Watch Watch

SIHH Loses Muller, But Gains 3 Brands

In 1991, when the Vendôme Group of high-end watch companies led an ambitious exodus from the Basel Fair to launch the Salon de la Haute Horlogerie (SIHH) in Geneva, it was a wild idea. Some called it outrageous. Today, it has become a necessary stop for luxury retail jewelers.

SIHH, which has endured its status as “the other Switzerland show,” enters its eighth year with another speed bump to overcome, the loss of prestigious brand Franck Muller – the only non-Vendôme company in the show – as an exhibitor. But it has a wild card. Three of the world’s most respected watchmaking houses – Gerald Genta, Daniel Roth and Parmigiani Fleurier – have signed on to exhibit for the first time. None is a Vendôme member. The word is that other luxury brands are interested – and they are welcome.

SIHH’s growing pains are not surprising for such a young show. Despite a few obstacles along the way – past exhibit space constraints among them – the show is growing. However, while it evolved into a must-see event, skeptics still criticize the fair’s lack of exhibitors from outside the Vendôme Group. The Group is the parent of Cartier, Vacheron Constantin, Piaget, Baume & Mercier, Dunhill, Montblanc and Yves Saint Laurent.

The show reportedly has a commitment with its Palexpo location through the year 2010.

“We feel very bullish about SIHH this year,” says Simon Critchell, president/CEO of Vendôme Luxury Group North America, who, at press time, would only name Parmigiani Fleurier as a new exhibitor. “Franck Muller decided to leave. It was never any wish or desire to withhold his ability to participate at the show.”

Franck Muller, a Geneva watch manufacturer, withdrew from the fair after a change in the show’s bylaws. According to one source, the new statutes called for a significant monetary contribution from participating exhibitors to help foot the luxurious show’s expensive tab and for the SIHH executive committee to consist only of member watch companies which have been in business for at least a decade. The statute’s latter stipulation eliminated Franck Muller’s, Montblanc’s and Dunhill’s representation on that committee, according to the source.

“The changes made to the statutes of the SIHH are contrary to the philosophy of mechanical watchmaking and therefore not acceptable to a watchmaker,” says Franck Muller, the company’s head. “These statutes back luxury watchmaking [mostly quartz movements] to the detriment of fine watchmaking [haute horlogerie], in which mechanical movements are used.

“The fact that the statutes were modified means that, from now on, the fair is oriented toward the luxury watch market. I think it should be open to all brand names, be they luxury or fine watches, but I am definitely against mixing the two terms.”

Franck Muller was a unique drawing card for SIHH. The company will exhibit instead at the nearby factory/chateau in Genthod, on the edge of Geneva.

Daniel Roth, Gerald Genta and Parmigiani Fleurier should be more than enough to soften the blow of Franck Muller’s departure. These brands are preparing for a U.S. push, after naming new distributors. SIHH is their first wave.

Joseph Abboud, E. Gluck Launch Designer Watches

Everybody has his or her own lifestyle. And designers continuously strive to create new watch brands to meet every one of them. The latest designer seeking to fill this niche of the watch market is Joseph Abboud.

A watch collector himself, famed menswear designer Abboud has a firm grasp on creating watches for individual lifestyles. Like his clothing collection, Joseph Abboud Timepieces, a new division of E. Gluck Corp., is designed to meet the needs of multifaceted men. At $125 to $350, the price points are surprisingly affordable, given the upscale look of the collection. Abboud, whose suits average about $800, says he is price conscious. He wants to give a variety of consumers a chance to own his creations.

Dress, active, modern, classic and art deco are among the styles represented in this watch line. All feature signature Joseph Abboud details – a subtle logo, a subdued color palette and herringbone texture on the dials, leather bands and bracelets.

“Herringbone is an important signature for our apparel,” says Abboud, who injected elements usually reserved for higher-end watches into his line. “We’re not going to plagiarize or duplicate what people think watches should be. We want a line with real integrity.”

The line also showcases unique styling including vintage looks, tonneau case shapes, coin-edged bezels, rose gold tones and deep blue hands and numerals. All straps are genuine leather, while cases and bracelets are solid stainless steel. Bracelet and strap models feature deployant buckles – except the chronograph, which has a butterfly closure.

Joseph Abboud Timepieces fits E. Gluck Corp. like a glove. The male line will complement E. Gluck’s Anne Klein fashion watches for women and increase its access to the male consumer. The collection is slated to hit fine specialty and department stores by Father’s Day.

Genender Buying Zodiac watch

Genender International, the Chicago-based company that’s swept up fashion watch brand licenses like a vacuum in recent months, scooped up a Swiss brand by purchasing Zodiac Watch Co.

Genender already has licenses for the B.U.M. Equipment, Levis, Silver Tab, Dr. Marten’s, Perry Ellis, Smith & Wesson and Dockers watches (see February JCK, page 60). This time it eschewed licensing and purchased the Zodiac brand outright – for an estimated 1.5 million Swiss francs. It becomes one of the few American owners of a Swiss watch brand.

Genender may have rescued Zodiac; rumor was that the firm had gone bankrupt. Wittnauer International distributed Zodiac watches in the U.S. until recently. But sales reportedly were hurt by late shipments from Switzerland and the absence of a good stock balancing program. Wittnauer could do little, says one source, as retailers pleaded for new models and better sellers to replace those which didn’t sell. Wittnauer International’s new management decided to devote its main attention to developing the Wittnauer watch brand, its flagship product. And now Zodiac itself gets a new lease on life.

Hirsch-Speidel Consolidate

The January merger of Hermann Hirsch USA (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hirsch Armbänder of Austria) and Speidel Textron joined two companies which were nearly the same size. Each had about $65 million in annual sales and employed about 500 people. Now the merged company projects 1998 sales of $140 million, with a staff of 1,300. The new brand will promote design, manufacturing and marketing on a global basis.

The new executive lineup sees Hermann Hirsch as chairman of Hirsch Armbänder; William Jahnke as president and CEO; and Michael Oberman as vice president of marketing and sales. Speidel’s location in Providence will serve as Hirsch Speidel’s U.S. headquarters.

Jahnke says the process began two years ago during a dinner he had with Hirsch in Basel, Switzerland. The leftover from that big meal was a mega merger. Hirsch Speidel offers what it calls a “bracelet culture.” It produces 100,000-200,000 watch bracelets per week for a wide range of destinations, including watch manufacturers and all levels of retail, from guild to mass merchandisers.

Hirsch Speidel makes and distributes three main lines of leather and metal watch bracelets: Hirsch Artisanal at $300 retail; Hirsch from $20-$100; and Speidel from $10-$60. Hirsch Armbänder has been a supplier to watch houses such as the Vendôme Luxury Group and SMH. It has produced more than 80 million bracelets for Swatch alone.

Speidel owns a large part of the metal bracelet market, including expansion bracelets which make up 80% of the metal bracelet business in the United States, says Hirsch.

“We will launch two brands internationally,” Hirsch says. “We want to have the top jewelers with Hirsch and we will have the department stores and mass merchandisers served with Speidel. Some stores [carry] Rolex down to Timex, so it is not an easy task. Certainly we will have a specific overlap. We have the leather competence, the metal competence and the synthetic competence.”

IWC Reorganizes

IWC recently reorganized its North American subsidiary, Swiss Prestige, to boost the brand’s market activity and awareness in the U.S. and Canada.

Alfred Castorina, formerly responsible for sales, has left the company. Marcia Mazzocchi, who handled West Coast sales, temporarily takes charge of the U.S. market. She will be assisted from Switzerland by her brother, Marc Bernhardt, who is director of new business development. Also from Switzerland, Hannes Pantli will direct advertising and public relations for all markets.

The reorganization is directed by Michael P. Sarp, chairman of IWC AG, who came on board in January 1997. IWC sales grew 15% in 1997, due partially to the success of the DaVinci SL watch line.

IWC will reposition the overall DaVinci line this fall. A more aggressive ad campaign and web site are scheduled to launch in April. A new technically-oriented pilot watch series and a GST (Gold, Silver and Titanium) Sports line will debut in June.

IWC has a five-year plan to increase its business 50% and its worldwide production from 32,000 to 45,000 watches. Its U.S. sales grew 30% in 1997.

Robergé Crosses Shores to Hit Upscale U.S. Doors

If you’re a luxury retailer searching for a bright face for the showcase, check out Robergé, an upscale Swiss watch line set to launch in the U.S. this spring. Distributed by Chicago-based Eco Watch Co., this distinctive new line retails for $5,000 and up.

“We’re looking for upscale retailers who may carry watch brands like Patek Philippe and Breguet,” says Jerry Tepper of Grigoros, the Toronto-based North American headquarters for Robergé. “We offer something exclusive for people who want a watch their neighbor doesn’t have.”

Robergé has been in the jewelry business for years, says Tepper, but only recently got into watches. Most are mechanical timepieces with an elegant oval case and large push buttons. A collection of round-cased watches is also available.

Changes at Seiko

Larry Sussberg, senior vice president in charge of sales, resigned Feb. 2 from Seiko Corp. of America. Rick Birnbaum, vice president of field relations, assumes responsibility for the sales division. He reports to corporation president Takashi Wakuyama.

Bill Saunders, vice president/director for chain relations, will assist Birnbaum in overseeing field sales. Sue Rechner continues as director of national accounts and Bradford Johnson remains director of special markets.

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