Speidel drops Hirsch, adds Di-Modell; Hirsch names Roma as U.S. distributor

Two of the world’s major watchband makers and suppliers—Speidel and Hirsch—have ended their years-long U.S. distribution agreement. Speidel is the leading North American supplier of watch bands, with more than 10,000 retail accounts. Hirsch Armbänder GmbH of Klagenfurt, Austria, is the world’s largest manufacturer of watch bands.

Speidel distributed Hirsch’s premium watchbands for fine watches from 1999 until Dec. 31, 2004. About 20% of its accounts carried Hirsch.

Speidel says it stopped because most of Hirsch’s watch straps are now made in China, not Europe. The luxury retailers that carried Hirsch “demand and expect a high-quality, European-made watch strap,” Speidel president and chief executive officer Jeffrey R. Massotti told JCK. “They did not and do not want China products.”

Hirsch has stopped distributing Speidel watchbands in Europe.

Hirsch, which has factories in Austria, India, and China, announced March 10 that it has chosen Hadley Industries, which makes Hadley-Roma watchbands and is located in Largo, Fla., as its exclusive U.S. distributor. It made no mention of Speidel or specific reasons for the change. In the announcement, Robert Hirsch, president and CEO, said his company wants “to restore to the Hirsch brand in America the luster which comes with topflight service and experienced management.”

In place of Hirsch, Speidel has inked an exclusive North American distribution agreement with Di-Modell of Könisgheim, Germany. Di-Modell, a 30-year-old firm, produces upscale leather watch straps. Massotti told JCK that the response by jewelers to the Di-Modell brand since January “has been tremendous,” so much so that Speidel has begun placing it with its national accounts, too.

Speidel, headquartered in East Providence, R.I., formally informed its retail customers of the changes in a March 11 letter. In it, Massotti said the decision to stop representing Hirsch in North America followed “years of philosophical and marketing differences with the Hirsch organization” and the realization that “we can no longer market the Hirsch brand as an exclusive European brand.”

The main reason, wrote Massotti, is that most of the Hirsch watchbands are now made in China, making the Hirsch brand “simply … another China-manufactured product with European pricing.” As a result, Speidel could “no longer … position the Hirsch brand as the premier alternative to Speidel.”

The Speidel letter also cited “ever-changing price increases” and “continually rising display costs and unavailability” as added reasons for ending the relationship with the Hirsch organization.

At press time, Robert Hirsch couldn’t be reached for comment.

In the announcement of the Hirsch-Roma agreement, Paul Horowitz, Roma’s CEO, noted there’s “minimal overlap” between the customer bases of Hirsch and Hadley-Roma. So, he said, “the relationship is totally complementary. It’s difficult to replace a brand as well respected as Hirsch, and far more beneficial to enhance its presence by virtue of the level of service and integrity our company has become well known for.”

Robert Hirsch said in the announcement that both companies will continue to compete with each other in the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) market, supplying watchbands to leading timepiece brands.