A Jeweled Watch Movement

Some of most significant watch news at this year’s trade shows didn’t concern watch sales or leading watch brands. Rather, it’s the news that many jewelry designers and manufacturers are adding watch brands—and not simply as accessories to their jewelry, but as stand-alone lines, often designed to fill voids in the watch market.

Jewelry makers who are also watchmakers are nothing new—consider Piaget, Cartier, or David Yurman. What is news is that their numbers are growing. More jewelry makers—such as Color Story (Rialto Watches) or Alisa (Altanus Watches)—see watch lines as the next logical step in servicing clients, broadening markets, or reinforcing their brand name with the public. Some, like HNJ Inc., have even bought or built their own watchmaking facilities.

Here’s a look at a few of the jewelry makers cultivating watch businesses.

  • Effy Watches is the brand name of the first watch line from jewelry designer Effy Hematian, president of BH Multi Com. “Watches are no longer only a necessity,” Hematian says. “They’re now fashion statements and status symbols as well. There are consumers looking for more personality-reflecting, fashion-forward timepieces. Effy Watches are designed with them in mind.”
    Allen Hakimian, general manager for Baci Collection of New York City, which will distribute the line, adds, “Not only do watches go hand in hand with jewelry, but a lot of jewelers now realize watches aren’t just accessories but also luxury products that can stand on their own.”
    Due in retail stores nationwide this fall, the Effy Watch collection was officially launched at The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas in June. While the collection is “primarily for fashion-conscious women who appreciate and collect beautiful jewelry and watches,” says Hakimian, it also offers a number of unisex designs and timepieces for men.
    The watches retail for $499 to $1,999. Made of stainless steel with Swiss movements and parts, they feature sapphire crystals, contoured case shapes, colored gems on the cases, diamonds on the dials, and butterfly deployment buckles. Limited-edition gold and platinum models will come later.

  • Oro Diamante, known for two-tone wedding bands and gold, platinum, and diamond bridal and fashion jewelry, has added its own luxury watches, called OD & Co Geneve.
    “I’ve thought about doing this for years,” says Sarkis Nourian, chief executive officer of the Los Angeles firm. “As a designer, I always want to go ‘beyond the horizon.'” Many of the Hollywood stars and producers he knows are interested in watches and often asked if Oro Diamante would ever include them in its product lines.
    The company took the plunge three years ago when it bought a small family-run watchmaking business in Switzerland and began developing its watch designs and jeweled movements.
    The brand debuted in June at The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas with two lines of automatic chronographs—Quadra (softly-curved square watches) and CIRCA (round watches)—in stainless steel, 18k, and platinum. The watches retail for $4,900 to $21,000 ($30,000 in platinum). There are several models and two sizes of each (Quadra, 41 mm and 34 mm; Circa, 40 mm and 35 mm), on stingray straps. About 1,000 will be produced the first year.
    The watch brand aims for 100 retail accounts, all guild jewelers, but not necessarily Oro Diamante jewelry clients. The brand is “a separate entity that will take off on its own,” Nourian says. To introduce OD & Co Geneve to affluent consumers, Oro Diamante has launched a $2 million ad campaign and is working on celebrity endorsements and product placements on TV and in movies.

  • LeVian Corp., the upscale New York jewelry house that is an industry pioneer in branding, this year launched another brand—LeVian Time fashion watches—which David Zar, president of LeVian’s watch division, calls “classy with a twist.”
    The new line responds not only to LeVian customers’ requests for watches to match its jewelry but also “the market now for branded high-end watches,” says Eddie LeVian, chief executive officer and designer. “After 25 years of success, our brand name stands on its own. So it’s natural to extend its range.”
    Four years in development, LeVian Time offers Swiss-made, contemporary watches for men and women, in stainless steel or 18k, with mother-of-pearl and layered dials, colored leather straps with a self-change pin, and hot fashion colors and patterns. They retail for $400 to $5,000 (gold) and $299 to $3,500 (steel). The first pieces, launched this spring, featured sunburst dials with a three-eye look (diamond subdials for day, date, and month). A second series called Delano—east-west oval watches, with or without diamonds, in large, medium, and mini sizes—debuted at The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas.
    Plans call for some 200 retailers nationally—fine jewelers and some high-end department stores—and international retailers later. Distribution is limited to one retailer per market or region but not limited only to LeVian jewelry retailers. “The watches are already finding us new markets and customers,” says LeVian. To introduce them to affluent consumers, LeVian has launched what Zar calls “a huge advertising campaign” in upscale magazines like Town & Country, InStyle, Robb Report, and Harper’s.

  • Honora Industries, the New York City firm known for fine gold and platinum jewelry and imported pearls, this year launched Honora watches, which it calls “a high-quality product at a cost-sensitive price point [for the] fun-loving impulse customer.”
    “I’ve always loved watches and wanted my own brand,” says Honora chief executive officer Joel Schecter. “But one that would blow everyone away with its quality and pricing.
    “Every jewelry brand that becomes a real brand has to do something in watches,” Schecter adds. “They’ve become a marquee item. They’re fashion items, too, bringing younger customers into stores.” A watch brand also strengthens and widens a jewelry company’s market and consumer recognition, he notes.
    The styling of Honora watches is what Schecter calls “Swatch meets the jewelry industry—a fun fashion watch.” The first ones this spring were oversized (42 mm), tying into the popularity of big watches. “We wanted to make a statement to the industry that gets us noticed,” says Schecter, noting that “consumers think there’s more value to a larger watch.” Upcoming styles include east-west watches for women, featuring large retro-style numbers and packaged with two leather bands.
    Honora’s watches retail for $125 to $195, have a three-year warranty, are water resistant to 100 feet, and feature various strap and mother-of-pearl dial colors. They use Swiss parts and are assembled in Thailand (to keep down prices) under tight quality controls. The primary retailers, Schecter says, are mainstream jewelers, and Honora is placing its new watches in its retailers’ existing Honora displays, rather than in their watch sections, to encourage add-on watch purchases.

  • The new Frederica women’s watch line is a collaboration between designer Frederica Calle, known for sophisticated silver jewelry, and the Behnam Jewelry Corp., the New York firm that makes and distributes Calle’s jewelry.
    “The Frederica name is well known in jewelry, and we know how to make fine jewelry and fine watches,” says Behnam Jewelry Corp. president Sam Behnam. “It’s a perfect combination of talent and design.”
    For Frederica, creating a watch line offered “the challenge of something different.” For Behnam, “We got to the point where the next step up is a watch line. That’s very important these days to a fine jewelry line. People who buy jewelry now often want a watch with the same design elements.”
    Like her jewelry, Calle’s timepieces combine sterling silver, gold, and gem accents in ancient and modern designs. Made in Hong Kong, they use Swiss quartz movements and retail for $400 to $700. Several new models will be added annually.
    Behnam is targeting high-end jewelers for Frederica watches but plans to broaden its U.S. market to high-end boutiques and some chain stores, and to go international.

  • S.A. Kitsinian, for decades a leading supplier of fine gold and platinum jewelry, has added a high-end Swiss watch brand called Alain Philippe. The five-year-old line, already sold in the Far East and Europe, was introduced here a year ago by Kitsinian, the exclusive U.S., Mexican, and Caribbean distributor.
    “We’ve noticed in recent years that more high-end stores we deal with were getting into diamond watch lines—and even multiple watch lines—as heavily as they were into gold and diamond jewelry, and I thought, ‘Here’s an opportunity.’ We didn’t want to miss it,” says Sarkis A. Kitsinian, president and chief executive officer of the Van Nuys, Calif., firm. The company began looking for a watch line and picked Alain Philippe, he says, for “its quality, styling, and superb workmanship.”
    The brand, based in Epalinges (near Lausanne), Switzerland, features gold and diamond watches in nine collections and various designs. The watches retail for $5,000 to $35,000. Since the brand’s U.S. debut last summer, “It’s been picking up momentum,” says Kitsinian. He notes that the watches also are opening new markets for the company with upscale retailers who didn’t carry Kitsinian jewelry or primarily carry fine watches. It’s going so well, he says, that the company is negotiating for an additional fine watch brand.
    Kitsinian is aiming for 100 doors nationally, including in the country’s 15 to 20 major metropolitan regions. It also plans to launch an ad campaign this year promoting the brand, which already has a high-profile supporter—women’s boxing champion Laila Ali, daughter of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, who has appeared in ads for the brand for Nativo Diamonds and Designs in New Jersey.

  • HNJ Inc., a major Hong Kong jewelry firm that counts U.S. retail chains and online and TV shopping networks among its clients, introduced its Joya watch here in 2003. After studying its market, the company “found a segment not highly developed: affordable, branded 14k watches with diamonds for women,” says JoAnn Connelly, a former Zale Corp. executive who is president of HNJ’s Dallas-based U.S. operations. So HNJ focused on creating “fashion-forward 14k watches of high quality, elegance, and style.”
    To support that initiative, HNJ, which already had a 70,000 sq. ft. jewelry-making facility in Panyu, China, added another 70,000 sq. ft. complex in 2002. The new facility uses state-of-the-art watchmaking technology, such as CAD-CAM and vacuum casting, to make Joya watches, while the bracelets are made in the jewelry complex.
    Joya watches retail for $395 to $1,995. There are more than 40 models in white or yellow 14k, or a combination of both (with hollow links to keep retail prices down). All use Swiss quartz movements, many have mother-of-pearl dials, and most are accented with diamonds. There are three collections—Classico (traditional with a fashion edge), Euro (European design trends), and Geo (contemporary geometric elements)—and plans for a fourth (sterling silver watches with gems).

  • Award-winning jewelry designer Chris Aire’s watches are a natural evolution of his work for celebrities, entertainers, and athletes. Aire, who created cutting-edge jewelry for leading U.S. jewelry manufacturers, started his own firm—2 Awesome International—in the mid-1990s in Los Angeles. His urban celebrity clients often asked him to recommend watches to wear or to customize theirs with diamonds and gems. Five years ago he asked himself, “Why don’t I come up with my own brand, instead?”
    He studied the watch business closely. Then, 18 months ago, he launched his Aire watch brand and first collection—and signature piece—called Aire Traveler, a 38-mm, five-time-zone watch (using five Swiss quartz movements) with patented convex-shaped square case. Available in steel, his trademarked 18k “Red Gold,” or platinum, it features colored dials and straps and comes with or without diamonds. Aire Traveler II, a smaller dual-time automatic, debuted in December.
    Traveler is the first in a series, all limited editions, says Aire. The watches retail for $3,950 to $500,000 (with most sales between $3,950 and $23,500). They’re produced in Saignelegier, Switzerland, with gem setting done in Geneva.
    This year, Aire is taking his timepieces and jewelry to a wider public and building a small network of high-end jewelers and upscale retailers (like Saks). Business isn’t limited to urban areas: “We’re also doing well in places like Austin, Texas,” he notes.
    A national marketing program begins in September, including a fashion show of his watches and jewelry for the press during New York City’s Fall Fashion week.

  • Aaron Shum Jewelry Ltd. (ASJL), an international jewelry manufacturer based in Hong Kong, is expanding its six-year-old Gemtique brand of European-designed floral gemstone jewelry with a new line of timekeepers.
    The stainless-steel fashion watches are assembled in Hong Kong using Swiss parts and movements. They feature genuine gemstones (including white, black, or brown diamonds), mother-of-pearl dials, and colored Italian leather straps. They come in three collections—rectangular, round, and oversized (43 mm by 37 mm)—and retail for $200 to $3,000 (for an all-diamond version). The round watches have interchangeable bezels—five featuring ornamental gemstones (garnet, citrine, blue topaz, peridot, and amethysts) and a sixth of titanium with inlaid stones, by Hong Kong designer Alan Yip.
    ASJL is now building a network of retailers, primarily jewelers, for its watches in the United States, the largest market for its Gemtique jewelry.
    Watches are not only “a necessary accessory to jewelry,” says Suzanne Lam, sale manager for Aaron Shum USA, but also a logical expansion of the name. “A brand name needs various items to build that name.”