Fossil Enters Swiss Watch Business

Fossil Inc., a popular fashion watch sold in 80 countries, expanded into the Swiss watch market with the October acquisition of the Zodiac trademark. Fossil purchased the mid-priced Swiss brand, known for its Sea Wolf and Astrographic watches, from Genender International Inc. The transaction covers the worldwide rights to use the Zodiac name.

In a separate deal in November, Fossil also acquired three Swiss companies—Montres Antima SA, Meliga Habillement Horloger SA, and Synergies Horlogeres SA. Antima designs, sources, and assembles watches under its own and private-label brands. Meliga is a component-sourcing group offering watchbands, cases, and other components to Swiss watchmakers. Synergies designs and develops watch prototypes for companies worldwide. The three give Fossil the design, sourcing, and production capabilities needed to make and market Swiss-made watches, including Zodiac, says Fossil. The Swiss watch business will operate separately from the core Fossil brand business, say officials.

The purchase price of the three Swiss companies and Zodiac is $7 million, says Fossil. The acquisitions, says the company, represent “the first phase” of its new Swiss strategy.

The Zodiac name and its 120-year history will enable Fossil to “compete in the next [higher] watch market,” says Randy S. Kercho, Fossil executive vice president. “The brand name itself has some recognition worldwide and also works well in other languages,” he adds.

Under Fossil, the Zodiac brand will target luxury and jewelry store channels and continue to retail in the mid-$200 to $750 price range, Kercho says. However, there will be “some wholesale changes in product and a different direction” in marketing. Those will be unveiled this spring at the international watch and jewelry show in Basel, Switzerland (April 4-11).

Genender International Inc., based in Wheeling, Ill., purchased Zodiac in May 1999. At the Basel 2001 watch and jewelry fair in March, it launched its redesigned Zodiac collections. “Zodiac was a dream come true for us, but it arrived at an inopportune time,” says Kenneth J. Genender, chief executive officer of GII. “Given the economic landscape, it made sense for us to sell Zodiac and reap the considerable value that we have created in the brand.”

Fossil Inc., headquartered in Richardson, Texas, is best known for its contemporary and fashion Fossil watches, including its new line of Philippe Starck timepieces. It produces more than 300 watch styles under the Fossil and Relic names as well as accessory items, such as small leather goods (wallets, handbags, belts, key chains, and backpacks) and sunglasses.