Hermés reports 20% gain in U.S. watch sales

Hermés, the French luxury goods group, posted an 8.2% increase in revenues, to $1.04 billion (2.1 billion Euros) for 2001, says the company.

Its best-performing division was watches. While some luxury groups posted small or no gains in watch sales for 2001 due to economic slowdowns and the impact of the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, Hermés watch rose 13% worldwide (about 155,000 watches) and more than 20% in the United States (10% of Hermés’ business).

It was “a very good year” for the business, said Hermés USA president Guillaume de Seynes and “provides the momentum” for continued growth here, he told JCK. Aiding that is a new marketing program aimed at retailers and consumers featuring annual photo albums of Hermes collections, by some of the world’s leading fashion photographers, starting this year with photographic considerations of the Cape Cod watches by South African Koto Bolofo.

USA already sells its watches through 14 Hermés boutiques and more than 60 non-Hermés retail outlets. It plans to add another 16 boutiques this year and aims ultimately to have a network total of some 150 retail outlets across the country.

Hermés USA officials, in conversation with JCK, attributed the luxury brand’s strong gains to several factors. One is Hermés long-time reputation among watch connoisseurs for quality. “People want confidence in what they’re buying, to know it will last for years,” says Emmanuel Rafner. Hermés USA sales director. Other reasons are the brand’s fashionable designs, the informality of, and strong focus on, customer service in Hermés USA shops, and strong after-sale support for watch buyers and retailers, says Karl Kreiser, director of Hermés USA’s watch business. But an influential factor, too, is Hermés price competitiveness in the luxury watch market. Though its Swiss-made watches retail for as much as $20,000, most of its business is in the $1,000 to $3,000 range, noted Kreiser. Examples are its newest models, debuting at this year’s international Basel, Switzerland watch fair, the world’s largest and most important timepiece trade fair. Among them are the sprightly ladies steel Paprika (based on a 1970s model) with “H” lugs and straps in several colors ($950), and additions to its successful Cape Cod line (which originated now-popular double-wrap straps). They include the steel Cape Cod Chronograph on strap ($1,600), the Clipper Oval, in ladies or mid-size, steel or steel and gold ($900 to $1,800) and the Deux Time, with wrap-around straps.

Watches have been a major Hermés product since the 1920s-preceding its worldwide business in jewelry, scarves, and other luxury goods-when it began selling fine timepieces (made for it by prestigious watchmakers) with Hermés’ finely sewn leather straps. In 1978, it opened its own watch manufacturing plant in Bienne, combining French design with Swiss expertise in watchmaking.