Slugging it out: sale of Hillerich & Bradsby Co. wooden bats up 500,000 a year

The crack is back.

The distinctive sound made when a wooden baseball bat meets flying horsehide, that is.

Few people will be surprised to learn that Louisville’s Hillerich & Bradsby Co. is moving its Southern California aluminum bat plant to a larger building because of increased demand for aluminum Louisville Sluggers. After all, everyone knows metal usssa softball bats have supposedly been bashing their wooden counterparts toward obsolescence for nearly two decades now.

But baseball is a game of statistics. And here’s an interesting one: Since 1986, sales of wooden Louisville Sluggers have increased by 500,000 a year–while sales of aluminum Sluggers have risen by just over 400,000 annually.

Although trends, percentages and revenues continue to predict a more metallic future, the surge in the company’s wooden-bat sales–from just under one million in 1986 to 1.5 million in both 1990 and 1991–represents a 50-percent increase.

Competitors report similar results.

For instance, Worth Bat. Co., of Tullahoma, Tenn., said it has doubled wooden bat sales to 200,000 a year since 1988. And Rawlings Sporting Goods–maker of Adirondack bats–said its wooden bat sales are also up considerably.

That’s not to say wood is winning the war. Metal bats still outsell wooden ones by a 3-to-2 margin worldwide–although that ratio is reversed at Hillerich & Bradsby.

Observers say there are several possible explanations for the comeback of wooden bats.

* Cost. Aluminum bats are far more durable, but they retail at $20 to $70. Wooden bats cost between $10 and $15. Fast-growing discount retail chains like Target and K mart stock both, meaning tens of thousands of extra sales each year.

“Every time a Herman’s or a Wal-Mart opens, they order 200 or 300 wooden bats,” said Bill Williams, vice president of advertising and promotional sales at Hillerich & Bradsby.

* The memorabilia craze. Sales of limited edition, commemorative bats to major-league stars and stores for resale to collectors now make up 7.5 percent of Hillerich & Bradsby’s wooden-bat sales, said Williams. Another 6.5 percent goes to corporations for use as premiums for customers and incentives for employees. That market alone is up 29 percent in the past year, he said.

* Major-league dreams. Aluminum bats, which are harder and have a larger “sweet spot,” are banned in professional baseball. Some observers say more and more college and other amateur players are switching back to wooden bats–at least for practice–in the belief that it’ll make the adjustment to the pros easier.

Williams, for one, doesn’t buy that explanation. Even though amateur players buy three out of four wooden bats sold by Hillerich & Bradsby, Williams believes most amateurs with professional aspirations are sticking with aluminum, hoping to impress scouts with higher batting averages.

While Hillerich & Bradsby still sells 50-percent more wooden bats than aluminum ones, metal bats account for more than twice as much of the firm’s annual revenue.

For fiscal 1990, aluminum bats accounted for 30 percent of the company’s $80 million in revenue, while wooden-bat sales brought in just 13 percent. Williams said final figures aren’t in for 1991, but he suspects aluminum’s share rose slightly–a trend the company expects to continue.

The big reason is the difference in cost.

Not only has the number of aluminum bats sold by Hillerich & Bradsby skyrocketed from just under 600,000 to over one million annually in the past four years, Williams said, “but the average selling price has just zoomed.”

That’s because most of the new sales were generated by the introduction of Louisville Slugger TPS softball bats and TPX baseball bats–the company’s most expensive models.

During each of the past two springs, the company has had difficulty filling orders for aluminum bats from its small plant in Santa Fe Springs, Calif., in suburban Los Angeles.

That’s why it’s moving to a leased 80,000-square-foot building in nearby Ontario in late August, Williams said. The new building is twice as large as the old one, although it will also replace warehouse space the company had used at a third location.

Tom Harris, manager of the aluminum plant, said the factory has increased its number of employees by 35 percent because of the move and increase in demand. Williams said that figure equates to between 10 and 15 new jobs.

Meanwhile, Hillerich & Bradsby President Jack Hillerich has said that changes in technology and in delivery systems have left the company’s wooden-bat plant in Southern Indiana with too much space. The company is currently studying a possible move of that plant to the Louisville river-front in conjunction with a proposed baseball museum.

Even though Hillerich & Bradsby doesn’t expect sales of wooden Louisville Sluggers to approach their 1971 peak of 6.9 million again, the wooden model does have one ace up its sleeve.

The expansion of Major League Baseball into Denver and Miami in 1993–and the resulting minor-league franchises that will be created–are expected to generate about 30,000 wooden bat orders a year.

And Louisville Slugger currently controls about two-thirds of the professional market.

Stalking walking

Step right up, step right up. There, you’ve gone and done it already! You, lucky ladies and gents, have just participated in America’s newest fitness trend. Did I say trend? Craze, folks, and I mean craze.

Introducing the next fitness boom — walking!

Will the American public really rally to the cry of, “Heel, toe and away we go?” Will marketers be able to convince consumers that they need special equipment to do something that they do as naturally as eating or sleeping?

“It’s just a question of waking people up to the fact that this is something they already do,” answers one shoe retailer who markets a number of walking shoes.

Walking has been a part of the sports scene for years, though it’s been an elusive marketing opportunity. To put it in a more timely perspective, race walking has been an Olympic sport since 1906. But as recently as five years ago, walking flubbed as a fad. The few enterprises that tried to make walking something Americans consciously embraced as a sport — and would be willing to buy equipment for — just never got off the ground. Nike Inc., for instance, launched the “Pathfinder” shoe in 1982, hoping to latch onto some of its running shoe customers who might have slowed down to a walk. Sales were disappointing and the shoe was phased out about a year later. Walking! Journal was launched in 1983 by Orenda Media, but didn’t fly either.

But while their timing was off, their thinking was apparently right on. According to American Sports Data Inc., which promises an in-depth look at the activity via a two-phase national research study beginning January 1987, current figures on walking suggest the time has come: 84 million Americans walked for fun at least once last year; 40 million participated at least once in brisk, “aerobic” walking; 20 million went on brisk walks an average of once a week; and 1.9 million put in at least 1,500 briskly walked miles over the course of the year. It’s official: The figures now stack up in favor of a “trend” — the magic point for marketers.

The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association didn’t bother tracking walking shoe sales until 1986. Now, not only were walking shoe manufacturers included in the association’s annual convention this year, but the group is also gathering stats on the strolling market. In the first quarter of 1986, walking shoes sold 1.4 million pairs, priced anywhere from $40 to $100, with retail sales totaling $36.6 million. For the same period, running shoes sold 3 million pairs and rang up $86.1 million in sales. By year end, walking shoe marketers are hoping to stroll away with a healthy chunk of the nearly $8 billion athletic shoe market.

“I really believe the potential market for it is much larger than it was for running,” states Richard Polk, owner of a group of Colorado-based stores that sell walking shoes and paraphernalia. “Also, the lifecycle of the market is potentially much longer. You can do it ’til you drop and, if we’re right about [its benefits], you can drop a little later.” Polk’s stores, each called The Pedestrian Shop, sell things like walking guide books, walking sticks, walking shorts and pedometers. He opened the first shop eight years ago, now has three and says he is looking to franchise others across the country.

Two walking-oriented magazines, Walkways published by Walk Inc. and The Walking Magazine from Raben Publishing Co., have sprung up to get in on the trend. The Walking Magazine, launched in May 1986 with a guaranteed circulation of 300,000, will grow to 500,000 after its fourth issue. In addition to selling ad space to walking shoe marketers, the book boasts advertisers like General Foods, pitching its cereals and Sanka decaffeinated coffee, Casio televisions, Maserati cars and MacGregor tennis rackets, as well as some apparel makers. And the magazine itself has an ongoing print media plan of its own, with buys in trade and consumer magazines.

There are a number of facts that support the notion that walking could be the next big money-generating sports craze. The number of fitness walkers is expected to grow to between 80-90 million by 1990 (you rate the title “fitness walker” if you hit speeds of 2.5-to-5 mph). The number of walking events grew from 2,500 in 1985 to 10,000 this year. The number of running marathons, in contrast, declined 38% between 1980 and 1985. The number of people who called themselves joggers dropped, according to a recent Gallup Poll, to 15% of 1985’s respondent sample from 18% in 1984.

But perhaps the most significant statistics of all has to do with the aging of the baby boom generation and the growing percentage of senior citizens.

As exercise becomes a more important and accepted part of life for Americans, more older people make walking their exercise of choice. They currently make up the bulk of what manufacturers see as their market. Older people especially enjoy it as an activity that lets you go slow enough to enjoy the scenery and socialize, yet fast enough to get some aerobic benefits. Walking also allows the participant to avoid the injuries that both running and aerobics are known to cause.

Injuries are where the baby boomers come in. Starting in the 1960’s, they were the ones who made running/jogging a big business. But over the last several years, sales of the flip flops for plantar fasciitis have declined as runners aged, developed injuries that called for cutting back on runs, or stopped running altogether. “If you watched what was happening in the marketplace, it seemed to be diversifying,” comments Nike spokesperson Mary Marckx. “As people were getting into more strenuous activities, they began hurting themselves and began looking around for gentler, yet still strenuous exercise.” According to research, a brisk walker can burn up 100 calories a mile.

Also, the sweat set may just be tired of the fitness rat race. “Psychographics have something to do with it,” suggests Beverly Daane, vice president of marketing at Rockport Co., the company that is by most accounts the market leader in this emerging category. “People are not so much into the burning pain of running.”

In addition, comfort is an important part of the equation. A couple of years ago, Nike reported its market research showed that 60% of its running shoes for bunion sufferers were being bought for uses other than running. Shoe comfort is “in,” even in the notoriously toe-cramping, ankle-turning realm of women’s fashion footwear. “Comfort is becoming more important in footwear in general,” states The Pedestrian Shop’s Polk. “Comfort used to be associated more with geriatric concerns than with fashion, but not anymore.”

Walking’s got something else going for it: It’s cheap. The walker doesn’t have to belong to a club or buy any fancy equipment — only a comfortable pair of shoes.

So, to marketers, the shoe’s the thing. Over 100 of them have reportedly launched casual walking shoes, and at least 25 of those have marched out shoes for the fitness walker. The marketing challenge is to convince consumers that their sneakers, loafers or even old running shoes aren’t appropriate for distance walking.

They might have something there, says Dr. Elliott Hershman of the Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “It’s true, the running shoe was a great improvement over the regular sneaker, and that’s probably true for walking shoes, too.” Hard to believe, but you can injure yourself walking. “Absolutely,” he says. “Even walking, you can develop stress fractures” and good dress shoes for high arches can help prevent that, he adds.

Marketers have already gotten behind the concept with lingo emphasizing the “biomechanical” needs of feet and legs. Currently, the most common design feature that distinguishes a walking shoe as such is a lower midsole than a running shoe, and more padding on the inside, less on the outside. “Some of the permutations and claims people are making are unfounded, but shoes with proper modifications and cushioning can be a real benefit,” says Hershman.

The Rockport Co., a Marlborough, Mass., company in business for 15 years, is credited as the market leader both in terms of brand identity as a walking shoe company and in terms of sales. Rockport’s 1985 sales reached $64.5 million and are expected to hit the $100 million mark for 1986. The company’s sales have grown, on average, over 40% a year for the last five years.

While it also markets hiking shoes and sandals, Rockport currently pushes several lines of walking shoes that range from casual to race shoes. The company has relied heavily on word of mouth and public relations efforts, like establishing walking events around the country, to get its name known.

Last year Rockport spent $6 million on its total marketing effort, according to Daane. While grassroots-level support and word of mouth will still figure heavily into its marketing plan, the company plans to back ad efforts more strongly now. Having just taken on Chiat/Day as its agency — which until recently had the Nike account — Rockport plans to spend $3 million to $4 million on media alone in 1987. The campaign will probably echo a number of print buys made in the past, which included co-op newspaper ads with retailers, as well as ads in Prevention (which launched its own walking club in April), Reader’s Digest, American Health, Travel & Leisure, Savvy, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, as well as a number of trade books.

The company recently established a separate division just to handle the sport walking market. Its first line of shoes, ProWalkers, will be out next March and are expected to sell for between $50 and $85. The line will be a fitness shoe that’s a cross between current Rockports and a running shoe.

This fall, Rockport was bought by exercise-shoe giant Reebok International Ltd. for $118.5 million. The purchase, says Daane, took some at Rockport by surprise, as the company was just preparing to go public. But she says the sale should produce some of the same results the stock sale would have. “We are growing so fast that we need capital. We’re not in financial trouble, but we have to maintain a service level to our distributors and retailers.”

She notes that the sale will help each company increase distribution of its shoe lines. Rockports are mainly sold through family-oriented and department stores, while Reeboks are found mostly in sporting goods stores and specialty footwear shops.

James E. Barclay, president of Reebok’s footwear division and executive vice president of Reebok International, says the buy will give his company diversification beyond its signature aerobic market. And, he adds, Reebok is launching some walking shoes of its own. “I don’t want to give you the impression we bought them just for their walking shoe,” states Barclay. “We plan to be very competitive with our own walking shoe and we will compete with Rockport.”

Even though its sale to Reebok should give the smaller Rockport more marketing clout, it’s going to have to watch its step. It doesn’t have this market to itself anymore. Nearly every big- and medium-sized shoe company has climbed into the ring. Converse, for instance, is easing into things with one line of walking shoes, the Hampton, which will retail for about $80-$90. Other shoe marketers entering the chase include New Balance, Brooks, Danner, Dexter, Clark and Red Wing.

Foot-Joy Inc. markets two lines of JoyWalkers for men and women ($40 to $55 at retail). While Robert Seiler, director of marketing/athletic, says sales to retailers are exceeding company expectations, he admits that “some retailers are saying, ‘I’m not sure what the walking market is going to do.'” Foot-Joy plans to double its ad budget next year, much of it giving a push to its walking shoes. (Leading National Advertisers reports total ad investments of $711,300 for the first six months of 1986; of this, $486,300 went for its sporting footwear, while the remainder was allocated to its golf shoe lines.) Ads will appeal both to the 25- to 45-year-old set, as well as older people. Buys will include People, Sports Illustrated, The Walking Magazine, Prevention, 50 Plus and trade books.

Nike could, perhaps, be Rockport’s most formidable competitor. It not only has a strong marketing department, but extensive research facilities. The company recently introduced the EXW, for exercise walkers, and the Healthwalker, a less technical version. Marketing, says spokesperson Marckx, will begin in New York, San Francisco and Boston, because those cities have strong grassroots support already. In addition to magazine ads, she says, Nike will feature its walkers in newspaper ads and on billboards. It’s also going to pound the pavement for its shoes by hiring some people to walk around with sandwich boards pitching them. In addition, Nike will be sponsoring walk-ins in various cities.

“We consider walking one of our important programs for the coming year,” says Marckx. “Our feeling is, physical fitness as a part of life in America is here to stay, and we see walking as an important part of this.”

There’s little doubt that walking, already popular, will be taken up by more and more people. But can it be turned into a sport, complete with a full-fledged marketing mechanism?

And if so, is it just a case of P.T. (“sucker born every minute”) Barnum redux? “To be honest with you, there’s a little bit of hype in it,” chuckles Matt Zale, president of U.S. Marathon Ltd., a national marketer of athletic footwear. “People don’t need [walking shoes], people don’t need running shoes, tennis shoes, whatever,” he says. Manufacturers just did a good job of making consumers think they needed different footwear for every activity. And U.S. consumers do have a penchant for gear. All agree that once shoppers decide they are “into” a sport, they get a yen for any and all equipment that goes with it.

And, last but not least, there’s the all-important vanity angle to be taken into consideration. Walking shoes have less of the highly engineered, yet oddly flat-footed look of running shoes. “For 10 years, people have been asking me for running shoes, ever since I opened my first store,” says Zale. “Now we finally have a hook: cosmetics. The running shoe look is dead.”

Why You Should Stock Vintage Watches

The astonishing price paid recently for a 1933 Patek Philippe is a dramatic sign of the growing demand for old quality watches.

It was the sale of the century for vintage watches. What has been called the world’s most important watch was sold for the highest price ever paid for a timepiece–and it took just minutes. The object was the exquisite 1933 Henry Graves supercomplication pocket watch, created by Patek Philippe of Geneva, Switzerland. The sale took place last December at Sotheby’s in New York City (Up Front, JCK, February 2000 p. 25).

Bidding opened at $2 million and quickly passed Sotheby’s presale high estimate of $5 million. “The mood in the room was amazingly electric,” recalls Hank Edelman, president of Patek Philippe USA, an unsuccessful bidder who hoped to win the watch for his company’s Geneva museum. As bids accelerated, “people were standing up, holding their breath.” Many of the world’s top collectors were in attendance, and others conveyed bids through a bank of 25 telephones, five times the usual number.

When the final bid–a jaw-dropping $10 million from an anonymous bidder–was hammered down after less than five minutes, there were gasps from the audience. The price of $11 million (the $10 million bid, plus Sotheby’s commission and taxes) had set a new record, tripling the previous alltime high of $3.2 million, paid in 1989 for Calibre 89, another supercomplication by Patek Philippe.

A unique masterpiece. Why such a high price? “It’s simply the most important watch ever made,” says Daryn Schnipper, director of Sotheby’s watch and clock department.

Some might argue the point. A recent panel of watch experts, for example, called 1933’s Rolex Oyster Perpetual the watch of the century, while others consider Calibre 89, with its 33 complications, the most intricate watch of modern horology. But there’s no argument that the Graves is one of the world’s most unusual timepieces and a masterpiece of Swiss craftsmanship. “It’s the Mona Lisa” of the watch world, says Bruce Shockey, editor of the Vintage Wristwatch Report.

The sale also illustrates the high regard watch connoisseurs have for Patek Philippe and caps a decade of record prices for the company’s vintage watches. Those records include the most money ever paid for a wristwatch, $1.9 million (from an anonymous Middle East collector) for a 1922 18k men’s watch (the first with a split-second stopwatch controlled by the crown); and a record $1.7 million in 1966 for the 1939 Calatrava platinum astronomic wristwatch with minute repeater (i.e., the watch strikes hours, quarter hours, and minutes when activated by a pushpiece).

Customers of the 151-year-old Geneva firm have included Queen Victoria and Albert Einstein; the company was experimenting with quartz watch technology as early as 1948. It’s precisely handcrafted watches tend to hold or increase their value more than most other fine watchmakers’ products. One new Calatrava, Patek Philippe’s best-selling model, for example, sold at a 1999 Hong Kong auction for much more than its original retail price.

The Graves sale, while unique, isn’t isolated. Other high-priced and record-breaking sales of antique timepieces indicate that interest isn’t limited to a single brand. “History tells us that every time records are broken, it affects prices for better stuhrling womens watches review watches,” says Edelman. Shockey agrees. “We’re seeing drastic increases in value for the creme dela creme in watches,” he says.

In the past six months alone, an extraordinary 1820 Piguet and Meylon heart-shaped musical automaton watch sold for $1.4 million, a world record for such timepieces, and an 1835 automatic Symparhique clock by Breguet, one of the greatest clockmakers in history, sold for $5.7 million, three times its pre-auction estimate and a world record for any clock.

Other established and admired brands–such as Rolex, Gerald Genta, Vacheron Constantin, Breitling, and Universal-also are doing exceptionally well. A rare Lange & Sohne platinum wristwatch with tour-billon escapement, made in the 1990s, recently sold for $72,900. Although not a record, that was double its pre-sale estimate. Even timepieces by newer luxury watchmakers like Franck Miller (1983) and Christian Bedat (1996) are doing well at auction and “should become even more important in the future,” notes watch expert Ovaldo Patrizzi, chairman of Antiquorum Auctioneers.

Growing demand. “The [vintage timepiece] market has been strong” since the late ’90s and is getting stronger, says Schnipper. Recent high-profile sales are one reason. “The more prices go up, the more people’s consciousness is raised, the more collectors come out, and the more interest there is in collecting [fine timepieces],” she notes. A sign of that ongoing growth is the Graves sale itself. “It’s questionable whether we would have gotten $10 million a year ago,” says Schnipper.

Economic factors, too, are spurring this market. The strong economy (reminiscent of 1989, the last time vintage watch sales surged), booming stock market, and growing prosperity have created nouveau riche collectors who can afford these mechanical marvels.

Patrizzi points out that many of the newly affluent made their fortunes in electronics, computers, or the Internet and are fascinated with the origins of today’s technology. Collecting handcrafted mechanical timepieces is a natural outgrowth of that fascination. “Horology was the beginning of our modern technology,” Patrizzi says. “Automation began in the 14th and 15th centuries, with clock mechanisms that struck hours and showed dates.” Owning vintage and antique watches is like owning pieces of the history of technology, he notes. Collectors also appreciate the artistry of unique timepieces, the horological equivalents of rare Rembrandts.

World arena. Today’s rapidly evolving technology is turning the vintage watch market into an international arena. Web sites, e-mail, telephones, faxes, and TV make it possible for both domestic and foreign connoisseurs to participate in today’s major watch auctions, whether they live in Dallas, Milan, or Tokyo. More than 1,000 viewers, for example, see reviews akribos watches, followed live broadcasts of Antiquorum Auctioneers’ year-end, record-breaking auctions in Geneva. Antiquorum’s Web site provides direct access to its computerized catalog of collectors’ watches and up-to-the-minute sales information. Vintage watch e-tailers, such as Ashford.com and Miadora.com, are also doing well.

Patrizzi believes internationalization is a healthy trend for the vintage watch market. “Due to strong, ever-growing interest from collectors in the Middle East, the United States, and Europe, the watch auction marker is on an excellent path [of growth], with high-end pieces commanding exceptional prices and even middle-priced ones in demand,” he says.

The media spotlight on record-breaking sales affects the vintage watch market in other important ways. Schnipper notes that some impressive watches are coming to marker as “more [collectors and connoisseurs] bring fine timepieces our of vaults and safety deposit boxes.”

Shortly after Sotheby’s history-making auction last December, for example, Patrizzi received “three important pieces, worth $500,000 to $1 million each” for Antiquorum’s April 2000 watch auction. “People hear the news, discover they have a fine watch, and ask us, ‘Is this for collectors?'”

Some luxury watchmakers want to influence future collectors and auctions. “More and more, the watch collection business starts the moment a watch leaves the factory,” Patrizzi notes. “The orientation of more luxury [watch] companies is to produce limited series of under 1,000 pieces–not 20,000–so you have something rare on your wrist immediately.”

The impact of record sales on collectibles’ prices dissipates at the $1,000 to $10,000 level, Shockey notes. Still, the value of timepieces in this category, too, is rising 5% to 10% annually. In a recent interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, Robert Fraga, owner of Precision Time stores in Salt Lake City, noted that vintage and antique timepieces have become increasingly popular. Classic “tank watches,” introduced by Cartier during World War I and copied by others, are frequently sought, as are men’s watches from the 1930s and ’40s, Fraga said.

News of record-breakers even aids retail sales of luxury watches. Says Edelman, “It makes people think when deciding whether to buy a fine upscale watch like Calatrava, telling them they can get something that lasts 30 years and keeps its value.”

The Time Museum

The Time Museum in Rockford, Ill., the source of the Graves super-complication, was open for only 28 years, but it possessed one of the world’s great timepiece collections.

Documenting 3,000 years of progress in measuring time and developing timekeeping devices, it was founded in 1971 by industrialist, financier, and watch expert Seth Atwood, who had been fascinated with time since college. Atwood noted that he’d traveled to “hundreds of places … [many] not found in tourist guidebooks … gathering time-related artifacts.” His collection, housed in the basement of a Rockford resort motel owned by an Atwood firm, rivaled the British Museum’s clock room as well as famous collections in Europe.

The museum closed in March 1999, and in October almost 1,500 of its artifacts were sold to the city of Chicago, which will display them in its Museum of Science & Industry and Adler Planetarium. The rest- 91 masterpieces like the Graves watch-were sold at Sotheby’s last December. The auction, which saw multiple records shattered, was the greatest watch sale of the 20th century, a tribute to Atwood’s vision and collecting genius.

The One-of-a-Kind Henry Graves Supercomplication

By the early 20th century, Swiss luxury watch firm Patek Philippe, founded in 1851, was world-renowned for the quality, precision, and craftsmanship of its watches. Its many clients included two competitive U.S. watch collectors, banker Henry Graves Jr. and auto maker James Packard. Fascinated by fine horology, each sought to outdo the other with their watches, says Alan Banbery, curator of Patek Philippe’s museum in Geneva.

Packard kicked off the competition in 1916 with a pocket watch with 16 complications. He upped the ante in 1927 with a watch that had 10 complications and a star chart. Unwilling to be outdone, Graves secretly contracted with Patek Philippe in 1925 to make “the most complicated watch [ever made] … and in any case, more complicated than that of Mr. Packard!”

It was the horological equivalent of ordering the first flight to the moon. Although Patek Philippe was one of the world’s finest watch firms, it “had never been tested like that before,” says Daryn Schnipper, director of Sotheby’s watch and clock department. Its master watchmakers spent three years in research and five years designing, producing, and assembling the one-of-a-kind watch. It was delivered to a delighted Graves on Jan. 19, 1933. Graves died in 1953, and the watch eventually was acquired by the Time Museum in Rockford, III.

The sleek, slightly plump pocket watch weighs 1 lb., 3 oz. and has some 900 parts, including 430 screws, 110 wheels, 120 movable parts, and 70 jewels. In addition to hours, minutes, and seconds, it has 24 horological complications. Among them are hours, minutes, and seconds of sidereal time (based on the earth’s rotation in reference to a fixed star); sunrise, sunset, and star charts for the night sky over New York City, Graves’s home; day, date, and month; moon phases; perpetual calendar (to 2100); chronograph, with split seconds and 30-minute and 12-hour recorders; striking mechanism; and–the piece de resistance–a Westminster chime based on the fifth bar of the aria from Handel’s The Messiah, “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth.”

The $11 million sale of Henry Graves’s supercomplication pocket watch (shown here with its mean time dial) makes it the most expensive timepiece in history.

This rare 1923 men’s gold wristwatch, the first with a split-seconds chronograph, was sold for $1.9 million in November by Antiquorum Auctioneers, setting a new world record price for a wristwatch. It entered the Guinness Book of Records on Dec. 6, 1999, as “the world’s most valuable wristwatch.”

The Calibre 89, developed over a nine-year period by Patek Philippe to mark its 150th anniversary in 1989, is the world’s most intricate watch, with 33 complications. Patek Philippe purchased it at auction in 1989 for its Geneva museum for $3.2 million, making it the second most expensive timepiece in history.

The strong interest in vintage and antique timepieces isn’t limited to one brand, as evidenced by a number of sales in December. “Le Coeur,” an extraordinary 1820 Piguet and Meylon heart-shaped musical automaton watch (top), sold for $1.4 million, a world record for such timepieces. An 1835 Breguet Sympathique clock (center), made for the Duc d’Orleans and containing his original pocket watch, sold for $1.5 million, three times its pre-auction high estimate and a world record for any clock. A rare Lange & Sohne platinum wristwatch with tourbillon escapement (below), made in the 1990s, sold for $72,900.

Bulova Accutron returns as high-tech luxury watch

Accutron by Bulova, one of the best-known and technically advanced brands of the 1960s, has returned as an 18k goldplated luxury watch.

New Accutron models are designed in the U.S. and made in Switzerland. They retail for $395 to $1,095, and are intended to make Bulova Corp. an active player in the competitive 500-$2,000 segment of the luxury watch market.

Launched in 1961, Accutron quickly became a symbol of U.S. technology, thanks to a unique tuning fork mechanism that guaranteed the most accurate timing then available in commercial watches. This technology and the styling made Accutron one of the most successful watches of the era: 22 million were sold through 1982, when it was discontinued because of the success of quartz watches.

However, the brand name remained firmly lodged in the public mind. A 1990 national survey of consumers ranked it seventh among 20 leading brands (behind Timex, Seiko, Bulova, Rolex, Citizen and Gucci) even though it hadn’t been sold for almost a decade. “We recognized the Accutron name continued to have tremendous equity [with consumers] and symbolized technological achievement as well as design innovation,” says Paul Sayegh, executive vice president of Bulova.

Accutron kept its stylized tuning fork logo, though new models use quartz technology. Five collections feature 26 styles, all with three-tiered cases-its signature design. Empire models have square cases and round bezels; Reflection, round cases and integrated bezels that carry through to strap or bracelet; Millennia, all-strap angular and curved case designs. Boulevard is based on classic Accutron designs; Whisper features ultra-thin models.

The line comes with a limited 25year warranty. Each owner receives an engraved brass warranty card with his or her name and the watch’s serial number; owners’ names are kept on computer file at Bulova headquarters.

A three-stepped display stand is available featuring a three-dimensional model of the Accutron tuning fork logo cast in brass and plated with 14k gold.

  • Resources: Bulova watch reviews men
  • Contact: Bulova Corp., One Bulova Ave., Woodside, N.Y. 11377; (800)-A-Bulova or, in New York, (718) 204-3309.

Invicta watches to make every event memorable

As we all know that women’s have the tendency to purchase a new outfit, footwear or any other accessory for any occasion. On the other hand, men buy only the things that are quite necessary for them and appropriate for that particular event. This is very much true when it comes to the matter of wrist watches. In this regard, Invicta watches make a beautiful timepiece for any sort of occasion where they can find themselves very attractive.

Prior to buying watches, it’s better to go through invicta watches review men which help to buy the best one. Here are some examples of the same-

Office

Every working man should know how much time they have when before leaving for office from home or before attending any other event. So, for all these purposes office watches should just not only be reliable, but also should include a style that complements the man outfit.

One such time piece is Men’s force quartz stainless steel case and leather strap watch. This simple designed watch comes with round and stainless steel, silver tone case, black matte dial and silver tone Arabic numbers. The black genuine leather strap is designed with ivory stitching and also fits the men’s wrist up to 9.5 inches.

Night out with friends

When you are planning to move out with your friends, it’s very much important to be aware of time before the last minute call. Apart from that, you can have something on your hands, so that you can view other things even in the dim light of bar and club. In a guy’s night out, sporting is something which must be very attractive and thrilling.

Invicta watches 8926’s croduba automatic stainless steel bracelet watch is an ideal choice of today’s man. This has a unidirectional bezel which sits at the top of the stainless steel case. This timepiece sweeps around luminous Arabic

Dating

When you are planning to spend your day with your women, then you would notice each and every minute detail of your evening. It would really look odd if you wear a cheap watch or sports watch. So, you should choose a wrist watch which enhances your style and radiates confidence.

When you are going out for dating, the watch that you are supposed to wear is a blue sunray dial along with rose tone Arabic numerals, which gives overall classic look and timeless quality. It looks utmost fashionable without being showy.

Playing sports

Most people don’t like to remove their watch before starting any game. So, you need a wrist watch which is very simple as well as comfortable. It should also have sufficient durability to withstand any hard hit over the watch and also without troubling others with cumbersome edges of the watch.

The invicta watch which is ideal for sports is men’s sea vulture Swiss made Quartz chronograph polyurethane strap watch. It is preferred by most of the sports people not just because of its sleek and lightweight design, but also because of the functions which are set into the case side, so that there is no chance of sticking of any foreign particles.

Thus, invicta watches review gives better idea regarding which watch to purchase.

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High tech watches leap into future

The watch industry is embracing high technology with new products such as wristwatch pagers and miniature computers. High tech functions are becoming increasingly important in the marketing of watches, and companies such as Swatch and Citizen are creating products to meet that consumer demand. For example, Swatch has Swatch the Beep pager/watch, Seiko has the MessageWatch pager/watch, and Citizen has watch that can store diving data in a tiny computer.

Flashy high tech is making a move into the watch industry.

As functionality becomes an ever-bigger factor in selling watches, a number of companies are rolling out what could be called watches of the future.

While some of the features bring to mind Dick Tracy or Agent 007, many in the watch business say the moment is right for times that make life easier and more convenient.

Swatch introduced its newest version of a wristwatch pager, Swatch the Beep, this year, while Seiko is in the midst of rolling out its MessageWatch — a pager watch plus other features — to 20 major U.S. markets this year and next. In the computer arena, Citizen recently rolled out a sports watch that can download diving data into a computer, and at least one other major U.S. watchmaker that requested anonymity said it is developing a general-application watch that can also store information and download.

If you think about it, the wristwatch is one of the few pieces of electronic gear that most people wear,” said Michael C. Park, vice president of business and network development for Seiko’ Telecommunications, Beaverton, Ore., the division Seiko created to handle the MessageWatch. “It’s really the most obvious place to start introducing portable technology into peoples’ everyday lifestyles.”

Suzy Watson, trend analyst for Timex Corp., agreed, adding that her firm is gaining momentum on the technology trail.

“Technology will definitely end up on the wrist because there is the ability to miniaturize it to that point now,” Watson pointed out. “One potentially hot area, as we see it, is sensor-based watches, items that can open a garage door or start a car. We see these types of functions definitely on the brink of being possible.”

The main goal of these and other innovations, as many pointed out, is to provide functions that people want and need. In the last several years, softer-tech items such as chronographs, dual and multiple timers and improved forms of illuminated dials have become popular features in many watch lines.

“One of the big things that is happening for us right now is functional watches,” said Kim White, merchandise manager of jewelry and watches for Federated Merchandising, the buying arm of Federated Department Stores. “People are looking for watches that fit into highly active lifestyles.”

While the audience for highly specialized items such as pager watches may not be huge, White pointed out, anything that helps people save time these days is bound to attract interest. “Whether there would be a huge audience for a watch that, say, sends faxes is hard to say,” White said. “But the main point is to give people something they find useful.”

Whatever their functions, White said, these high-tech watches won’t cut into the fashion watch business. She agrees with watchmakers that this category will be, at least for the time being, an add-on watch business. However, some makers note that some of the technology could be incorporated into fashion watches.

“Our basic philosophy is to incorporate simple, truly useful functions into our products,” said Martin Grossenbacher, executive vice president of the U.S. division of Swatch. “We don’t think consumers are all that happy with watches that have 15 different capabilities packed into one, for instance. These tend to be confusing, and often people don’t understand how to use them.”

Swatch has chosen to take a position in the pager market, which it first entered two years ago with the Piepser, a tone-only pager/watch. The Piepser recorded incoming calls with a beep signal but did not have the display screen, which meant that users had to call a service number to find the number contacting them.

Swatch the Beep represents the company’s next generation pager/watch, Grossenbacher said. The item, which was developed in conjunction with MobileComm, a division of Bell South, and introduced in April, is an oversized watch with a numeric display screen that records incoming phone numbers just as a pager would. It wholesales for about $85.

At this point, the product can only be used regionally, but the company is planning to link it into a national network next year, Grossenbacher said. In addition to being carried by home electronics chains, Swatch the Beep is being stocked by some department store and jewelry retailers, he noted.

“We see the whole aspect of communication as the direction to go in as far as high-tech developments go,” Grossenbacher noted. “The next step would be a watch that could be used as a phone.”

Seiko is another company hot on the trail of the pager craze, having spent the last three years developing the MessageWatch, a digital watch with a display screen for incoming calls and information. The pager receives numbers of up to 16 digits as well as messages such as “call home” and “call office.” For an extra fee, users can subscribe to a service that runs everything from breaking news to lottery numbers across the display.

“The sky is the limit as far as the informational applications go,” said Seiko’s Park. “When we first started test-marketing the watch, it just had the pager capabilities and we found that people wanted more. It’s the ‘information is power’ idea.”

The MessageWatch, which wholesales for about $50, is now being sold only in Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash., and so has just regional applications. But, Park said, “our current goal is 20 U.S. markets in two years, and we’re in the middle of negotiations with radio networks around the country.”

Seiko’s aim is to eventually put together its own international network into which its watches can be hooked.

Computers are developing as the technology of choice for others such as Citizen, which launched its PC-compatible Hyper Aqualand dive watch last spring. This watch contains several sensors that record diving information while the wearer is underwater. Later, the watch can be hooked into its own communication unit, an interface device that, when connected to a computer, allows the information recorded by the watch — such as dive times, maximum depths and water temperatures — to be downloaded into the computer’s system.

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Fashion’s big names are getting their hands on watch lines, hoping to broaden their brand cachet on the main floor

When it comes to determining the time these days, there are a number of high tech options at any woman’s disposal, from her cell phone to her iPod, BlackBerry or Palm Pilot. Nevertheless, watches continue to go beyond their functionality to bedazzle consumers, and now a whole new group of designer brands is taking note.

In the past year alone, more than a half-dozen brands have inked watch deals, with high-wattage names like Michael Kors, Jennifer Lopez, Perry Ellis and, most recently, Marc Jacobs leading the charge and giving main-floor regulars such as Anne Klein, Kenneth Cole, Guess and Emporio Armani some new competition.

Jacobs and Kors, along with Bollman Hat Co., makers of Kangol hats, have sealed licensing deals with Fossil. Lopez’s Sweetface Fashions has teamed up with E. Gluck for JLo watches. SII Marketing International, a division of Seiko Instruments, is hoping its line for Perry Ellis will build on renewed interest in the brand now that hot designer Patrick Robinson is in charge of the creative direction. Also, Givenchy is getting refreshed through a new distribution deal with the SWI Group.

But can designer clout turn into big sales when main-floor watch real estate is already at maximum capacity? A hot name with an established commercial audience in other product arenas, such as apparel, doesn’t necessarily guarantee the public’s appetite for a watch emblazoned with the same name.

“Everyone wants to go where there have been significant successes,” said Charles Kriete, president of the Geneva Watch Company, maker of several highly successful licensed watch brands, including Kenneth Cole and Tommy Bahama. “Everyone envisions being the next Gucci, but it’s rarely that easy.”

Kriete added that there needs to be a clear message. “You need to be able to practically picture what the watch will look like even before it’s made.”

For newcomers to the watch business, this is an ambition they all hope to achieve.

MARC JACOBS

Robert Duffy, president of Marc Jacobs, acknowledged that the development of Jacobs’ watchesmay be an evolving process.

I recognize the challenge from when we first started working on watches [for Louis Vuitton],” he said (Jacobs also designs the Louis Vuitton collection). “The details are key: A strap or detail on the face becomes a signature.”

He added, however, “I know one thing: Every time we’ve gone through this process, you learn as you go.”

Duffy couldn’t be too specific about the details of either the Marc Jacobs Collection or the Marc by Marc Jacobs watch lines, both of which are slated to bow in May of next year, but he did say their own love for watches was part of the reason why he and Jacobs decided to proceed with the license.

“We experimented with watches at Louis Vuitton, and they have become very interesting to Marc and I,” said Duffy. “Neither of us started wearing a watch until we were 30, but in the last 10 years I’ve started collecting them. We all wear watches; it’s an emotional decision.”

Duffy said both brands will include women’s and men’s watches and that they will expand upon the aesthetic of both the collection line and the diffusion line.

“Collection is really known for understated fashion. It’s about luxury, but not with a bang — more like a whisper,” Duffy said.

For Marc by Marc Jacobs, he said, “We’ll have a blast; we can go crazy with whatever colors or prints we do each season.”

Duffy said the watches will go into Jacobs’ own stores, then into key Jacobs retailers like Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus.

JLO

Andy Hilfiger, president of Sweetface Fashions, said he’s not worried about main-floor competition. He compared the ebb and flow of brands in the watch world to the rotation at Top 40 radio stations. “Just like with the radio, a new song comes on, another one goes off.”

Hilfiger said adding watches to JLo’s product categories was in response to the popularity of the watch, as well as an effort to expand upon the line’s lifestyle statement.

“Part of it is about building the whole lifestyle, but in both the music and fashion worlds, watches are a big accessory,” Hilfiger said. “Everyone wears cool watches. Jennifer is definitely a big watch wearer, and the designs reflect Jennifer’s lifestyle.”

The watches launched at better department and specialty stores this month for holiday, and the looks draw from Lopez’s glittering stage style, with many bright colors and crystal accents. The line will range from $70 to $195 at retail.

MICHAEL MICHAEL KORS

Michael Michael Kors watches, which hit major department stores this month, also build on Michael Kors’ lifestyle, accentuating what many have called his “carpool couture” sensibility.

“Michael Kors brings a sense of realistic fashion,” said Alex Cushing, brand manager for Michael Michael Kors at Fossil. “It’s achievable and understandable, yet sexy and still fashionable — and also has a ton of quality and value.”

Cushing said the line focuses on classic round and tank shapes, some with chunky buckle closures. Other features include day/date calendars, full working chronographs and a signature second hand in orange, a favorite Kors color. Retail prices range from $80 to $150.

PERRY ELLIS

Stuart Cameron, director of marketing and design at SII Marketing International, said this will be the second time that Perry Ellis is offering watches bearing the company’s name, after a previous license with Genender International ended about four years ago. This time around, however, pricing is more competitive, with the watches retailing from $75 to $110.

The design will also better match the classic feminine positioning of the apparel collection, which has received positive reviews in recent seasons, although Cameron was quick to point out that the watch collection isn’t translated directly from the apparel, but rather “tells the overall story.”

We asked ourselves what it is about a woman that is appealing; we looked at curves and lines,” Cameron explained. “The feeling is sort of Audrey Hepburn for today.”

Cameron described the Perry Ellis watch line as being centered around classic styling, with a lot of attention to detail.

“We worked closely with the team at Perry Ellis and came up with exclusive details,” he said. “We tooled everything from scratch. The crowns are unique, the hands have nice details, and the colors and dial treatments have a sheen that is very subtle.”

The 22-style women’s line, along with the men’s line, debuted at wholesale during the August accessories market, and is expected to turn up in main-floor departments for spring.

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Movado posts gain and gets coach license

Movado Group Inc. made news on two fronts on Tuesday: It reported a 12.9 percent gain in its third-quarter profits and announced a licensing agreement to produce a full line of watches under the Coach brand.

The licensing agreement is the first for the prominent Coach leather goods brand. The 10-year contract gives fine watchmaker Movado the exclusive worldwide rights to design, manufacture and distribute Coach watches for men and women.

The Coach watch collection will debut at the Basel Watch Fair in Switzerland in April 1998, and it be launched in Coach stores and fine jewelry departments of select department and specialty stores beginning that spring. In addition, the line will be sold through Coach’s catalog, which is mailed to more than 8 million households in the U.S.

After the U.S. launch, the watches will be rolled out internationally in fall 1998, according to Lew Frankfort, chairman and chief executive officer of Coach.

Watches are a natural extension of the Coach franchise,” said Frankfort, interviewed along with Efraim Grinberg, Movado’s president. “According to our consumer research, fine watches are frequently associated with leather goods. Also, both are accessories, which are often sold in adjacent and similar environments.”

Frankfort added that quality and long-term value were the reasons behind choosing the higher-end watch market instead of the more volume-driven fashion watch arena.

“Our products need to provide lasting value. Both companies agreed that we needed to produce and position the watch line at a price that would meet and exceed our consumer’s expectations. We also found through our research that our customers own watches at and above these price levels,” Frankfort said.

This is Movado’s first foray into working with an established consumer brand outside of the watch field. While neither executive would give a sales projection, Grinberg predicted the venture will be a “home run,” positioned above such watch brands as Seiko and Citizen and very competitive with such names as Gucci, Raymond Weil and even his firm’s Movado brand.

“There is a big opportunity here. We are looking for voids in the marketplace. Coach will fill a void for classic dress and elegant sport watches,” said Grinberg.

The Coach line’s retail price range — from $195 to $795 — is higher than the Movado Group’s ESQ line and lower than its Movado line.

Coach watches will feature Swiss movements and both leather strap and bracelet models. Frankfort said the watch collection will also incorporate signature Coach elements like its range of colored leathers for straps, for example.

Coach, founded in 1941, is a division of Sara Lee Corp., with worldwide distribution of its products for men and women, which include handbags, business cases, belts, small leather goods and shoes. Coach men’s apparel, launched in September 1995, is sold in select U.S. markets.

Meanwhile, Movado’s profits in the third quarter ended Oct. 31 rose to $7.35 million, or $1.22 a share, from $6.5 million, or $1.08, a year ago. Sales also advanced 12.9 percent, to $76.9 million from $68.1 million.

“Gross margins improved throughout the year, benefiting from continued growth in our manufactured brands Movado, ESQ and Concord,” said Grinberg. Gross margins in the latest quarter increased to 55.9 percent of sales from 53.1 percent a year ago.

Grinberg said the company saw particularly strong performances of its new lines. “Veneto, our recent introduction in the Concord brand, and Vizio, our new Movado watch, have been well-received in both domestic and international markets,” he said.

In the nine months, profits rose to $8.6 million, or $1.42, from $6.9 million, or $1.15, after a $600,000 one-time pretax accounting charge in connection with adoption of new accounting standards relating to amortization of advertising production costs.

Sales moved ahead 13.1 percent to $158.6 million from $140.3 million. Gross margins rose to 55.4 percent of sales from 53 percent.

Although earnings in the latest quarter beat Wall Street estimates of $1.20, Movado’s stock in over-the-counter trading Tuesday slipped 3/4 to close at 26 1/2.

In addition to its Movado and ESQ watches, Movado manufactures and distributes Concordwatches. It also is the exclusive distributor of Swiss-made Piaget and Corum watches in the U.S., Canada, Central America and the Caribbean.

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Price rite

Perhaps Bob Barker has a point. When it comes to jewelry and watches, the past year has proven that consumers feel the price needs to be right.

With the exception of Rolex, Tiffany and Swiss Army Brands, most names on the category-specific top 10 list offer merchandise less than $100, and that’s an unusual feat in a sector where upscale brands have mammoth marketing budgets, frequently bombarding shoppers with eye-catching advertising visuals in media outlets from magazines and movies to prime time television.

It’s hardly surprising that the more mainstream brands have generally fared so well. In the post-2000 economic downturn, the upscale fine jewelry and watch sector was one of the hardest hit, even though it has rebounded and is now doing well. Customers typically delayed their high-end purchases, stashed their cash and stayed home to avoid the temptations offered in lofty retail environments such as exclusive jewelry salons.

Pricing became an issue and customers turned to the Internet and more moderate chains like Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney to find deals on diamonds. Brand recognition was and remains high for value-oriented brands.

Total jewelry and watch sales in the U.S. are estimated to have been $43.56 billion in 2003, according to 2 Degrees Freedom Ltd., a London-based marketing and research consultancy that began tracking jewelry sales last year. According to the Commerce Department, 2002 jewelry and watch sales were $42.3 billion in the U.S., and the department predicts 2004 sales of $48.3 billion.

To capitalize on the current momentum of better values in watches and jewelry, many companies have stepped up their marketing efforts and added value to their collections by offering more innovation and teaming up with fashionable designers.

Case in point is number one jewelry and watch brand Timex. The Middlebury, Conn.-based Timex Corp. has reengineered its legendary tag line, “It Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking,” after 50 years. The updated version reads simply, “Life is Ticking.” In addition, Timex is upping its design quotient and recently collaborated with industrial designer Karim Rashid, contemporary artist Dave Kinsey and fashion designer Matthew Williamson for new limited-edition Timex XFactor watches.

Number two Seiko hasn’t been resting on its laurels, either. The company, whose U.S. division is based in Mahwah, N.J., continues to wow customers with innovations, and is launching a Sportura chronograph (stopwatch) this fall.

The fourth most recognized watch brand in America is Casio, which has snared a youthful customer with its fun G-Shock collection, and also has stepped up its innovation in recent months by introducing watch designs that use solar technology. The Japanese brand also has been building consumer recognition with its growing assortment of electronic merchandise such as digital cameras and electronic musical instruments.

Placing fifth, Swatch continues to be noticed by consumers with its fun and whimsical collections, such as the recent Bunnysutra line, which featured illustrations of bunnies in suggestive positions, causing much controversy and press hype that ultimately served to heighten brand awareness.

In the women’s sector, number six Citizen has been building momentum with ladylike designs featuring diamonds, crystals and mother-of-pearl details in styles such as Stiletto, Riva and Aviara, but it, too, is playing the techno card: Its watches run on solar power instead of batteries. Citizen is particularly known to sports fans, as it is a sponsor of major tournaments.

Swiss Army Brands, which took the seventh spot, has been equally aggressive to build market share. A depressed economy might have hurt the company, known for its signature pocketknives, but Shelton, Conn.-based Swiss Army is building consumer recognition with its watches, apparel, travel gear and kitchen cutlery.

Close behind is Fossil, in eighth place. The company has been spreading its wings by making new acquisitions, such as its recent purchase of Tempus International Corp., which operates as MicheleWatches, and acquiring the licenses for Burberry and Zodiac watches.

Number nine Bulova, meanwhile, is looking to bolster its presence in consumer minds with an ad campaign this fall featuring its new diamond-adorned sport designs, as well as a renewed effort to enter the European market, particularly in Italy and Germany.

While there’s quite a bit of action in the moderate field, the high-end business anticipates a rosier future. Many upscale retailers said the free-spending customer has returned in recent months, and they look for a strong fourth quarter with up to 20 percent gains in sales, thanks to a rising stock market and a healthier job picture.

That’s good news for the likes of Tiffany and Rolex, which are expanding their assortments this year. Number three Rolex, for instance, made a departure of sorts by launching the roaringly wild Cosmograph Daytona watch featuring yellow sapphires on the bezel and a wild, animal-print strap. The new watch will surely attract a younger, if not more extroverted, customer that usually gravitates toward fashion brands.

At number 10, Tiffany & Co., meanwhile, has boosted its engagement collection earlier with the next Legacy ring, and in September, will be launching a complete “Atlas” collection of watches and jewelry.

The Top 10: Watches & Jewelry

1. Timex

2. Seiko

3. Rolex

4. Casio

5. Swatch

6. Citizen

7. Swiss Army

8. Fossil

9. Bulova

10. Tiffany

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Women’s watches have gone from the bold to the beautiful in a return to elegance

Dainty does it. Watchmakers, after a few seasons of issuing men’s wear-inspired clunkers made feminine with the addition of crystals or different colors like pink, are returning to fine jewelry influences and petite proportions designed with the ladies in mind. The turnaround coincides beautifully with ready-to-wear’s resurgence of tailored suits, subdued colors and flirty, yet classic elements like trumpet skirts and polkadots.

Fashion dictates a smaller watch now,” said Patric Zingg, general manager of Hamilton, a watch line owned by The Swatch Group in Weehawken, N.J. Since Hamilton pioneered the concept of creating a stand-alone women’s watch collection in the early 20th century, according to Zingg, the brand’s recent transition to smaller timepieces has been seamless. “Ladylike looks are in our DNA,” he said.

One example Zingg cited is the revival of the Lady Hamilton style from the Thirties. Though designed in the same tonneau shape, the new Lady Hamilton is made of stainless steel instead of its original white gold or platinum. Two bracelet styles and a style with a leather strap in red, black or white retail between $295 and $500 at Macy’s East. A satin strap in black or white makes its debut late spring.

Zingg said one of the biggest selling factors with the new Lady Hamilton is the reasonable price. “This trend is usually represented through fine jewelry,” he explained.

Carried at Federated department stores for $58 or $72, Peugeot watches really deliver the trend for a steal. Peugeot’s biggest hit is a thin rectangular case in yellow gold with a leather strap in black, tan or turquoise. The company will add striped grosgrain ribbon for summer and leather in camel, royal blue or berry, and some possible tweeds and wools, for fall. Peugeot’s national sales manager Sean Sherman said anything white, such as a mother-of-pearl face with a white crocodile-printed leather strap, is also selling. Mother-of-pearl faces appear on gold or silver chain-link bracelets, too.

“The market overdid the bling-bling large trend, so it’s going back to traditional again,” said Sherman, who observed the changeover in the fourth quarter of 2004. Half the collection has more dainty proportions compared with 20 percent last year. “Smaller pieces are checking so much better that we may increase to 60 percent and reissue retro styles,” he said.

But it’s not just established watch houses with decades of meticulously kept archives that are looking back at ladylike, jewelry-influenced retro styles. BCBG, which launched its watch division in February, shows Thirties-inspired cocktail watches in materials like rose gold, stainless steel and mother-of-pearl. Leather straps are hot pink, brown, white or teal, and 40 percent of the collection is now allotted to metal bracelet watches. The looks retail between $95 and $350 at department stores including Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Marshall Field’s.

“People are going back to elegant. Big watches are completely dead for us,” said Dina Crisco, a national sales manager for Long Island City, N.Y.-based Geneva Watch Company, which licenses BCBG.

Crisco attributed the demise of bold watches to oversaturation, especially when retailers splashed the look all over holiday advertisements after it had already been done to death in spring 2004. “Everyone had oversized, glitzy, pink watches, and it backfired,” she said.

Estimating more than 60 percent of Geneva’s watch business is dedicated to small and even miniature styles, Crisco predicted the trend should run through spring 2006.

Kenneth Cole, another Geneva brand that sells for $75 to $125 at Nordstrom, Parisian and Federated department stores, features classic cases and neutral colors. “Cases aren’t in those crazy shapes anymore, and we’re seeing growth in earth-tone straps, yellow gold and textured faces like mother-of-pearl,” said Crisco, whose top seller is a narrow, rectangular shape with Roman numerals and a silver or white face.

Fossil, a Richardson, Tex.-based multibrand watch company that licenses Michael Michael Kors and DKNY, experienced a jump in sales this spring due to the emergence of women’s watches with a jewelry feel, according to Brad Beach, vice president of watch design and product development. “Small and feminine is the biggest trend now,” he said of the vintage-inspired pieces.

Beach said Michael Kors combines watch materials in a manner similar to how they are working with materials in sunglasses, like mixing leather and a metal chain or white plastic and gold. The line also incorporates gold or silver mesh, identification chain bracelets and charms for items that retail between $110 and $150 at Macy’s. “Bigger watches are just sportier by nature, whereas small sizes are more versatile and can go from casual to dressy to true evening much easier,” said Beach.

Basing its collection on the spirit of romance, DKNY shrinks its cases and decorates them with stones and leather straps in girly pinks and lilacs. Fluid silver mesh, which Beach said continues to be a strong platform, sends a feminine message, as well. Watches sell for $85 to $125 at Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and DKNY retail stores.

Kim Anderson-Curry, senior vice president of marketing and product for Callanen, a watch designer, manufacturer and distributor in Norwalk, Conn., said small, tailored watches are important to its Guess brand. In January, Guess introduced a smaller, elongated case with crystals on a silver-toned metal bracelet for $85. For Mother’s Day, the company plans to add a rectangular, crystal-enhanced case in stainless steel with a mother-of-pearl face and leather strap in white, pink or black for $85. It also has designed a watch on a multistrand chain with an engraved locket for $85 in silver or $95 in gold.

We see a strong fine jewelry influence,” said Anderson-Curry, who oversees accounts at Macy’s and Watch Station in addition to Guess retail stores.

Since the brand’s broad audience means it can’t walk away entirely from oversized looks, it also is doing “bold watches with feminine twists like five-strand pearl bracelets or cases of gold-toned metal and crystals,” according to Anderson-Curry.

She added, however, that Thirties-inspired watches are what’s to come. “Based on the ready-to-wear trends,” she explained, “I see the small, retro trend having a longer life than 2005.”

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