Watch Watch

With its domed crystal, rounded case and patent-pending form-fitted bracelet, the new Kirium continues TAG Heuer’s look toward contemporary design melded with sports-oriented marketing and technical foundations.

It also marks TAG Heuer’s first new group of watches since 1992 and the largest international public relations campaign in the company’s 137-year history. Not including any advertising costs, the promotion is a multimillion-dollar effort.

The Kirium collection features cases and bracelets made of polished or brushed steel, or a combination of both, available in three sizes and seven colors. Included is one automatic chronometer. Retail prices range from $1,200 to $1,300.

The bracelet is a primary feature, with smooth links integrated by a system of pins designed to keep the links apart and eliminate pinching. As with all TAG Heuer watches, the six primary technical specifications of the Kirium collection are water resistance to 660 feet, unidirectional bezel, screw-in crown, luminous markers, sapphire crystal and double security clasp.

PUTTING ON THE RITTS

To launch Kirium, TAG Heuer hired celebrity photographer Herb Ritts to photograph 13 internationally renowned athletes for an exhibit of nude photos to be shown in 40 cities worldwide. Included are U.S. Olympic medalists Amy Van Dyken and Dan O’Brien, German tennis star Boris Becker, Japanese soccer player Kazu, French sprinter Marie-Jose Perec and Ukrainian gymnast Vitali Scherbo. The black-and-white photographs focus on the strong lines and defined form of the athletic body, mirroring the attention to clean lines and form in the design of the Kirium collection.

None of these photos includes a watch. But each of the athletes who participated received a Kirium watch, and each wears it on and off the field, says Susan Nicholas, vice president and general director of TAG Heuer USA. Adds Christian Viros, chief executive of TAG Heuer SA, “Our partnership with Herb Ritts and these strong athletes is the ideal setting for the brand to discuss the strength and beauty of this new timepiece while reinforcing our rich sports heritage.”

The photographs will be displayed Sept. 18-21 as part of the company’s annual Chelsea Artwalk in New York City and then travel to Los Angeles for an exhibit Oct. 7-11. For details, call the company at (201) 467-1890.

The new Kirium collection from TAG Heuer features a domed crystal and patent-pending steel bracelet. Pictured is the sole automatic in the collection, a certified chronometer. Also pictured is tennis champion Boris Becker wearing a Kirium he received at a photo shoot for an upcoming exhibition of work by celebrity photographer Herb Ritts. However, no watches (or clothes) are part of the Ritts exhibit.

CITIZEN LAUNCHES YVES SAINT LAURENT COLLECTION

While U.S. consumers are well-acquainted with Yves Saint Laurent through the company’s perfumes, shoes or clothing, one accessory not available in the U.S. with the YSL label has been the watch. Until now.

The Yves Saint Laurent watch collection, already licensed in Japan and Europe, has finally reached North America through the efforts of Citizen Watch Co. of America, Lyndhurst, N.J. The collection features 36 styles of men’s and women’s timepieces, ranging from bangles to chronographs, designed by Citizen and YSL for the North American consumer.

Mitchell Berlin, who handles the collection for Citizen, says the focus is on elegance and clean lines. With price points from $150 to $495 and with the YSL name, the collection is meant to move beyond the traditional fashion watch arena into fine watch territory. “They’ll be placed in the fine jewelry sections of stores,” says Berlin. The collection includes a group of sport watches (all steel, two-tone or all goldplated); square, round or rectangular faces; blue, green, mother-of-pearl, black or champagne dials in the bangle group; and a diamond-bezeled, goldplated dress watch at the top end.

Berlin says full-page print advertisements will appear this fall in 25 major magazines. Each ad will feature one of the watches, the YSL logo and a model sporting the brand’s clothing.

These bangles from the Yves Saint Laurent collection are available in five colors and two case shapes.

FACE UP

THE THINNEST AND THE SMALLEST

Chronometres Forgèt, Geneva, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with the Flying Star, a new watch with a Calibre 10 mechanical movement that is only 13.75mm in diameter. The movement – the smallest available – is placed in an 18k gold bezel with a translucent sapphire crystal case. The watch – the company’s first for women – is water-resistant even though the bezel and crystal are pressed into place without the use of glue or joints except at the stem. The winding system ensures a power reserve of 36 hours. Florence Forgèt, 2 Rue du Rhone, CH-1204 Geneva, Switzerland; (41-22) 312-4315.

Meanwhile, Concord, from the Movado Group, Lyndhurst, N.J., has issued a limited-edition Delirium to commemorate the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. The Delirium is in the record books as the thinnest watch, measuring a mere 0.98mm. Only 97 of the watches have been made, each numbered and cased in platinum with a transparent case back and certificate of authenticity. The Chinese dragon and the British Lion are engraved on the back of each one.

TUDOR INTO THE WOODS

There are exactly 781 official Rolex dealers in the U.S., but it was Liljenquist & Beckstead Jewelers, McLean, Va., that was the first into the Woods – Tiger Woods. In early June, a few days before the start of U.S. Open golf championships in nearby Bethesda, Md., the store received the nation’s first shipment of new Rolex Tudor chronographs that bear the name of golf superstar Tiger Woods.

“We’ve received hundreds of calls about it,” says Tom Easton, assistant store manager. Many calls were likely prompted by ads placed in the Washington Post about the store’s Tiger exclusive (the store was chosen because of its proximity to this year’s U.S. Open site).

For many Rolex retailers, the signing of Woods (for up to $7 million, according to Brandweek magazine) marked new excitement for the Tudor line. Easton says his store hadn’t carried the Tudor line in recent years because it didn’t carry the prestige of higher-end Rolex lines. But that appears to be changing as Tudor reaches out to younger buyers, not to mention golf enthusiasts, with its all-chronograph lineup in a variety of colors. It retails for about $2,000.

Last month, Tudor TV commercials and print ads featuring Woods appeared nationwide as the remaining retailers who opt to carry the line receive their shipments. Judging by the initial reaction, few of the retailers are going to miss a chance to “tee up” the Tudor.

SWISS ARMY BRANDS SIGNS TO PRODUCE ST. JOHN WATCH

Two firsts for the company include a licensed brand and aviation watches Swiss Army Brands, Shelton, Conn., is developing a watch for St. John Knits Inc., a women’s knitwear manufacturer and retailer based in Irvine, Cal. It’s the first licensed brand for Swiss Army Brands and the first watch for St. John.

The women’s watches will debut in fall 1998 in fine department stores, higher-end jewelry stores and all 17 St. John boutiques.

Swiss Army Brands also recently debuted a watch line inspired by fighter jets used by the Swiss Air Force. The Air Force Watch collection consists of five styles, including the company’s first group of automatics. The flagship is named for the McDonnell Douglas F/A 18 fighter jet, the lead aircraft of the Swiss Air Force. With this collection, the company extends its position as a marketer of authentic Swiss Armed Forces merchandise and enters the aviation-style watch market. Prices range from $500 to $2,000.

In other news, Swiss Army Brands has set aside past disagreements with Precise Imports, Orangeburg, N.Y., (which distributes Wenger Swiss Army products) to battle some other companies that sell inauthentic Swiss Army pocket knives. At the request of Swiss Army Brands and Wenger, the U.S. International Trade Commission started an investigation into unfair imports. The aim is to stop the import of allegedly counterfeit products into the U.S. The complaint names cutlery companies in the U.S., Singapore and China as violators.

This F/A 18 automatic watch is the top of the line of new Swiss Air Force watches debuted by Swiss Army Brands.

PATEK PHILIPPE, CARTIER DRAW HIGH BIDS IN HONG KONG

The interest in vintage wrist watches continues its high-priced pace with with a 1953 Patek Philippe in a starring role. The watch, a platinum perpetual calendar model, sold for $754,839 at an auction that Antiquorum held in Hong Kong June 9.

Antiquorum, based in Geneva, says that was the most ever paid at auction for a perpetual calendar wrist watch and the most ever paid for a complicated watch in Hong Kong.

The watch is the only platinum version of the 179 watches the company made in this series from 1952 to 1963 and was originally created for a Singapore architect.

This 1953 Patek Philippe, a platinum perpetual calendar watch, sold for a record-setting $754,839 in Hong Kong.

Russian Cosmonaut Lt. Col. Vladimir Dizherov (left) stands next to Carolyn Morley, a buyer for Bloomingdale’s, and Steven Holtzman, president of Chelsea Marketing & Sales. Behind them is a suit like the one Dizherov wore as commander of Soyuz 21 and during his four months aboard the Russian Mir space station. As in space, a Fortis watch is seen on the outside of the suit’s arm, where Dizherov and other cosmonauts placed them for ease of use during space walks. Fortis watches are distributed in the U.S. by Chelsea Marketing & Sales, San Diego.

GOVBERG’S EXPANDS NICHE WITH TRADE-INS

As an authorized dealer of more than 40 fine watch brands, Govberg Watches and Fine Jewelry in Philadelphia, Pa., has become well-known in its market. But until about a year ago, many in the area weren’t always aware the company’s two stores accepted trade-ins from customers wanting to upgrade to a new or used watch. They do now.

With recent advertising that has emphasized its inventory of preowned watches, sales increased 300% during the end of 1996 and into 1997. Preowned watches accounted for 15% of the overall sales last year at Govberg’s two locations. Now they account for 25% of watch sales, says John Shmerler, chief financial officer. Combined with sales of new watches, overall watch sales account for about 70% of the stores’ sales.

Clearly there was a void in the market, says Danny Govberg, whose grandfather, Albert, started the business in 1917. Though many fine timepiece retailers use trade-in allowances, including Tourneau, few had such a program in the Philadelphia market. So Govberg placed ads in national and local media touting the trade-in program. The company also emphasizes the program to a greater degree in its catalog, in direct mail programs and via a toll-free telephone service.

It’s no secret that watch collectors are always searching for that rare or unusual watch to show up in the used watch market. But collectors are only a small part of the growing market, say Shmerler and Govberg. “They may be looking for the complicated watches, but the everyday buyer is looking for a good value or possibly is interested in the Retro look that is strong today,” says Shmerler.

Every trade-in watch is cleaned and serviced, then resold with a one-year warranty. “Why not trade it in?” says Govberg. “What good does a fine Swiss watch do if it sits in the back of the dresser drawer?”

VENDOME BUYS ITALIAN COMPANY

The Vendome luxury group – parent of Cartier, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin and other luxury brands – has bought Panerai of Florence, Italy, formerly the official timepiece supplier to the Italian Navy. Panerai was demilitarized in 1993 after more than six decades of creating timekeeping instruments used in extreme conditions, often for divers and operators of submarines. Its products were kept secret until 1993, when it turned civilian and used the brand names Luminor and Mare Nostrum, according to the bulletin of the Association of Interprofessional de la Haute Hologerie.

MOVES & APPOINTMENTS

Gerald Piaget, who helped his father to create the Piaget watch company after World War II, recently died in Switzerland at age 79. His grandfather, also named Gerald, developed the company’s first watches in 1874, but it was the grandson who really developed the Piaget watch and jewelry company now headed by his son, Yves. Gerald Piaget was known to aim for thin, luxury, dress watches made primarily for women at a time when only a handful of companies made thin movements.

Horological Works, Greenwich, Conn., was named official U.S. and Canadian distributor and service agent of Swiss-made Daniel Roth watches. Daniel Roth, a master watchmaker who started his own company in 1989 after years at Breguet and Audemars Piguet, develops luxury handcrafted watches in Le Sentier, Switzerland. Horological Works also distributes Gerald Genta luxury watches. Call Horological Works at (201) 531-3276.

Greg Thumm, vice president of product development for Kenneth Cole Watches, has assumed the same position at Luger Swiss. Both companies are divisions of Geneva Watch Co., Long Island City, N.Y.

Lawrence A. Crider was appointed vice president of sales for all regions at Wittnauer International, New Rochelle, N.Y. He was previously with Southwestern Bell.