Gedalio (“Gerry”) Grinberg, a pioneer in the U.S. luxury watch business, founder of the Movado Group and a patron of the arts, died Jan. 4 in New York City. He was 77.
Grinberg had announced on Sept. 2, 2008, that he would retire as chairman of the Movado Group, at the end of its fiscal year, on Jan. 31, 2009. Efraim Grinberg, his son, 50, who joined the company in 1980, will become the new chairman, and continues as president (since 1990) and chief executive officer (since 2001).
“My father was a great man, who touched many lives through his generosity as a business leader, philanthropist, and patron of the arts,” said Efraim Grinberg. “He’ll be sorely missed by his family, his friends, employees, and customers.” He cited his father’s “entrepreneurial spirit, leadership, and remarkable accomplishments” in his 60-year career, honored when he became the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Jewelry Information Center in 2003, one of many awards Grinberg received in his lifetime.
Grinberg, then a 29-year-old watch salesman, in 1960 fled to America with his family from Castro’s Cuba (where he was threatened by Castro’s secret police). He possessed a deep appreciation for the United States, which he called, “the best country in the world. Here I am, a Cuban from a Jewish background, with an accent, and I never feel like a foreigner in this country. It is a country of opportunity. What happened to me here couldn’t happen anywhere else in the world.”
Grinberg established the North American Watch Co. in 1961 in New York. It was the exclusive distributor of Piaget luxury watches, which he advertised as the world’s most expensive watches, and Corum watches. He is credited by many as being the first in the United States to successfully market fine watches as a status symbol, and a visionary in the watch industry for recognizing the potential of luxury watches and marketing them accordingly.
In the mid-1960s, Grinberg shifted his company’s focus to designing, manufacturing, distributing, and marketing its own brands and, later, licensed brands. In 1969, North American acquired Concord, a Swiss luxury watchmaker, and in 1983, bought Movado, a century-old Swiss watchmaker best known for its iconic Museum watch (with a black face adorned by a single dot at “12”), then on the point of closing. Under Grinberg, the brand became profitable again, and was transformed from a small watchmaker into a world-renowned brand which has expanded over the years to include many variations. The Movado name was also extended to luggage, jewelry, and accessories.
In the mid-1970s, as the new quartz module technology radically transformed the watch business, Grinberg was one of the first Swiss watchmakers to use it in his luxury watches, giving North American a technology edge in its marketing. He also promoted his watches more actively on television, reaching out to middle-class America. His revolutionary Concord Delirium luxury watch (1979), using quartz technology, was the world’s thinnest watch (1.98mm in 1979 and 1mm in 1980) and made news worldwide.
In the 1980s, North American’s sales soared and, as one account said, “it found itself outselling larger and better-known names in Swiss watches,” becoming a leading U.S. distributor of Swiss watches.
In 1993, North American went public and in 1996, changed its name to the Movado Group.
With half a billion dollars in sales (FY2008), the Movado Group, headquartered in Paramus, N.J., is known worldwide as a leading manufacturer, marketer, and distributor of fine Swiss luxury watches–including Concord, Movado, ESQ (an entry-level Swiss brand launched in 1992) and Ebel (a luxury brand acquired in 2004)–and of licensed fashion watches, including Tommy Hilfiger (designed and made by Movado Group since 2001); Hugo Boss (made by the Movado Group since 2005); Lacoste Watches; Juicy Couture Timepieces (2006), and Coach watches (designed by Coach and made by Movado). The company also operates Movado boutiques and company stores in the United States.
Gedalio Grinberg was a passionate patron of the arts, and Movado Group’s marketing and corporate sponsorships reflect that. He was also a sophisticated marketer, who realized the opportunities of associating Movado and the Museum Watch with cultural pursuits. Indeed, the Movado Group has sponsored some of America’s most prestigious cultural institutions, including the Lincoln Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, American Ballet Theater (where Grinberg served on the board since 1990 and was chairman emeritus), and the Miami City Ballet. Movado also sponsored the PBS series “Art of the Western World” and “Great Performances,” and the “Movado Minute” radio series of mini-interviews with performing artists, choreographers, and conductors.
An avid collector of modern art who encouraged artists in diverse media, Grinberg was a personal friend of pop artist Andy Warhol and in the 1990s collaborated with him on the first Movado Artists’ Series watch, an annual collection of limited edition timepieces created by renowned artists around the world. Grinberg’s passion for the arts is also expressed in the Lincoln Center’s TimeSculpture, designed by noted architect Philip Johnson. The 18-foot-tall bronze clock tower, installed in 1999, was made possible by a donation from Mr. and Mrs. Grinberg, plus a corporate sponsorship by the Movado Group.