Watch Watch

Primetime Alive

On May 1, Rutherford, N.J.-based UTime Co. officially became Swiss Primetime Inc. The name change, announced by parent firm BHG Group, confirms a philosophy change at the company, which in the past year ended its relationship with three brands it had distributed in North America.

The new organization is owned by BHG Group in partnership with Charles R. Widmer and Hans Koller. Both of them have experience in luxury-brand management and product marketing.

The deal is similar to a management buyout, according to the company. Widmer serves as president and chief executive officer, while Koller is executive vice president and chief operating officer. Ronald Jackson and Jim Imhof, presidents of the Girard-Perregaux and Bertolucci brands, respectively, round out the management team.

“The name Swiss Primetime reflects a new direction and ownership for the company,” Widmer says. “Our name change underlines a new chapter and approach to business for us.”

The new direction means Swiss Primetime will market individual watch brands more aggressively as separate entities than did Utime. Girard-Perregaux and Bertolucci are now its anchor brands; Imhof says they signed a seven-year deal to remain with Swiss Primetime. The company also is introducing Daniel Jean Richard watches to the U.S. market and ending its distribution of Gevril and Chronoswiss watches.

The Daniel Jean Richard line features automatic movements and retails from $800 to $1,700. Jackson will run Daniel Jean Richard USA. The Sowind Group, headed by Luigi “Gino” Macaluso, owns both Girard-Perregaux and Daniel Jean Richard.

Chronoswiss and Swiss Primetime reached an amicable decision to part. Gerd R. Lang, head of Chronoswiss Switzerland, will keep the brand in the family; his daughter and son-in-law are taking over distribution of the brand, based in the New York City area. A transition is in progress.

Gevril, the only brand fully owned by the former UTime, was an ambitious launch in 1994. Now the fledgling brand is in limbo. A source close to the situation says some unidentified parties are interested in buying it outright, while others – including a major sports watch brand and a major retailer – are interested in buying Gevril’s patents. The source also tells JCK the market eventually may see Gevril under another name.

Will Swiss Primetime add more luxury watch brands to its portfolio? It’s likely. “We always go through the world with our eyes wide open,” says Widmer. “But the main priority for the time being is to give the brands we currently have the best support and service we possibly can.” Widmer says that commitment will benefit both retailers and consumers.

A focus on brands. The recent changes come on the heels of Breguet’s departure from UTime late last year. Widmer immediately called for a reorganization, to be completed by the Basel Fair. Mission accomplished.

Under Swiss Primetime, each brand will follow its own aggressive path, as Girard-Perregaux already did in recent years. “The brands are now the primary focus,” says Jackson, “and the back office is the support system and a secondary aspect.”

Girard-Perregaux’s business grew 50% last year, due mainly to an increased average sale, greater sales of complicated watches and popularity of its Ferrari watches. In Basel, the brand was to launch more Vintage 1945 product, as well as the “Lady F” and the “Lady Ferrari” for women.

Indeed, it seems both Girard-Perregaux and Bertolucci are getting in touch with their feminine sides this year. Bertolucci will move upscale to prices over $15,000 by selling more diamond and gem jewelry watches in the U.S. However, it won’t abandon its core business in stainless-steel and 18k gold watches.

BHG was to announce even more news in Basel; it could settle rumors that at least Girard-Perregaux will leave the Basel Fair for Geneva’s SIHH in 1999. (See “Watches at Basel” on page 134 for later details on developments at the Basel Fair.)

The BHG Group was founded in Basel in 1859 as Basler Handels-Gesellschaft AG. In 1921, it was taken over by a subsidiary, which later became UTC International AG Basel. The former UTime Co., based in the U.S., reported to UTime Co. Ltd in Europe, which in turn reported to the BHG Group.

Precise Timing

In late March, Precise International, distributor of Wenger and Revue Thommen, acquired the rights to distribute Mondaine watches in the United States. Mondaine, known for its Bauhaus styling and Swiss Railway watches, previously was distributed by Chelsea Marketing and Sales.

Precise International executives, who recently began servicing Mondaine accounts, say that taking over Mondaine opens wider distribution possibilities for the Orangeburg, N.Y.-based company. It also expects to distribute Mondaine’s future licensed watch brands, including Bally (named for a Swiss brand of shoes) and Jean Michel Cousteau (named for the son of the late seamaster, Jacques Cousteau).

Mondaine retails from about $125 to $500. Bally Swiss watches are slated to ship to the U.S. next year and retail from about $500. The Swiss-made Jean Michel Cousteau line of aquatic-inspired sports styles with fashion price points likely will launch this fall in the U.S. This line may target mass merchants.

The deal also allows Precise International to use Mondaine’s Bauhaus designer looks, which are popular in specific regional and metropolitan areas. Half of Mondaine’s U.S. distribution involves nontraditonal watch outlets, such as museums.

“Wherever there is a strong design community, Mondaine will sell well,” says Mark Eskridge, director of Precise International’s watch division. “In certain markets – like Atlanta, New York, Dallas, San Francisco and Seattle – where there are strong contemporary museums and museum shops, there is demand for this type of product.”

It’s Kaiser Time

Steven Kaiser, former president of Baume & Mercier USA, left the company on March 31 to form Kaiser Time Corp. The company will distribute exclusive luxury watch brands to a select group of retailers in North America.

Kaiser Time Corp. is a partnership between Kaiser and Stanley and Joel Schechter of Honora Industries, a fine jewelry company. Kaiser dedicated the company to the memory and principles of his father, Benjamin Kaiser, a jewelry industry legend. “He was a mentor and inspiration to the industry,” says Kaiser, “and the Kaiser Time Corp. will ensure the continuation of his vision and philosophy.”

Kaiser Time Corp. is founded on selective distribution. “Our company’s intention is to bring the watch business back to the retail jeweler,” says Kaiser, “whereby a store can carry unique and high-quality product that will distinguish it from its competitors, at a healthy profit margin. Additionally, we use customized and personalized service to ensure satisfaction at both the retail and consumer level.”

The first of those unique watch brands is out of the bag. Tired of selling women’s watches that are smaller versions of men’s watches? If so, Kaiser Time offers Delance, a Swiss-made, feminine, niche watch line created, designed and produced by women for women.

The brainchild of Giselle Rufer, Delance showcases a variety of upscale timepieces from steel to 18k gold with diamonds. Steel watches on straps retail from about $825 to $15,000. Known for their diamond-shaped cases, cabochons and interchangeable features, these watches are for upscale retailers that offer unique custom timepieces.

Expect more branded goods from Kaiser Time, which expects to become a multibrand distributor soon.

Daniel Mink Relaunches

Daniel Mink’s marketing hiatus is about to end. The 20-year-old Swiss watch brand has been occupied in recent years with strenuous product development, paying off debts and refinancing. Now it’s on the verge of a worldwide relaunch, with two new flagship watch collections and newfound marketing power, courtesy of its U.S. distributor, the Montreaux Group. The target: jewelry stores and better department stores.

Daniel Mink’s long-term goals are fewer stores, more marketing and retail support. Distribution will be more selective than in the past – not to exceed 100 stores in 1998.

More aggressive marketing includes Daniel Mink billboards, now popping up in large cities such as New York and Los Angeles. Ads will grace buses, phone kiosks and television programs like VH1’s “My Generation.” It is the exclusive watch sponsor of the popular program.

Daniel Mink hadn’t advertised to the consumer in about four years. Now it’s backed by a multimillion-dollar consumer and trade blitz. The ad budget has been increased about fivefold, says Mitchell Caplan, vice president of marketing. “We wanted to be quiet and concentrate on product development rather than sales,” he says. “Without substantial advertising in the U.S., it would have been a choppy effort. We want a full-blown effort.”

That effort includes a generous co-op program, as well as redesigns of the watch line itself, the packaging and displays.

The two new watch collections are called Intrinsic and Pentimento. The Intrinsic line features automatic movements, sapphire crystals on front and back, power reserve meters and date windows. It comes in steel with silver or black dial on a bracelet or genuine alligator strap; an 18k gold bezel is available. The Intrinsic Collection retails from $1,395 to $2,095.

Pentimento, inspired by Daniel Mink’s tradition, derives its name from a painting technique. The line, which debuted at the recent Basel Fair, showcases sapphire crystals, engraved crowns and casebacks, and a crocodile strap, steel bracelet or 18k gold and steel bracelet. A women’s model is distinctive in 18k gold and steel with diamonds. Pentimento retails up to $2,995.

Daniel Mink also plans to relaunch its 1900 collection in 1999 – just in time for the year 2000. The Montreaux Group is looking to acquire other watch brands in the future, according to Caplan.

Turnabout Is Fair Play

Switzerland’s watch fairs have enough spinoffs to rival the “Mary Tyler Moore Show.” First the Vendôme Luxury Group (VLG) bolted from the Basel Fair to launch its own show. Now Franck Muller has defected from the SIHH fair in Geneva.

The firm opted to present its own watch collections at its factory in Genthod. However, JCK learned that Franck Muller’s World Presentation of Haute Horlogerie (WPHH) in April meant more than the private introduction of timepieces – it was the launch of yet another watch fair.

Meanwhile, SIHH and Basel keep jockeying for position. Daniel Roth, Gerald Genta and Parmigiani Fleurier flocked to SIHH in 1998. Panerai – a VLG-owned, oversized sporty watch headed for the United States this year – also joined SIHH. Word on the street has it that Girard-Perregaux, Audemars Piguet and Breguet will join SIHH in 1999. There may be others. However, Basel still has a long waiting list of watch brands clawing to get in.

One source says that if the start-up WPHH attracts interest, Franck Muller plans to invite other luxury watch brands that promote haute horlogerie (fine watchmaking in which mechanical movements are used). Although SIHH has promoted haute horlogerie for years, Franck Muller disputed its commitment to the sector – a primary reason for that latter’s departure. However, show space, investment and competition make it difficult to launch a new show.

This year’s WPHH included Franck Muller, Karbon and Versace. These two affiliated brands – developed and made by the Franck Muller company – had their worldwide debut at WPHH. (The Versace line actually was redesigned and relaunched.) If the show grows legs, it will include non-Franck Muller-affiliated exhibitors as well. Future shows likely would be held at the Franck Muller factory and the future Karbon factory, now under construction.

Movado and Linden Sign a Pact

The Movado Group recently granted Linden Clock’s parent company, Park Lane Associates, a five-year license to develop and produce Movado brand clocks. The agreement gives Park Lane exclusive rights to manufacture Movado travel, table, desk and mantle clock styles in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The agreement is part of Movado Group’s strategic plan to leverage its name into new product offerings, according to its president, Efraim Grinberg. The Movado Group is in the midst of a brand extension campaign, with new Movado store openings and new products, including personal and desk accessories, jewelry and clocks (see “Movado: The New Jeweler,” page 328).

Movado and Linden will work jointly on product development, advertising and distribution to maximize the clock line’s sales performance. Each clock design is original and custom-made for Movado stores. The clocks retail from $40 to $495 and make their debut this fall.