peter Laetsch, director of the New York office of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. “I think Vacheron Constantin is in excellent hands with Vendome,” he says. (Vendome’s watch sales rose an estimated 13% in 1996.)

The acquisition is a continuation of a consolidation of the Swiss watch industry that started several years ago when SMH bought Blancpain and built it into a stronger brand with greater global reach and profile. A more recent example is the acquisition of Swiss watchmakers International Watch Co. and Jaeger-LeCoultre by Mannesmann, a large industrial company in Germany.

The purchase of Vacheron Constantin adds another jewel to the holdings of the Richemont Group, a Swiss holding company created by Richemont Securities of South Africa. Richemont owns 70% of Vendome, which was created in 1993 when Richemont, Dunhill International and Rothmans International joined forces.

Yellow Faces Colorful

Race car drivers aren’t often called “yellow,” but apparently some enjoy wearing that color around their wrists. Last year, Formula 1 racing champion Michael Schumacher wore this brilliant yellow Omega Speedmaster Racing watch (right). The bright yellow band and face (also available in red) was developed to appeal to “a new generation of entrepreneurs and avid sportsman,” says Omega.

This new generation also may have been on the mind of race car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro when he created a yellow dial for Seiko “Macchina Sportiva” chronographs last year.

Raymond Weil’s W1, which is aimed at a younger sporting crowd also, featured a yellow-dialed version in its ads last winter. During a generally conservatively hued year for watches, a few fine dress watches chose a bright, sporty exterior too: Daniel Roth’s latest automatic chronograph, for example, features a bright yellow strap and face.

DEAR DIARY, KINETICS FOR CHARITY

Designer Todd Oldham was one of several celebrities who donated a one-page diary for an auction in December to benefit Project Angel Food and DIFFA/LA, which provides hot meals and other assistance to homebound AIDS victims.

Each diary is a handwritten description of what the celebrity did to power his or her battery-free quartz Seiko Kinetic watch. Oldham, for example, described an hour-by-hour schedule that included “fittings” at 10 a.m.

Rocker Jon Bon Jovi jotted down that he “wrote songs with Richie Sambora” in New York. Columnist Liz Smith’s whirlwind day included an appearance on TV and emceeing a social event for designer Arnold Scassi’s 40th anniversary. Director Joel Schumacher directed a scene from the new Batman movie while wearing his Kinetic. (One fortunate collector received a bonus with Schumacher’s diary. On an attached page, Batman creator Bob Kane signed an original drawing of the caped crusader.)

Other participants included Olympic medalist Greg Louganis, singer and actress Cher, actor Tony Randall and skating champion Rudy Galindo.

In addition to the celebrity watches and diary project, Seiko donated watches worth $22,500 at retail and $5,000 in cash to the charity. The men’s and women’s watches were sold to benefit the charity.

Face Up Going going Gone

The intense interest garnered by these watches at Antiquorum’s “Magical Art of Cartier” auction in November in Geneva took many observers by surprise. Preauction sale estimates ranged from $12,000 for the two gold models to $19,000-$23,000 for the platinum – about as much as would be expected for the newly made (1996) brancards (stretcher) timepieces.

Their Tank-inspired design originated in 1928, but these models were custom-made for the auction. Interest among watch collectors at auctions typically lies with much older pieces that carry some historical or design highlight. But a number of buyers apparently considered these three watches to be ripe for future auction – or they just enjoy a unique timepiece.

Whatever the driving force, buyers pushed bids exponentially higher than estimates. Final prices: $61,600 for the yellow gold, $83,600 for the pink gold and $66,880 for the platinum.

MOVADO TO MAKE COACH WATCH COLLECTION

Leather goods maker Coach, New York City, signed a 10-year licensing agreement with the Movado Group Inc., Lyndhurst, N.J., to develop a Coach watch for spring 1998. It’s the first licensing agreement of any type for Coach and the first time Movado has agreed to produce a collection for a consumer brand.

The watch collection is expected to include men’s and women’s strap and bracelet models, to feature Swiss quartz movements and to cost $195 to $795 retail.

The designs will be inspired by Coach’s leather handbags, belts, business cases and accessories, and will be sold at about 200 locations in the U.S., including Coach stores and the fine jewelry departments of selected retailers.

Movado will preview the watch at the 1998 Basel Fair.

SWISS ARMY BRANDS SUES PRICE/COSTCO

U.S. company also signs agreement with the real Swiss Army

Swiss Army Brands, Shelton, Conn., filed suit in December against the Price/Costco warehouse club chain alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, charges that Price/Costco “has represented on the Internet and within this district that Swiss Army is a vendor company” of Price/Costco.

Swiss Army says Price/Costco is not a vendor of its brand and wants the court to stop the company from implying that it is.

Price/Costco officials could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Swiss Army Brands registered the words “Swiss Army” in Switzerland and received worldwide use and sublicensing rights to the words from the Swiss Federal Defense Department. The arrangement recognizes the trademark rights and goodwill built up for Swiss Army Brands.

As a licensee, the U.S. company will join the Swiss government in protecting the trademark and will pay royalties to benefit Swiss citizens on the sale of all products sold under the Swiss government’s trademark outside the U.S., its territories, Canada and the Caribbean. The agreement also aims to protect Swiss workers by ensuring economic opportunity for manufacturers there. Swiss law says products bearing the Swiss name must be Swiss-made.

HHIRSCH NOMINATED FOR DESIGN PRIZE

Hirsch, the Austria-based watchband manufacturer, was named a finalist in the 1996 edition of the prestigious European Design Prize. Sixty-four finalists were chosen from 370 entries from 17 countries; Hirsch was the only watch band manufacturer. The awards were decided in Paris last month (see JCK Newsroom, http://jck.polygon.net, to check whether Hirsch was a winner).

Nominees met in Paris for a two-day “European Design Industry Summit” in December. “The invitation to Paris is in itself a distinction,” says Hermann Hirsch, company director.

The European jury for the prize bases its decision on the use of design as a means of innovation. Candidates must prove their designs improve the quality, function and effectiveness of their products. The award was introduced in 1988 by the European Union Commission and design organizations in various countries and is presented by the European Design Partnership based in Dublin, Ireland.

This new Hirsch design is a “Yachting” bracelet made with water-resistant rubber lining.

MILUS TAKES ‘UP TO 15’ ON U.S.TOUR

After touring Europe and the Far East, Swiss watchmaker Milus has lined up four U.S. art galleries and jewelers to host “Up to 15,” an exhibit displaying watches created by 15 Swiss female designers. Paul Junot, Milus’ head designer and president, commissioned the exhibit for the 1996 Basel Fair to generate unique face interpretations of his company’s stainless steel “10.0” watch, named for its 10mm thickness (see JCK, January 1997, p. 208).

The round bezel gave the designers an open slate on which to create their design. They responded with goldplate, rhodium, silver, granite, gold leaf and even a patinated face embedded with strands of human hair.

Asked why all the designers were women, Junot said, “You wouldn’t ask me that if they were all men, would you?” Not by coincidence, last year marked the 25th year since Switzerland granted women the right to vote.

Pictured (counterclockwise from top) are designs by Susanne Holzinger, Nadia Morgenthaler, Helene Othenin-Girard, Giovanna Quadri and Nine Raeber. These and 10 others will be exhibited this spring at Gia in Chicago, Arango in Miami, Quadrum in Boston and Moss Ltd. in New York City. Other locations may be added. Stelton USA, (212) 734-4318.

APPOINTMENTS & RELOCATION

• Marissa Brust was named public relations director of the U.S. division of Swiss watchmaker Baume & Mercier Inc., New York City. She was formerly U.S. communications manager for Tiffany & Co.’s trade, corporate and fragrance division.

• Sue Rechner was named manager of the Sales Planning and Development Department at Seiko Corp. of America, Mahwah, N.J. The department serves long- and short-term central planning functions for the watch sales division. Rechner, formerly national accounts manager at Seiko, also will coordinate Seiko’s licensee relationship with Disney Co.

• The new office of FCI Chronometries, U.S. distributor of Sinn watches, is at 33 Barrow St., New York, NY 10014; (212) 807-0535.

MOVADO BOOK NOW AVAILABLE

The English edition of The Movado History is a lushly illustrated, coffee-table-sized book that traces Movado from its founding as the L.A.&I. Ditesheim family workshop in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland in 1881 to today. It was written by Fritz von Osterhausen with assistance by Bernhard Stoeber, Movado’s vice president of technical and after-sales services.

Detailed chapters cover the classic Movado Polyplan, the popular Ermeto, the World War I Military watches, the Art watches and the signature Museum watch. The book includes complete Movado numbering and reference systems, illustrations of every movement numbered four through 900, results of chronometer trials from the Neuchâtel Observatory and descriptions of all Swiss patents awarded to the company. The book, published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pa., is available in major book stores.