Focus

A well-known design name is reentering the U.S. watch market, thanks to SWI Group, an energetic watch supplier targeting retail jewelers that’s led by three brothers. How energetic? In the past 18 months, Swiss Watch International has introduced four upscale brands—Swiss-made or with Swiss parts—and may add a fifth sometime this year.

SWI was started in 1995 by Eli Ben-Shmuel, who came to the United States a quarter century ago. He’s the former owner of Big Ben Corp., which he sold to Jan Bell Marketing in 1990, and is now chairman emeritus of SWI, which is run by his sons Izac, 33, and Lior, 30, co–chief executives of the company, and Shlomi, 27. Under their lead, SWI has been named to Inc. magazine’s list of the fastest-growing privately held companies several times since 2001. It also has been cited by the South Florida Business Journal and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

The company is headquartered in Hollywood, Fla., and has six watchmakers on site to support and service the brands it distributes.

Initially, SWI was a wholesale watch distributor for “all kinds of name brands,” says Izac Ben-Shmuel. More recently, it has focused on developing and launching its own watches and selectively chosen licensed ones. They include the SWI and Swiss Legend brands (which the company designs and manufactures), and the upscale European brands of Jacques Lemans Geneve and Givenchy Timepieces.

  • The Swiss-made SWI collection ($2,000–$13,000) features only limited editions and is targeted at high-end jewelers. SWI plans a network of only 50 to 100 jewelers.

  • Swiss Legend ($150–$500), launched in 2004, uses Swiss movements and is assembled in China.

  • Jacques Lemans Geneve ($795–$3,000) is an elegant Swiss-made line, and some models have complications. It’s been sold primarily on ShopNBC. However, a separate line “for brick-and-mortar retailers” will probably be launched this year, says Izac Ben-Shmuel.

  • Givenchy Timepieces ($150 and $595) is the new watch line of the French fashion house of the same name and the one getting most of SWI’s attention this year. “We’ll be in dozens of national consumer magazines and are talking to other Givenchy products to combine efforts for synergy [in promotions],” says Izac Ben-Shmuel.

The House of Givenchy debuted its first watch collection—one of the first designer watches—in 1983. In recent years, Givenchy has relaunched itself as a hipper, more sophisticated label. With that renewal has come rebirth of its watches with more upscale styling, which Izac Ben-Shmuel calls “Gucci-like, but not a look-alike.” There are eight Swiss-made collections that cater to men and women, including the Biker, Parabolic, and Koleos lines. All are water resistant to 100 feet, use mineral crystals, are available in stainless steel or gold plating, and carry a two-year warranty.

Givenchy Timepieces will officially launch at The JCK Show ~ Las Vegas 2005 in June. And that isn’t the end of SWI’s watch plans for this year. “We’re talking to a very old Swiss company” about distributing it in the United States, too, says Izac Ben-Shmuel.