Brisk watch business at JCK Show bodes well for year-end business

Business at The JCK Show’s revamped watch section, the Hall of Time, lived up to its acronym—H.O.T. Aisles teemed with retailers much of the time, and business was brisk, said many of the 140-plus watch and watch accessory exhibitors, citing retailers’ more upbeat mood, their need to rebuild inventory, and the recovering economy, all indications of a good coming holiday.

Many at the show, held in Las Vegas June 4-8, reported significant gains over the 2003 show. Speidel, for one, “doubled our sales from last year,” said president Jeffrey R. Massotti. Philippe Charrioll had “our busiest show ever,” noted Ori Zemer director of marketing. “Great show,” said both Francie Abrahams, Bulova’s vice president of marketing, and Stuart Kerzner, president of Lancaster USA, particularly for Lancaster’s new Quadretto oval watches. Croton had “fantastic response” to its new, affordable Croton Reserve watches (including those with enameled-bracelet links), said vice president Eli Mermelstein. Jewelry makers with watch lines, like Oro Diamante, Rialto, and LeVian, also had strong sales. “A truly great show,” said David Zar, president of LeVian watches, with “unbelievable” sales.

Despite some complaints about the reorganized watch section—i.e., non-watch vendors and overhead aisle signs promoting a diamond jewelry maker—watch exhibitors were generally pleased with results. “A very strong show,” especially for gold watches, observed Hugh Glenn, Cyma USA president.

Prestige brands in the fair’s by-appointment-only Swiss Luxury Watch gallery (in the adjoining Venetian Hotel) also did well. “The show was phenomenal,’ said Stacie Orloff, Corum USA president, especially for its spaghetti-thin Debutante gem bracelet watch with petite clip-on case. “Last year, people were more solemn, ordering less, selling down inventory and reviewing stock. Now, they’re jazzing up assortments and ordering.”

Strong sales and buyer confidence also were cited by representatives of upscale brands like Breitling, Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Carl F. Bucherer who were meeting clients at Las Vegas hotels outside the show.

Style notes. “Oval” and “sideways” was the prevalent design of new watches at The JCK Show. Many were “east/west,” though there were striking vertical designs as well.

Cuff watches were hot, too. Chic new models included Invicta’s novel Lady Lupah Lagarto on colored alligator straps; Michele’s Emotions, with ornamental stone cases; and designer John Hardy’s Bali watches, with dials resembling cobblestones.

Use of unusual watchband materials keeps growing in the wake of ever-widening use of rubber (in various colors) by mid-price and upscale brands. Gulachat (stingray), both “bumpy” and smooth, was seen on more watches—including Oro Diamante’s OD Geneve, Invicta, Lancaster, Mouawad’s Trebor, and Effy—along with more python and ostrich. One of the most extensive arrays of exotic materials was found in Croton’s new Crotalus series, which uses not only stingray and python, but also shark, eel, and even buffalo.

Interchangeable watchbands are becoming routine, but interchangeable bezels are less common. Those seen at The JCK Show included jewelry designer Hildalgo’s watches; Arron Shum’s Gemtique, with ornamental gemstone bezels by Hong Kong designer Alan Yip; Meyer’s flowery gem bezels; and Tiret, which says its interchangeable oversized oval bezels (52 mm) are a world first.

Big gets bigger. The popularity of large and oversized watches is spreading from upscale eddies to the main stream, as evidenced by additions of such U.S. market leaders as Bulova (in its Marine Star series) and Timex, as well as trendy large models seen in display cases throughout the show. But upscale watches still set the pace: Kriëger’s Gigantium (43 mm), Festina’s fashion-forward oval Mambo (44 mm); Montblanc’s platinum Maxima GMT (43 mm); Baume & Mercier’s restyled, larger Riveria (39 mm); Locman’s curvy Latin Lover (44 mm) with patented moveable lugs; TechnoMarine’s triangular Maori (46 mm); and designer Robert Lighton’s vermeil Oval (45 mm x 55 mm).

A number of brands, especially upscale ones, also are adding women’s “mini” watches. These include Gevril (whose initial production of its popular “Mini” is sold out); Ebel’s Beluga Tonneau Mini (with rows of diamonds on the bezel and guilloche subdials); and European Company Watch’s “mini-mini” versions of several lines. Though not a “mini,” Corum’s Admiral’s Cup 29 is a downsized woman’s version of its larger signature watch. Meanwhile, there’s a new line of slim Swiss watches (3.6 mm) from Swistar USA, which calls them the “slimmest in the world.”

Diamond dealers. More brands are debuting or adding diamond watches for both women and men. Rado, for example, keeps adding diamonds to its sleek scratchproof ceramic watches, promoting them as the bride’s gift for the groom. Ritmo Mundo’s oversized diamond-encrusted Jet Set series is based on designs of the 1920s. TechnoMarine’s XS Domino sports white and black diamond pavé dials that reflect game pieces, while Lancaster’s oval Diamond Luxuria has its “1.97 ct. t.w.” engraved on the caseback.

Striking women’s models included luxury brand Rialto’s Flut tonneau; Maurice LaCroix’s strong-selling Selena series; Ebel’s pavé Moon Chic; Michele’s Couquette Retro; Wyler Vetta’s Espacité automatic chrono with 60 diamonds (0.75 cts. t.w.) on the bezel; Roven Dino’s rectangular gold-tone diamond-framed Madison watches; and, outside the show, Jaeger LeCoultre’s petite luxury Etrier, with the world’s smallest mechanical movement. In the “very affordable” category is Croton’s stylish women’s watch, with 0.14 cts. t.w. of diamonds speckling its small steel case, riding a thin leather strap.

Noteworthy, too, is the growing number of diamond watches—often with thin diamond bezels—for men. Among those seen at the show: Piaget’s smart Black Tie watches; Versace’s 18k Bond Street tonneau chronos, with guilloche subdials; and Ice Tek’s Spinner, with dial design based on a car wheel hub and diamonds on the “spokes.”

But “diamond looks” needn’t use diamonds: Bulova’s petite Floating Crystals women’s bracelet watch has tiny moveable diamond-cut Swarovski crystals in open links. Viva Time’s new Couture line uses Swarovski crystals and CZs for glittering dress watches that look more expensive than they are.

Gem delights. Counterpointing these were attractive women’s watches with colored gemstones. Meyers, an innovative upscale brand, offered Swiss-made collections that feature dangling “pom-poms” of precious gems attached to and encircling its diamond bezels. Corum’s scintillating Popourri has a bracelet mosaic of tiny, individually-strung gemstones. Also eye-catching: Watch designer Lorenzo Possan’s white gold timepieces with framing tracks of sapphires, amethysts, and diamonds, and new versions of designer Robert Lighton’s Gramercy and Algonquin watches with pink, blue, and peach-color sapphires and deep-green tsavorites.

Gold’s glint. Gold watches also did very well at the show. Brands with niches in 18k (such as Baume & Mercier) and 14k (like Cyma) reported strong sales and interest by fine-watch retailers. “There’s a heavier emphasis on gold than there’s been in years,” noted Randi Shinske, Ebel USA’s president and chief executive officer. Newcomers included Belair’s 14k retro tonneau, with 58 diamonds (0.62 cts); Tutima’s 18k automatic Flieger F2 chrono; Festina’s Cordoba series; and TechnoMarine’s Maori 18k.

The glint wasn’t all golden. Sterling silver watches also sparkled, including Ecclissi’s Bali collection (with east/west oval and rectangular casing), John Hardy’s Kali cuff watches and Peugeot’s affordable evening-wear Couture line.

Travel time. Watches with multiple time zones (GMTs and travelers’ watches) remain an active niche. Vegas newcomers included Croton Reserve’s three time zone watch (one automatic movement and two quartz modules); Polanti’s colorful triple time zone luxury tonneaus; Façonnable’s Hydra 3 Worlds (with square time zone subdials at “12” and “6” pushing outward from the round case); jewelry designer Hildalgo’s square, oversized luxury watch with a time zone subdial in each corner, surrounding the main one centered on a world map; Mondaine’s small, rectangular two-time zone version of its iconic Swiss Railroad watch; and Hamilton’s dual time Khaki Navy GMT diver’s watch.

Plentiful limiteds. A notable trend is the rising number of upscale and luxury brands offering limited editions. Standouts at The JCK Show included Jean Marcel’s PanAmerican; Kriëger’s Gigantium; Rado’s U.S.-only Coupole special; Blancpain’s 40-mm Aqualung; Philippe Charrioll’s LaHoya, a women’s white gold bracelet watch whose petals pull back to reveal a petite pavé dial; and LeVian’s Delano collection (three sizes, with self-change pin). Some new luxury brands offer only limited editions, among them Dima, Gergé, and Scarfolo. Special editions include Festina’s 2004 Tour de France (for which Festina is official timekeeper) honoring U.S. biking champ Lance Armstrong, TAG Heuer’s Indy 500 watch, and Longines’ commemorative Olympics watch, all available this year only. Also noteworthy: TechnoMarine’s first-ever (six only) tourbillon series featuring such pop culture figures as Spiderman.

Tech triumphs. Though hi-tech breakthroughs are more usual at the international Swiss watch fairs, there were some standouts in Las Vegas. One is the Worldtimer USA watch of Germany’s Junghans, a leader in radio-controlled watches (exact time comes from radio signals of government atomic clocks). Previously, such watches couldn’t work nationwide here for technical and geographic reasons. Junghans has licked that problem with several technical innovations, a revamped module, and a rock-hard glass caseback (instead of steel which distorts signals) to create an “atomic” watch useable anywhere in the United States.

Another is Kriëger’s Ghost, a 52-mm luxury watch of transparent aluminum, a world first. The $8,000 timepiece, two-and-a-half years in development, uses the same costly material as space shuttle windows. It takes 60 days to produce the glass-clear material and five months of mechanical and chemical polishing, drilling, stamping, and assembling to make each clear aluminum watch.

Wound up. Watches weren’t the only timepiece products attracting attention. In watch winders, Wolfe unveiled its new computer chip-controlled module, three years in development, for its Timekeeper winders. (In a related note, Maurice Lacroix will give year-end holiday purchasers of its watches a free Wolfe single-watch winder.) Orbita displayed its new Bergamo 40, which keeps that many watches fully wound and has a remote-controlled mechanism to raise or lower a winder module. Underwood presented new winders in black lacquer and a prototype of a new single winder for next year.