Watch

KENNETH COLE BAND EXPANDS HOT MESH STYLE

Watchmakers and retailers have hailed the resurgence of the expansion band as a major link to surging sales among fashion watch brands. The expansion bands were popularized from the 1940s through the 1970s by Speidel, Kreisler, Timex and a host of smaller companies that today are only a memory. Equally in demand are watch bands made of steel mesh, also now being reintroduced by a variety of largely fashion-oriented watch brands.

Now comes a band that combines the two features: a mesh expansion band. Like the expansion band, it’s not new, just rediscovered, according to the makers of the just-launched Kenneth Cole watch line.

Gregory Thumm (pronounced toom), a certified master watchmaker, designer and collector, came up with the idea when he found an old mesh expansion band in his collection as he was developing the Kenneth Cole line for Geneva Watch Co. Inc. Geneva Watch is a division of Fada Industries in Long Island City, N.Y., where Thumm is vice president of merchandising/ product development.

Mesh expansion bands were especially popular in the U.S. during the 1950s and 1960s says Thumm. (For competitive reasons, Thumm and Charles Kriete, executive vice president of Geneva Watch, are keeping the name of the original producer of the mesh expansion bands under wraps until the new watches are shipped next month.) Fashioned in stainless steel for a high expansion strength, the bands typically were sold to replace worn bracelets or straps. Available primarily in steel, the bands sometimes were plated with gold or other material.

After the original producer of the mesh expansion bands went out of business, no other company picked up on the design. “I think they were too European for the U.S. market, which at that time was not as design-oriented as it is now,” says Thumm. Lower-priced imports picked up much of the strictly expansion bands business (though several companies, notably Speidel and Kriesler, continued to make them in the U.S.), and mesh went largely out of style.

Thumm picked up the mesh expansion band for his collection more than 15 years ago while attending an estate sale near Lancaster, Pa., which had become a watchmaker’s mecca after World War II. He stored the band away in his basement, and then recalled it when he started to design the Kenneth Cole line. The new brand called for a cosmopolitan look with casual flair, a look that fit a mesh expansion band nicely. But he had trouble locating a manufacturer. “Nobody was using them,” he says. Eventually, he did find a manufacturer (whose name and location he won’t divulge) that could make the bands for him.

About 30% of the 75 styles in the new Kenneth Cole line feature mesh expansion bands. An additional third of the watches in the line have solid steel bracelets with brushed and polished finishes. The remainder have neoprene rubber or leather straps. Nearly all of the cases are solid stainless steel with a brushed finish; several alternate brushed and polished looks. Face colors are primarily black, white and silver, though cobalt blue, dark tan and rose are available. Deployant buckles adorn many models, and a women’s line features steel chain bracelets linked with a unique adjustable clasp. Retail prices start at $60, with most models selling for about $85, says Thumm.

Leather-fobbed pocket watches will retail for about $75, and several chronographs are priced at $150.

As for the current popularity of mesh bands, Thumm is philosophical. “This company was apparently 30 years ahead of its time,” he says. “But I always say that all watches have been made before, and it’s just a matter of redefining the technology and style for the next new look.”

JIC TEES UP AKTEO FOR “TODAY” EXPOSURE

When NBC’s Bryant Gumbel showed Akteo’s “Golf” watch to more than 11 million viewers of the Today show in October, Raphael Cohen grinned from ear to ear. Cohen, who is president Akteo’s U.S. distributor, Universal Watch Corp., Framingham, Mass., said he immediately received telephone calls from Akteo retailers coast to coast, each quite pleased at the exposure of the line.

“For us it’s an endorsement,” he said. “And Bryant Gumbel is a big golfer and he said he liked the watch.” The Today segment showcased golf accessories that were expected to be hot seller during the holidays.

While no company telephone numbers or addresses were used on the Today show segment, Cohen said he received tens of thousands of dollars of publicity thanks to the assistance of the Jewelry Information Center (JIC), New York, which set up Akteo’s appearance.

Cohen said that in addition to the golf watch, four other Akteo watches atop a table appeared briefly during the segment. However brief, the appearance was a common topic of conversation among consumers who stopped by the Akteo boutique in the Atrium at Chestnut Hill Mall, Newton, Mass. The new boutique, the first in the U.S. for the France-based firm, shows 800 watches in 200 styles, each designed by watchmaker and artist J.C. Mareschal.

The Today show’s spotlight on golf items also reinforced what Cohen has noted: golf is a hot topic. His golf watch has been among the firm’s top sellers for the past several years. Even before its spotlight on NBC’s “Today” show, Akteo’s golf watch, which retails for $120, has been the firm’s single best seller for several years.

FERRARIS: FAST ON THE ROAD & THE WRIST

Swiss luxury watch maker Girard-Perregaux launched its limited edition Ferrari F50 chronograph in the U.S. at a high rate of speed during a racing demonstration in Bridgehampton, N.Y., in October. Two of only 349 Ferrari F50 Formula One cars made for road use joined other Ferraris during a 15-minute parade to London Jewelers in East Hampton, where the watch was unveiled.

Once at London Jewelers, owner Mark Udell hosted Girard-Perregaux owner and President (and former European Formula Car champion driver) Luigi Macaluso, Giam Luigi Buitoni, president, Ferrari N.A., and Girard-Perregaux’s U.S. Brand President Ronald Jackson at the debut party.

The F50 watch is made to accompany each of the Ferrari F50 owners. Only 55 are made for U.S. distribution: 349 for sale globally. Ferrari car owners are first offered the watches. Any not sold to owners by the end of this month will go to local Girard-Perregaux retailers. The remaining watches, plus an additional 250 versions with different case engravings, are to be sold by Girard-Perregaux retailers.

The two firms created a full Ferrari watch line in 1994. It sped to become among the watch firm’s fastest selling lines. The premise is the linking of two companies that create all their own components, are historically well-known for craftsmanship and each of which creates products with both emotional and technical appeal, according to both Jackson and Macaluso.

“Everything has been conceived, designed and produced by the Girard-Perregaux manufactory in just the same way it is at Ferrari,” said Macaluso. At Ferrari, the F50 “Supercar”celebrates the firm’s 50th anniversary.

The F50 chronograph is also a perpetual calendar that will show day of the week, month, moon phases and the date until 2099. It is available made of 18 karat pink, white or yellow gold, or titanium, and is presented in a red Chinese Lacquer finished case with winding mechanism. Two dial styles are available. Shown here is the classic white dial version. The second dial is black with red and white hands that are reminiscent of the dashboard of the Ferrari F50 dashboard.

PATEK PHILIPPE DEBUTS ADS, MAGAZINE

After interviewing scores of Patek Philippe watch owners, the advertising executives at Leagas Delaney in San Francisco and London discovered what they likely suspected: the owners derive deep satisfaction from wearing their watches and they feel the timepieces are precious objects that will last a lifetime and become heirlooms.

From the interviews came the Swiss luxury brand’s first new U.S. advertising campaign in ten years for the men’s watches and the first in at least four years featuring a ladies style.

The ads debuted last October and feature two versions: one with a man’s watch and one with a ladies’ style. They depict several generations of a family sharing a memorable moment. The copy refers to the tradition of passing a Patek Philippe watch to younger generations as a symbolic gesture. The ads are titled “Begin Your Own Tradition.”

“Typical watch campaigns feature a photo of a watch along with descriptive copy,” says Tim Delaney, creative director of Leagas Delaney. He adds he felt that given the product he calls “far from a typical watch” he had greater liberty to create a unique campaign. Though it wouldn’t specifiy total expenditure, Patek Phillippe’s ad spending for the final quarter of 1996 was the firm’s greatest in its U.S. history. Two additional ads will be used in the spring 1997 campaign. New magazine: In addition to the new ads, the firm has published its own full-color, 64-page magazine called Patek Philippe. The bi-annual publication will be sent to all Patek Philippe timepiece owners as well as to retailers to use for prospective owners. It is being produced in five languages at a cost of about $1 million per issue.

Featured writers for the first issue include Nobel Prize winning poet Octavio Paz; John Harding, a leading authority on Samurai swords and a consultant to Christie’s; and former professional ballet dancer Jeffery Taylor who is currently a dance critic and writer.

Articles in the premier edition include a story about the lost city of Angkor, Cambodia, a look into director Francis Ford Coppola’s private retreat in Belize and a cover story featuring hatmaker Philip Treacy.

While most pieces are of general interest, several articles are notable for coverage of horological topics. A fully illustrated look into the movement of the new Patek Philippe annual calendar watch, which received its Swiss patent last March, reveals technical details previously not seen by many outside the firm. In addition, Philippe Stern, president of Patek Philippe, opens to readers several notable pieces in his collection of timepieces made from the early 17th Century to 1839, when his firm was founded.

KASPAROV MOVES TO PROMOTE AUDEMARS

Chess champion Garry Kasparov has signed up with Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet as the firm kicks off its 25th Anniversary celebration of the debut of its flagship Royal Oak watch. Though chess masters are not typically used to represent major brands, the 33-year-old Kasparov is an excellent choice, according to Larry Geisler, managing director of the brand in North America.

“He’s been a proud wearer of our watch for the past ten years, so he’s extremely comfortable acting as our spokesperson,” said Geisler. Kasparov is also suited well for the Royal Oak precisely because his name and stature is well known among a consumer audience also targeted by Audemars Piguet.

Kasparov has served as the reigning champion of world chess for 12 years since he defeated Anatoly Karpov in 1985 in Moscow. His dozen years as champ have established a new record for length of tenure of the World Chess Champion title. In 1997, he will appear in advertising for the Royal Oak and will wear the watch during his much-publicized matches with an IBM computer.

Audemars Piguet also utilizes British pro golfer Nick Faldo to promote the brand.

MOVADO HISTORY NOW PUBLISHED

The English edition of “The Movado History” finally arrived in bookstores during the fall after a debut that coincided with the spectacular launch of the firm’sVizio watch during last year’s Basel fair. Written by Fritz von Osterhausen with generous assistance by Movado’s Vice President of Technical and After Sales Services Bernhard Stoeber, the lushy illustrated, coffee-table sized book is a detailed historical document that traces Movado from its founding as the L.A. & I. Ditesheim family workshop in 1881 in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland.

Inside the book, detailed chapters cover the classic Movado Polyplan, the very popular and emulated Ermeto, its World War I Military watches, the Art watches and its signature Museum watch. Complete Movado numbering and reference sytems are detailed. In addition, every movement numbered four through 900 is illustrated, chronometer trial results from the Neuchatel Observatory are included as are descriptions of all Swiss patents awarded to the firm. The book, published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pa., is available at at major book stores nationwide.

IN YOUR TOWN SOON

As new watch brands continue to enter the market from all directions, it can be difficult to keep track of which watches to watch. Here is a rundown of new brands, new imports or new styles being readied for your showcase:

  • Longines is the second division of SMH to create a line of watches utilizing its Autoquartz movement, which debuted with Tissot last April. On Feb. 1, Longines will begin distribution of its Armpower High Precision (AHP) watches, according to new Longines U.S. President Michael Benavente. It will be added to the sporty Conquest line and will be priced at retail between $1,000 and $1,500, just above Tissot’s PR 100 (see JCK July 1996, p. 24). The SMH movement used in both watches uses automatic watch technology to charge a permanent battery powering a quartz timekeeper. The Conquest AHP is SMH’s second volley in the battery-free quartz watch arena which Seiko created with its Kinetic watches several years ago.

  • Swiss watch firm Michel Jordi is launching its U.S. business this year. The cows on the faces and the flowers on the bands that are part of the brand’s eclectic “ethno” look in Europe are being transformed for the U.S. into a Western theme, and will be priced between $395 and $495. A September ’96 debut in Switzerland of the new theme was a big hit, according to U.S. representative David Marold, former UTime chief who is based in Dallas. This month he is opening in stores in Texas, to be followed this summer by stores primarily in the West. Marold can be reached at (972) 960-0076.

  • Frederique Constant, which manufactures what it calls “affordable luxury watches” at its base in Geneva, is newly available in the U.S. through distributor Constantine & Co., 61-17 68 Ave., Ridgewood, N.Y. 11385; (718)497-8519. The Swiss-made brand features primarily automatic timepieces, with classic looks for men and women at retail prices between $250 and $650.

  • Nobel Watch and Jewelry Corp. of New York City, which has been selling karat gold watches for years, recently debuted Paragon, its first full line of branded men’s and women’s steel-and-gold watches. Features include a model with an unusual wavy crystal that creates a glittering light effect without compromising sight of the dial. Models are made with steel and 22k goldplate and feature Swiss movements. Nobel Watch and Jewelry Corp., 307 7th Ave., Suite 1704, New York, N.Y. 10001, (212)243-5597, (800)NOBEL-95.

  • Sinn, the German-based maker of watches used by pilots, astronauts and civilians, has set up a U.S. office in New York City. The brand was purchased by former IWC engineer Lothar Schmidt in 1994 from pilot Helmut Sinn, and has since broadened its reach beyond Europe and Japan. Some of its work can already be seen in the U.S. as Bell & Ross, which Sinn manufactures but distributes separately. Former architect Boris Lietzow is heading up distribution to the U.S. from Germany and has already begun sales to select retailers in New York City, Los Angeles and several other cities. The Sinn’s in the U.S. are men’s automatics made of steel, titanium and 22k gold. Prices start with the steel model at about $2,400, up to the limited-edition gold chronograph with gold bracelet for $27,900 ($22,900 with crocodile band). All are registered chronometers and are sold with their certificates. A women’s titanium automatic is also available for $3,000. Contact FCI Chronometries at (212)226-0547.

CLEAN FACES, STEEL CASES TO LEAD TIME IN YEAR AHEAD

But women’s watches may jump-start mid-to-higher price categories.

By mid-fall, sales of watches at many retailers were just beginning to pick up after a flat summer. Several independent stores and chains reported strong October sales, followed by a slowdown just prior to election day. Sales then picked up after the election, as if often the case, and retailers remained hopeful that post-election inertia would only increase through the end of 1996 into the new year.

There were many signs that it would. Most major watch firms recorded higher-than-average sales during the summer and into fall. This would be buoyed by the record advertising expenditures planned by firms like Baume & Mercier, Cyma, Bulova, Patek Philippe, Seiko, Piaget, Movado, retailing giant Tourneau, and many others.

Retailers said they expected sales in 1997 to be strongest in these general categories:

  • Steel watches for both sport use and dress. Two-tone looks still predominate in most stores, but many of last year’s all-steel introductions are coming on strong and may take over the dressy/sport look this year.

  • Titanium watches are gaining momentum as more styles are being seen in stores.

  • Clean, almost classic faces with easy-to-read Roman or Arabic numerals on a white, black or silver dial.

  • Ladies sports watches, particularly at mid-to-higher prices. Said one retailer: “Ladies already seem to have their dress gold watches and are ready for a sports model.” New introductions spurred this category-in-waiting.

  • Despite above, dressy, 14 karat gold ladies watches are still hot, but primarily in lower to mid-price levels where lower-priced introductions gave this category a boost in 1996. Many of these styles sold best when accented with small diamonds.

Finally, a small number of watch retailers are stocking a wider range of automatics as consumers increasingly ask about the highly-advertised automatic brands. Sensing a return to the “intrinsic value” of a watch that never needs a battery, is often hand-crafted and with care can last a lifetime, retailers are reconsidering this under-represented category.

JIC TEES UP AKTEO FOR ‘TODAY’ EXPOSURE

When host Bryant Gumbel showed Akteo’s “Golf” watch to more than 11 million viewers of NBC’s “Today” show in October, Raphael Cohen grinned from ear to ear.

Cohen, president of Akteo’s U.S. distributor, Universal Watch Corp. in Framingham, Mass., said he immediately received telephone calls from Akteo retailers coast to coast, each quite pleased at the exposure. “For us it’s an endorsement,” he says. “Bryant Gumbel is a big golfer, and he said he liked the watch.”

The “Today” segment showcased golf accessories that were expected to be hot-sellers during the holidays. While no company telephone numbers or addresses were used on the “Today” show segment, Cohen said he received tens of thousands of dollars worth of free publicity. He offers special thanks to the Jewelry Information Center, New York City, which set up Akteo’s appearance. The segment also provided a brief look at four other Akteo watches.

The show was a common topic of conversation among consumers who stopped by the Akteo boutique in the Atrium at Chestnut Hill Mall, Newton, Mass. The new boutique, the first in the U.S. for the France-based company, shows 800 watches in 200 styles, each designed by watchmaker and artist J.C. Mareschal. The “Today” show’s spotlight on golf items also reinforced what Cohen has noted: golf is a hot topic. His golf watch has been among the company’s top sellers for the past several years.

FERRARIS

FAST ON THE ROAD & THE WRIST

Swiss luxury watch maker Girard-Perregaux launched its limited-edition Ferrari F50 chronograph in the U.S. at a high rate of speed during a racing demonstration in October in Bridgehampton, N.Y. Two of only 349 Ferrari F50 Formula One cars made for road use joined other Ferraris during a 15-minute parade to London Jewelers in East Hampton, where the watch was unveiled.

Only 55 of the 349 F50 watches being made are designated for U.S. distribution. Owners of Ferrari F50s get first chance to buy the watches. Any remaining at the end of this month, plus an additional 250 versions with different case engravings, are to be sold by Girard-Perregaux retailers.

The F50 chronograph is also a perpetual calendar that will show day of the week, month, moon phases and the date until 2099. It is available in 18 karat pink, white or yellow gold or in titanium and is presented in a red Chinese lacquer case with winding mechanism. Two dial styles are available. Dials are white or black with red and white hands reminiscent of the dashboard of the Ferrari F50.

Chess champion Garry Kasparov will help Audemars Piguet to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the company’s flagship Royal Oak watch.

Though chess masters aren’t typically used to represent major brands, the 33-year-old Kasparov is an excellent choice, says Larry Geisler, managing director of the Swiss brand in North America. “He’s been a proud wearer of our watch for 10 years, so he is extremely comfortable acting as our spokesperson,” says Geisler.

Kasparov is well-suited also because his name and stature are well-known among the consumer audience that Audemars Piguet has targeted. Kasparov has been world chess champion a record-setting 12 years.

This year, he will appear in advertising for the Royal Oak and will wear the watch during his much-publicized matches with an IBM computer.

IN YOUR TOWN SOON

As new brands continue to enter the market from all directions, it can be difficult to track which watches to watch. Here’s a rundown of new brands, new imports and new styles being readied for your showcase:

  • Longines is the second division of SMH to create a line of watches using the Autoquartz movement, which debuted with Tissot in April 1996. On Feb. 1, the Armpower High Precision watch will join the company’s sporty Conquest line, says Michael Benavente, Longines’ new president. The watch will retail for $1,000 to $1,500, just above Tissot’s PR 100 (see JCK, July 1996, p. 24). The SMH movement in both watches uses automatic watch technology to charge a permanent battery powering a quartz timekeeper. Longines, 1200 Harbor Blvd., Weehawken, NJ 07087; (800) 897-9477.

  • Swiss watch firm Michel Jordi launches its U.S. business this year. The cows on the faces and the flowers on the bands that are part of the brand’s eclectic “ethno” look in Europe are transformed into a Western theme for the U.S. The watches will retail for $395 to $495. Michael Jordi, 4526 Mill Run Rd., Dallas, TX 75244; (972) 960-0076.

  • Frederique Constant, which manufactures what it calls “affordable luxury watches” in Geneva, is now available in the U.S. through Constantine & Co., 61-17 68th Ave., Ridgewood, NY 11385; (800) 572-9556 or (718) 497-8519. The brand features primarily automatic timepieces with classic looks for men and women at $250 to $650 retail.

  • Nobel Watch Co., which has sold karat gold watches for years, recently debuted its first full line of branded men’s and women’s steel-and-gold watches. The line features Paragon, which sports an unusual wavy crystal that creates a glittering light effect without compromising sight of the dial. Models are made with steel and 22k goldplate and feature Swiss movements. Nobel Watch and Jewelry Corp., 307 Seventh Ave., Suite 1704, New York, NY 10001; (800) NOBEL-95.

  • Sinn, a German maker of watches used by pilots, astronauts and civilians, has set up a U.S. office in New York City. Former IWC engineer Lothar Schmidt bought the company from pilot Helmut Sinn in 1994 and has broadened its reach beyond Europe and Japan. Some of its work can be seen in the U.S. as Bell & Ross, which Sinn manufactures but distributes separately. Sinn watches available to select retailers in the U.S. are men’s and women’s automatics made of steel, titanium and 22k gold. Retail, $2,400 to $27,900. All are Swiss-made registered chronometers and are sold with their certificates. Sinn also sells clocks that were originally designed for airplane cockpits. FCI Chronometries, (212) 226-0547.

FORECAST

CLEAN FACES, STEEL CASES TO LEAD TIME IN YEAR AHEAD

But women’s watches may jump-start mid-to-higher price categories. Watch sales picked up after a flat summer, slowed as Election Day approached then picked up again. Jewelers hoped the post-election pickup would continue into the new year, and there are signs it will. Most major companies recorded higher-than-average sales from summer and into fall. Record fall ad expenditures were scheduled by suppliers such as Baume & Mercier, Cyma, Bulova, Patek Philippe, Seiko, Piaget and Movado and retailer Tourneau.

Retailers expect the best ’97 sales in these categories:

  • Steel watches for sport use and dress. Two-tone looks predominate, but many of last year’s all-steel introductions are coming on strong and may take over the dressy/sport look this year.

  • Titanium watches are gaining momentum.

  • Clean, almost classic faces with easy-to-read Roman or Arabic numerals on white, black or silver dials.

  • Women’s sport watches, particularly at mid-to-higher prices. Says one retailer: “Ladies seem to have their dress gold watches and are ready for a sport model.” New models are spurring this category-in-waiting.

  • Despite above, dressy 14k watches for women are hot, but primarily in lower to mid-price levels where new models boosted this category in 1996. Many of these styles sell best when accented with small diamonds.

  • A few retailers are stocking a wider range of automatics as shoppers increasingly ask about highly advertised watches in this category. Sensing a return to the “intrinsic value” of a watch that never needs a battery, is often handcrafted and can last a lifetime, retailers are reconsidering this under-represented category.