Unsung Brands Seeking a Stage

Looking to stand out from your competition? Searching for something new or unique in watches? Here are a few brands – some new, some not – that you may have missed among the abundance of lines on the market. Some of these unsung brands may not croon the loudest, but many are attracting attention. This isn’t a comprehensive list but a mere sampling from the more than 600 watch brands available in the United States.

Sport watches. These are the rage today, with more and more options to choose from.

Bonneville Watches, based in Anaheim, Calif., is a Swiss-made line inspired by the Utah salt flats, where land speed records are broken. The line’s theme is high performance and excellence. Bonneville watches, retailing from $695 to $2,500, are targeted for fine jewelry and specialty watch stores.

The Bonneville line is anchored by the mechanical “12•4•8” watch and the quartz Gearbox. The “12•4•8” features a motion ring that highlights untraditional numerals at 12, 4, and 8 o’clock. The “12•4•8” is available with a unique bracelet or two striking colored straps (“rouge” and “maize”) that sharply contrast with the metal finish dials. The Gearbox name is inspired by the gears of great automobiles, while its design resembles the big fender cars of yesteryear. Bonneville is also the official watch of the upscale Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles and the 50th Grand National Roadster Show in San Francisco.

Chase-Durer, Beverly Hills, Calif., is a sporty pilot watch line at affordable prices, retailing primarily from $350 to $995 – inexpensive for pilot-type watches. Its upscale, limited-edition timepiece, on the other hand, tips the scale at $8,900. Anchoring the collection is the $995 Combat Command with automatic Valjoux movement, colored dials, skeleton back, and five-year warranty.

The limited-edition model is automatic with mother-of-pearl subdials, numbered case back, leather strap, certificate, and wooden presentation box. The low end of the line is highlighted by the Special Forces watch, a black steel timepiece offering an advanced tritium illumination system in which numbers and indexes glow for 20 years.

New York-based Momo Design is a new watch line inspired by race car driving and Ferrari. Momo Design watches are made of stainless steel, titanium, and carbon fiber – innovative materials used in cars. There are seven collections in the Momo Design line with 36 Swiss-made models including chronographs and automatic watches. Prices range from $195 (the Speed Collection) to $1,995 (the Race Master in black steel).

From the makers of New York-based Franck Muller watches, the Karbon line is for retailers searching for a rugged sports brand and for consumers caught up in the fast lane. It features thick steel (and some gold), distinct tritium indexes and numbers, carbon fiber dials, and even injection molding. (Other Karbon products such as sunglasses will complement the watches.) Karbon retails from $1,500 to $5,000.

Immersion Watches, Boca Raton, Fla., is a sporty watch line with Italian design influence. Noteworthy are the collection’s bright colors, interchangeable bands, and new mid-sized watches. True to their name, all Immersion watches have water resistance from 100 meters to 300 meters. Immersion watches are sold in jewelry stores, upscale department stores, and specialty shops such as Borsheim’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Wings of Time, and, this fall, Neiman Marcus. They retail from $100 to $950.

Dress watches. Your customers who are dressing for success now have more choices. These lines are an indication of America’s gradual return to elegance.

Robergé, a high-end luxury line, will likely be introducing watches to the United States in November, said a brand representative at the Basel Fair. The brand is known for its cushion-shaped and diamond timepieces. No word yet on who will officially distribute. (One company illegally advertised the watch brand earlier this year.) Robergé pens are already marketed in the United States by New York-based Charles Cohen & Associates. Look for this luxury brand to make its U.S. watch debut.

Michele Watch Co., based in Miami, is a fashion watch line retailing from $85 to $400. Already big in South America and the Caribbean, the brand targets the U.S. mainland with watches – including Swiss-made – for independent jewelers.

Chatham, N.J.-based Montblanc reaches new heights with its Meisterstück Réserve de Marche diamond watches. They feature 18k gold cases, diamond-studded dials, and black alligator straps. The Montblanc line retails from $650 up to $26,000 for a pavé diamond-faced model.

Billed as an upscale, Swiss-French fashion line, Saint Honoré rides beyond the success of its flagship Manhattan watch. Take the sporty Speed Boat collection, a $595 to $895 line that showcases chronographs, automatics, and basic quartz with rubber straps. The brand also offers women’s watches, such as its Ophelia and Opera lines. Saint Honoré, based in Forest Hills, N.Y., is a Paris-designed and Swiss-made line for independents, retailing from $395 to $2,895.

Clerc Watches, New York, is a designer line showcasing deceptive simplicity. This Swiss-made line, designed by Gerald Clerc, has a unique, octagonal shape that frees it from sharp angles. Sculpted from solid platinum, gold, or steel, these self-winding mechanical watches feature chronographs, calendars, polished bezels, sophisticated bracelets, sapphire casebacks, and hand finishing. Clerc watches, which also come in diamond jewelry versions, are available in three sizes. They retail from $1,700 for steel case on strap to $16,000 for an all-gold chronograph on bracelet.

Michel Herbelin, Miami Beach, is a diverse timepiece collection for independent jewelers. This collection includes cable styles, sporty blue titanium-finished watches, fashion bangles, and dress watches. Its flagship line is the Newport collection. Michel Herbelin, whose products retail from $300 to $2,000, has been in the U.S. market for two years.

Specialty watches. Austin, Texas-based Xemex is so avant-garde, company executives call it the “2010 look.” The brand features a Bauhaus design, sand-blasted matte cases, and distinct black or white dials. It is sold in fine jewelry stores and high-end department stores. The collection retails primarily from $495 to $1,395, with specialty timepieces ranging as high as $12,950.

Xemex is making noise with its popular Compass Watch and the Traveler, a dual-time-zone watch. The Compass watch comes in automatic mechanical or quartz. Nicknamed by Xemex’s owner/designer as “The Fat Boy,” the Traveler is a thick, double-sided watch with two movements. It features a black dial on one side for regular time and a white dial on the other side that can tell time in a second time zone or serve as a stopwatch. Xemex also offers high-end, limited-edition watches in its Avenue Collection.

The Boccia Titanium collection, from Framingham, Mass.-based Universal Watch Co., is constructed purely from the ultra-lightweight, hypoallergenic, and super-scratch-resistant titanium. At mass-merchant prices, from $89 to $105, Boccia surprisingly is targeting only independent jewelers seeking a stylish, durable, and affordable line.

Featuring matte gray titanium timepieces – some jazzed up with bright yellow dials – the youthful Italian- and Danish-designed Boccia line has a 55% markup. Boccia offers a thin line, tank watches, and a sport collection made of titanium all the way down to the buckles (except for steel mesh bracelets).

For other specialty niche lines that generate profit while separating your store from the competition, check out these winners: Maurice Lacroix, Oris, Krieger, and Ikepod, all known for their unique movement capability.

There are many more unsung brands out there that are attracting consumers’ eyes. Find them if you can.

Luxury Watch Roulette Spins

Breguet has dominated the news of late, not necessarily by choice. After launching a new U.S. distributorship earlier this year, now Breguet LLC is changing directions again. Hans Beck, president of recently formed Breguet LLC, has left the company. No word on why from Breguet.

Larry Geisler, longtime U.S. president of Time Products – distributor of Audemars Piguet, a Breguet competitor – took over as Breguet LLC president as of Aug. 1.

Breguet has struggled to get its ship in order in the past year. In late 1997, it broke off from its previous distributor, UTime. The brand had also been plagued by delivery problems. In April, Breguet’s worldwide president, J.J. Jacober, announced plans to improve the brand with a new factory and increased production. Now it changes U.S. presidents as it attempts another rebound under Geisler.

At Time Products, Marc Junod, who previously handled its national sales, takes over the luxury watch division, which also includes the Blancpain brand. Sales representative Scott Rosen also left Time Products to become the West Coast sales rep for Vacheron Constantin, a competitor of both Audemars Piguet and Breguet.

Junod also confirms that Time Products is no longer the U.S. distributor for Bedat, a luxury women’s watch line the company took on in 1997. Junod says Bedat will likely be taken in house by a new distributorship, much as Breguet had done.

“Personally, I think the [Bedat] product is wonderful,” says Junod. “I would have loved to have done more with it. But I really didn’t think it was right for Time Products. I’m sure it will be successful.”

Time Products’ flagship brands are in the middle of a successful face-lift. Audemars Piguet and Blancpain’s U.S. sales have increased 21% and 25%, respectively, over 1997 levels, Junod says. Blancpain’s success is due to a revamped strap business and its Trilogy Collection, a well-received sports line. Audemars Piguet is in the midst of a new consumer advertising campaign, designed to diversify the brand beyond the popular Royal Oak watch.

Cartier Chairman to Head Vendôme?

Rumors are swirling from Paris that Alain-Dominique Perrin, the flamboyant worldwide head of Cartier International, may be moving to a senior post within the Vendôme Group, the London-based parent of Cartier. There was no formal announcement confirming this at press time. However, the Paris edition of Women’s Wear Daily reports that the move may happen soon.

“That story is floating around and it’s still floating,” says one source within the Vendôme family. “I can’t say one way or another. I don’t know whether it’s going to happen. Nothing has happened to either confirm or deny it.”

Speculation says Perrin will head the entire Vendôme Group, which includes Cartier, Piaget, Alfred Dunhill, Montblanc, Baume & Mercier, Vacheron Constantin, Chloé, Sulka, Hackett, Lancel, Seeger, and James Purdey & Sons.

Perrin has been the driving force behind Cartier International’s growth and strategy changes in recent years. Cartier is a major player in the luxury goods market, with 185 boutiques and 10,000 specialized retailers on five continents.

“I can understand why the board would ask him to do that,” the source says. “He’s just brilliant. We’ve never had a marketer who looked over all of the Vendôme groups. Each one runs independently of one another. So I can see him taking over responsibility for the overall group.”