Revamped Zodiac adds Larry Lich as VP, puts focus on jewelers

Zodiac, the revamped mid-priced Swiss brand purchased last fall by Fossil Inc. and re-launching in the U.S. market in September, is targeting jewelers as its main retail outlets.

“Jewelers will be a significant part of our network, said Enrico Margaritelli, president of Zodiac’s Swiss watch division, during a JCK interview. “We are looking to do 80% of our business through jewelry stores, both independent and chains, and 20% in the fine-jewelry departments of better department stores.”

Underscoring the importance of jewelers as its retailers, Margaritelli told JCK that Zodiac has just hired Larry Lich, a watch industry veteran well-known to jewelers who sell fine watches, to be Zodiac USA’s new senior vice president of sales and marketing, as well as the “face” of Zodiac in the important U.S. market. Lich, formerly vice president of marketing and sales at Raymond Weil, will reestablish the Zodiac brand in the United States and build its distribution network. After-sales servicing will be done by Universal Watch Company of Atlanta, and a new showroom for Zodiac watches will open in New York City later this year.

The new Zodiac timepieces are “positioned between Raymond Weil and Baume & Mercier,” says Isabelle Maujean, Zodiac vice president and brand manager worldwide. They will retail for $395 to $1,800, though a few diamond pieces will be priced at $3,000. Most sales will probably be in the $695 to $895 range, she says.

The watches have “fresh, contemporary styling” that aims to combine tradition and creativity, says Diarmuid Bland, senior vice president of Fossil. The watches, he notes, are “created for dynamic individuals, not those who are brand-conscious.” The revamped brand’s signature design element is the cube or square, as seen in its flagship Bellevue collection, marketing and promotional materials, and packaging. There are two holdovers, though, from the “old” Zodiac: a new version of its best-known timepiece, the Seawolf diver’s watch, and Zodiac’s cross-in-a-circle logo.

The watches are manufactured in Biel, Switzerland, by the Antima Group, part of Fossil’s Swiss watch division. The division comprises Montres Atima SA, Meliga Habillement Horloger SA, and Synergies Horlogeres SA (watch design, component souring, and production), which Fossil bought in October 2001 when it purchased Zodiac and entered the Swiss watch business.

Zodiac was founded in 1888 in Le Locle, Switzerland. It enjoyed its greatest period of success in the U.S. market between the 1950s and early 1970s, but then went into decline. In 1990, Willy Gad Monnier, a former TAG Heuer principal, bought and revived the Zodiac brand. The company went bankrupt in 1997, and the brand was sold in 1998 to Genender International of Wheeling, Ill., which then sold it in October 2001 to Fossil.

Now, says Bland, “We’re trying to get the brand back where it belongs. We aren’t reinventing Zodiac, but returning it to its generalist roots, so it isn’t identified with any one category, as it was with sports watches for a while, but offers models in all categories-classic, fashion, and sports.”

“We want to give Zodiac its own complete personality, with its own collections,” adds Margaritelli, “not imitate other brands.” The aim now is to make Zodiac a global brand, with worldwide distribution, “but the U.S. market is our most important area,” he says. Therefore, the focus this year is on re-launching the brand in the U.S. and building its retail network. Also in the works are consumer and trade advertising campaigns; packaging, marketing materials, and in-store displays designed for jewelry stores; and-further down the road-a jewelry line to complement the watches.