Watch World

Jules Jürgensen Returns to Its Roots

The Jules Jürgensen watch brand, once found mainly in the cases of mass merchandisers, has become a timepiece exclusively for jewelers. To mark the change, the company has created an upmarket Swiss-made line named for its founder, restructured and expanded its Concept collections with watches priced up to $6,000, and widened its “Every-Wear” collection.

Most of this is the work of Franz T. Brunner, a U.S. watch industry veteran, who joined Jules Jürgensen three years ago. The firm’s former clientele was “a mixed bag, including catalog showrooms and mass merchandisers,” he says. Now, after a thorough review—and some consolidation among mass merchants—Brunner says the company is committed to working exclusively with jewelers. “We want to be known as the watch house for retail jewelers, offering timepieces in categories from A to Z.” (The lower-priced Helbros line, though, remains a mass-market staple.)

Spearheading the strategy is the company’s new signature line, the Urban Jürgensen Swiss 2000 Master Collection, named for the Swiss watchmaker who began the firm in 1740 (and whose son Jules expanded it internationally and renamed for himself). The line has a limited distribution, going to a select group of no more than a few hundred upmarket jewelers.

Each of the line’s five models is named for a classical musician. Retail prices range from $465 to $525. The timepieces are made of stainless steel with 23k micro overlay and sapphire crystals, and they’re water-resistant to 100 ft. Jules Jürgensen is supporting the line with co-op advertising and a stylish in-store display made of mahogany and leather. The watches come in a mahogany presentation case that can be used as a jewelry box.

The “Concept” Collection, first introduced in 1997, has been expanded to offer what Brunner calls “a complete watch merchandising program” for fine jewelers, with retail prices ranging from $450 to $6,000. It includes 10k and 14k Oro Italia watches, made with gold cases and bracelets from Italy and movement parts from Switzerland and assembled in Jules Jürgensen’s St. Croix factory; Couture and Ultra-Thin (less than 5 mm) timepieces, with leatherette gift boxes; the Concept America series; classically styled Montres des Poches pocket watches; and the new Concept Congratulations pocket watches for special occasions, including one style with a variety of optional engraved inserts.

The Every-Wear collection is for “the credit jeweler who needs a good watch with markup on which he can make a profit,” says Brunner. Retail prices range from $100 to $300 (four times keystone). The collection offers watches for all occasions, but the standout is its extensive gold- and rhodium-plated Diamond series. It includes 55 diamond bezel-set watches and 20 other styles with diamond pushings on the dials.

Jules Jürgensen has mailed a 32-page catalog to more than 30,000 U.S. retail jewelers and has signed on as a product sponsor for cable television’s Game Show Channel and several TV game shows, including Jeopardy and The Price Is Right, on which it recently gave away a $3,000 watch.

Jules Jürgensen Watches, 101 W. City Line Ave., Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004; (610) 667-3500, fax (610) 667-3522.

Hirsch-Speidel Will Emphasize Marketing

Hirsch-Speidel USA, the country’s biggest watchband supplier, is putting more emphasis on marketing and less on production as it becomes the sales and marketing arm in North and South America for its Austrian parent, the world’s largest maker of watchbands. The Providence, R.I., firm, best known for Twist-o-Flex expansion bands, also will become a product-development center for metal watchbands, say company officials.

While it will continue to make metal expansion bands (and metal identification bracelets), its production for the mass market will be reduced. Most of Hirsch-Speidel International’s watchbands are made in Europe, India, and China. The U.S. operation produces 20%.

The changes follow completion in late September of the sale of Speidel Inc. to Hirsch Armbänder GmbH of Klagenfurt, Austria, the largest-ever acquisition in the watchband sector. The purchase was announced in 1997, but Hirsch and former Speidel owner Textron Inc. spent two years in tough negotiations.

Though he wouldn’t disclose the final price, Hirsch owner Hermann Hirsch says, “We achieved substantial reduction in the original asking price and were able to finance the acquisition ourselves.” Merging with Speidel doubles the company’s annual revenues to $130 million. Now, says Hirsch, “The way is clear for vital restructuring measures.”

The international company has changed its name to Hirsch-Speidel, cut the staff of Hirsch-Speidel USA in half (from 420 to 220), and transferred Hirsch’s New Jersey sales and distribution center to East Providence, R.I. Robert Hirsch, the owner’s son, relocated from Hong Kong to serve as Hirsch-Speidel USA’s president. His immediate tasks are integrating U.S. operations, helping position the “Speidel” brand internationally, and strengthening sales and customer service.

Hirsch says changes include “a lot of product training for Hirsch-Speidel USA’s salespeople, so they can train people at the store level, and improving our order refill rate to ship 95% of orders in the continental U.S. within 48 hours.” Hirsch also is introducing Speidel into its existing markets in South America and Europe.

Hirsch-Speidel International sells 30 million metal, plastic, and leather bands annually. Of that number, 25% goes to the watch industry and the rest to 40,000 retail stores in 60 countries.

Wittnauer Signs Up FUBU, Adds Licensed Brands Division

Wittnauer International, a manufacturer and distributor of Swiss watches, has created a new subsidiary called Wittnauer Licensed Brands LP (WLP). “Over the last year, Wittnauer has experienced significant growth in its brands,” says Charles D. Watkins, president and chief operating officer of Wittnauer, based in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Wittnauer’s latest licensing agreement is with FUBU, a line of internationally distributed sportswear popularized by singers like LL Cool J, Mariah Carey, and Boyz II Men. Wittnauer will design FUBU watches and handle all domestic and foreign distribution. Cedric Fisher, an industry veteran, is brand manager for the new line.

The FUBU line, debuting this spring, includes dress, casual, and sport watches (the last using technology from Wittnauer’s TechnoMarine diving watches). Prices are $200 to $1,600 for the dress watches (including a diamond collection) and $130 to $500 for sport watches. Wittnauer’s Trieste brand, a popular product on the Internet, is also part of the new division.

Contact Wittnauer International at (914) 654-7200; fax (914) 654-7219.

GSI, Timex Sign Deal For Pocket Watches

Timex, the most widely sold watch in America, has licensed Golden State International (GSI) of Oakland, Calif., to manufacture a new collection of pocket and clip watches under its name as well as Timex brands Indiglo and Expedition.

The new Timex Pocket Watch collection includes Indiglo night-light technology, matching chain and clip attachments, water-resistant leather (for fobs and pouches), and scratch-resistant mineral crystals. It’s water-resistant to 30 meters. Retail deliveries begin this spring.

GSI is a 25-year-old designer, manufacturer, and distributor of watches worldwide, including several well-known brands. Contact GSI at 300 Market St., Oakland, CA 94607; (510) 893-6789.

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