IN U.S., WATCHES BOOM, BUT NOT FOR JEWELLERS

Americans bought 125 million to 150 million watches in 1988, everything from cheap refrigerator magnets with digital displays to diamond-studded luxury timepieces. That’s up considerably from only 43 million watches in 1969.

But even as U.S. sales grew by leaps and bounds, watches and clocks became a smaller part of jewelers’ total sales. At the same time, the remnants of the U.S. watch production industry virtually disappeared.

U.S. production: The demand for digital watches in the 1970s produced a brief boom in U.S. watch production. In 1969, for example, U.S. watch production totaled 17.7 million. By 1977, production totaled 31 million watches, most of them digital, and more than 1000 stuhrling review. But aggressive price-cutting and a global glut of cheap digital watches burst the balloon. Many small manufacturers and marketers went out of business because they couldn’t compete financially or couldn’t develop an adequate distribution system.

Many nonwatch firms — such as General Electric, Texas Instruments, Gillette and Fairchild Industries — also tried their luck with digitals. They all failed because they didn’t understand watch production and marketing. They thought watches could be sold in the same way as pocket calculators — which a year or two earlier enjoyed immense success in the market. Like pocket calculators, digital watches started at a fairly high price but dropped dramatically as production soared and production expertise grew. While it was possible to sell calculators through almost every conceivable retail outlet, this wasn’t possible with watches.

At the same time, rising costs led other manufacturers to go off-shore to low-cost, labor-intensive production centers in Asia. Timex, for example, shifted most of its production and assembly operations to Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines. The result: U.S. watch imports mushroomed from 58.1 million units in 1980 to 210 units last year.

By 1988, all that remained of the U.S. watch production industry were some Japanese-run assembly operations in California, a Swiss-run assembly operation in Pennsylvania and small Timex operations in Arkansas and Connecticut.

Jewelers’ sales: Industry experts estimate U.S. watch and clock sales total at least $2 billion annually, and some say as high as $5 billion. (Major vendors in this hotly competitive market don’t like to reveal results of their market surveys). But watches and clocks account for only about 12% of jewelers’ sales, down from 17.9% in 1969.

Why? Many jewelers reduced or dropped their watch and clock departments when discount and off-price retailers stepped into the market. Jewelers and Better Business Bureaus warned consumers that off-price retailers used huge markups to allow for markdowns, and that the discount prices weren’t much different from jewelers’ regular prices. But consumers still flocked to discount houses.

The fodder for much of the off-price watch market was gray-market goods (brand-name items made overseas for foreign markets but imported here and sold at discount prices by unauthorized dealers.)

Off-price retailing of watches got a major boost in 1980 when K mart, the nation’s second-largest retailer, added gray-market Seikos to its jewelry department. Other mass-merchandisers followed suit. By 1984, gray-market watches had become a $100 million market in the U.S.

Efforts increased in the mid-1980s’ to dam the flow of gray-market watches. Watch firms, the American Watch Association and Jewelers of America were among the founding members of the Coalition to Preserve the Integrity of American Trademarks. COPIAT lobbied aggressively against the U.S. Customs Service, which allowed the entry of gray-market goods if the trademark owner was a U.S. firm or had a U.S. outlet. But in 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Customs Service.

Counterfeit watches: Counterfeiting also affects jewelers’ watch sales. Consumers buy fake watches at bargain-basement prices, thinking they’ve bought the real thing for much less than they’d pay a jeweler. But that creates two problems: consumers akribos xxiv reviews end up with a watch of little value and also take away business for jewelers dealing legitimately.

Some watch vendors have started to fight back to protect their names and their profits. Rolex, for example, now spends more than $1 million annually to find and prosecute watch counterfeiters.

And as a whole, the watch industry persuaded Congress in 1984 to pass the Trademark Counterfeiting Act, which makes trafficking in phony timepieces a criminal offense.

The American Watch Association also battles counterfeiting, working with individual watch firms, the Watchmakers of Switzerland Information Center and other trade groups. In addition to lobbying, AWA funded three major investigations of bogus watch trafficking. The most spectacular was “Operation Watchcase,” which uncovered a counterfeit watch network, resulted in scores of arrests and recovered tens of thousands of bogus watches in 1987.

In 1988, AWA, WOSIC and Jewelers of America initiated a successful program built around a phone number (1-800-333-FAKE) to report suspected watch counterfeiters. AWA also produced a video warning TV viewers about fake watches, helped to develop a model state law making making counterfeiting a felony and pushed to erase weaknesses and toughen seizure provisions in the Trademark Counterfeit Act.

Repair service: As watches and clocks started to claim a smaller share of jewelers’ sales, so did repairs. For generations, jewelers and watch repairmen were virtually synonymous. In fact, many jewelers entered the jewelry industry as operators of small watch repair shops.

But from 1969-1989, the number of watchmakers in the U.S. labor market dropped from 30,000 to about 12,000. While every jewelry store once had its own watchmaker, 37% of those polled by JC-K in 1989 had none.

One reason is the smaller role that watches play in jewelry-store sales. Another reason is technological advances such as quartz watches, which need few repairs. Wages also can be blamed. In late 1988, the approximate starting salary for a watchmaker was $10,000 to $12,000.

Yet jewelers say watch repairs are a valuable service. As a result, watch repair trade shops and factories have increased, serving jewelers who no longer offer the service themselves.

Other changes: The U.S. watch market has witnessed a number of other changes in the past 20 years.

The advent of electronic digital and analog watches, with their precise timekeeping, led to great emphasis on marketing and styling. As yuppies began to prosper in the 1980s, advertisements across the U.S. promoted watches as fashion accessories first, and timepieces second.

A pioneer in this marketing concept was the Swatch, the trendy, inexpensive, Swiss watch introduced in the early 1980s.

In 1986, clothier Benneton licensed Bulova Watch Co. to produce a line of fashion watches. It was part of a fast-growing trend toward designer name timepieces. By 1989, watch and clocks bore the names of prominent designers and even leading automotive products such as Ferrari, Jaguar and Harley-Davidson.

Luxury watches ($300+) also became a growth market in the U.S. in the latter 1980s, despite rising gold prices and the devalued dollar.

Nonwatch accessories: Some watch firms even expanded into nonwatch fashion accessories. Movado offered products ranging from handbags to glasses. Bulova has a line of 14k jewelry and launched the Buly line of tote, backpack and gym bags in trendy colors with clocks affixed to the outside.

Cartier opened several in-store boutiques and reportedly considered licensing its Piaget watch name for various accessories.

Ironically, Swatch, which helped to launch the trend, is getting out of the fashion accessories business. Swatch officials said the experiment was unsuccessful and that the firm now will concentrate on its core business of watch and watch accessories.

Jeweler Joseph Bulova Put His Faith In Innovation

Joseph Bulova knew a trend when he saw one. This one, he thought, had the hallmark of a permanent change.

Bulova owned a small family jewelry shop in New York City. From halfway across the world, he learned that soldiers in World War I had stopped using pocket watches.

The wristwatches made by military suppliers struck Bulova like a bolt of lightning. He realized their ease of use could make them hot consumer products for men. He and his son, Arde, a clockmaker, decided to adapt them for civilian use.

This posed a challenge, because the military watches were simple timepieces lashed to leather straps — too plain for civilian customers.

But Bulova (1851-1935) persisted. He was a master of taste and practicality. He and his son experimented by adding fine Swiss watch movements and decorative touches to the original, Army-issued designs.

In 1919, soon after World War I ended, the Bulovas introduced the first full line of men’s wristwatches with jeweled works (read bulova marine star review). Sales took off. Other makers followed, and the wristwatch became a familiar part of 20th-century life.

The earliest wristwatches had appeared in the 1880s as small clocks that dangled from women’s bracelets. Until World War I, wristwatches were seen as feminine.

Men didn’t wear wristwatches before World War I, because such watches were considered effeminate, says Dana Blackwell, a professional watch repairer and historian.

Bulova believed World War I had stirred deep changes. He bet wristwatches would be a hit with men in the postwar era. He was right.

Women were working in larger numbers, and the Roaring ’20s spawned a generation of more independent and socially active women.

He introduced his first line of women’s wristwatches in 1924. He made them as trim and practical as the men’s — albeit smaller.

The watches became emblems of the flapper generation of the 1920s, and sales rocketed.

It was farsighted steps like this that allowed Bulova and son Arde to found the Bulova Watch Co. in 1923 in New York City. By 1929, the company had cornered about 50% of the U.S. market for watches and clocks.

In a trade where precision mattered, Bulova analyzed details from all angles.

Bulova, who was born in Austria-Hungary and moved to the U.S. as a young adult, learned the tradition of Old World craftsmanship that demanded every watch or piece of jewelry be a work of art. But he was also practical. Bulova realized mass production could revolutionize watchmaking.

Using special machine tools, the Bulovas standardized every part in Bulova watches. Each part was interchangeable with the same part in any Bulova watch.

The innovation allowed millions of high-quality watches to be mass-produced at lower cost than ever before. This made watches and clocks more affordable for Americans.

Before Bulova’s brainstorm, watch repairmen had to hunt replacement parts or duplicate them by hand. This could take a long time or cost a great deal. Bulova changed all that.

Bulova saw how well people responded to advertising. He and Arde produced a radio commercial — one of the first in the United States.

In 1931, Bulova’s company became the first in the watch industry to launch a million-dollar advertising blitz. Other jewelers thought Bulova was crazy.

But Bulova wasn’t distracted by criticism. His ad blitz swamped radio and print media and made Bulova a household name.

In 1927, when Charles Lindbergh made the first trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris, Bulova and his son thundered from the gate with a new product. They had 5,000 special wristwatches commemorating Lindbergh’s flight packed in gift boxes with pictures of the aviator.

The first shipment of these watches sold out in three days. He sold 50,000 more of the watches over the next several years, inaugurating a commemorative watch industry.

As a Czech immigrant familiar with the wars and upheavals that shook Europe, he learned to be prepared for any situation.

Between 1930 and 1940, Bulova amassed enough plants and experts to manufacture complete watches without foreign parts or help.

This didn’t come a moment too soon. When World War II began, the government converted all of Bulova’s plants to defense work.

Though Bulova died before World War II, the firm headed by his son later did a huge volume of defense work, producing military watches, aircraft instruments and fuses and other parts for Navy torpedoes.

Forget Rolex. This is the Rolls-Royce of watches

For $8,700 (U.S.), Swiss watch company Romain Jerome will sell you a wristwatch with a rusty, pitted steel case. The tarnish reflects the fact that the metal was once part of the Titanic, and spent decades at the bottom of the Atlantic, then was hauled up prior to the wreck being declared a protected site in the mid-nineties.

For $23,050, there’s a Rolex with a face made out of a thinly sliced chunk of meteorite, rimmed in white gold. For $24,800, your wrist can be one of just 247 on the planet sporting a hunk of polished steel designed, in a limited run, by watchmaker Panerai and auto maker Ferrari.

Watches in this price range are still great conversation pieces. They do keep time. Yet high-end buyers are walking right past these gimmicks to drop anywhere from $100,000 to $1.3-million on a watch design that hasn’t much changed in more than 200 years. Because what you really want to reveal when you pull back your sleeve is something called a tourbillon.

What, you ask, is a tourbillon? It’s the watchmaker’s highest achievement: a collection of hand-crafted gears and springs designed to keep an incredibly accurate count of minutes passing by offsetting the influence of gravity or any other outside force.

The guts of a tourbillon watch, known as the escapement, are built to rotate and are usually left visible. The few high-end manufacturers, all Swiss, who turn out these gems take six to 12 months to produce each watch.

The concept was developed in 1795 by Abraham Louis Breguet, who is to Swiss timepieces what Tim Horton is to Canadian coffee.

Napoleon bought three Breguet watches – one of his wife’s sold at auction this year for $1.3-million. Winston Churchill wore one.

Now, it’s Canada’s real-estate developers and financiers who quietly boast of their success by strapping on these timepieces. They join a club that also includes Hollywood royalty: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nicolas Cage are collectors of tourbillons from watchmakers such as Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe.

“A generation ago, buying a Rolex was seen as a sign of success,” says Tyler Markoff, manager of Royal de Versailles Jewellers. “Now, Rolex is still a great watch, but the goal for many buyers is to own something more exclusive, a tourbillon watch.” And Mr. Markoff recently sold three watchesbased on Mr. Breguet’s work to a long-time customer, for $1-million, during one visit, and took a $100,000 order from another customer for a Panerai tourbillon that won’t be delivered until the summer of 2009.

“It’s a banker’s watch, understated yet elegant, and for those who understand the engineering it’s got real wow appeal,” Mr. Markoff says. “They are pieces of art, or the equivalent of a Rolls-Royce.”

The larger trend ticking away in high-end watches is a move toward increased spending by men on accessories. North American spending on men’s jewellery nearly doubled in the past three years to $6-billion, according to Pam Danziger, founder of Unity Marketing, which advises luxury retailers.

Those who start the journey to a $100,000-plus watch quickly come to a fork in the road. There are gem-encrusted pieces that are more jewellery than clock, and there are highly technical pieces such as tourbillon-style watches. For reasons firmly rooted in boys’ fascination with toys, the new-money lads in the financial and software worlds are showing enormous interest in techno-timepieces.

Combine that surging demand with the relatively limited production from Switzerland, and you end up with a bubble that speaks to the wealth and impatience of our age.

Patek Philippe, one of the toniest Swiss watchmakers, turns out about 15,000 pieces a year, while Rolex ships 600,000. Among the top-end pieces is something called a Sky Moon tourbillon, a double-sided watch that charts the movements of the stars on one face. The price tag is up to $900,000.

Buying these Patek Philippes, according to a recent piece in Time magazine, means submitting to an interview with the company in Geneva, getting approval, then waiting one to four years. For some well-heeled buyers, including the hedge-fund crowd, the wait was intolerable: Time found buyers dropping $1.2-million on slightly used Sky Moon watches in auctions, in order to avoid the line.

To explain this extravagance, the magazine quoted Robert Frank, author of Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich, as saying: “The challenge for today’s rich is to set themselves apart from the merely affluent.”

When you want a watch that does more than tell time

If you think a wrist watch is merely to tell the time, you are likely not the nice gentleman from Montreal who recently paid North American Watch of Canada $2.5-million for a diamond-encrusted Piaget.

You’ve probably never seen the Swiss watch-maker’s brooch-watch in the form of a bee, circa 1900, in which the silver wings of the insect are studded with diamonds and the yellow-striped jacket of the body is rendered in gold.

Watches defined by emeralds, watches with white gold bezels, watches in the shape of diamond tears, watches that are ultra-thin and feature an 18-jewel movement, these have been some of the inspirations over the years of Piaget, hand-made marvels that have been to horology what the Rolls-Royce has been to the automotive realm.

“Mankind loves watches for the dreams time evokes,” said Yves Piaget on the occasion of an exhibition called Montres et Merveilles several years ago in Milan. “Created by master watchmakers, adorned by the most prestigious jewellers or signed by renowned fashion houses, fine watches have altered [our] perception of time by adding a new dimension of fantasy.”

A watch, Piaget believes, “proclaims the art of living, where elegance and the subtleties of mastering time assume their true value.”

On that ethereal note, let’s hasten to add that some people want and will pay for a Piaget and others will be even happier with a Truck Driver, one of this season’s new offerings from Swatch. The Truck Driver is a burly, rugged chronograph in black with yellow on the face. Then there’s the Swatch Caution, which features that word in large black letters across a yellow band and dial, or the Web Site, which is stamped WWW on the band and appears to be crisscrossed with optical fibres.

The elegance of the Piaget has in a sense remained along an unbroken continuum for decades. As the wild Swatch offerings suggest, however, much else in the field has gone through a lot of turbulence, in some cases finally returning to such earlier graces as manual winding and fine mechanisms.

“The ultra high end like Piaget did not really change,” remarks Noel McDonagh, product and distribution manager at North American Watch of Canada in Toronto. “It’s the middle of the road, the last five years, that really changed when the economy got tight.”

One shift has been toward the white metals, steel along with white gold. The Philippe Charriol line ofwatches this year, for example, features steel in many of its lines, sometimes with just a dramatic outline of gold surrounding the dial. Coiled strands of metal, a conscious harking back to the geometrical play of such coils in Celtic art, are used to form the bands on a number of the Charriolwatches, as well as being echoed in the designer’s bracelets, cuff links, key chains and even belt buckles.

“White metal is cleaner looking,” McDonagh says. “A lot of people want to be able to spend their money and have beautiful things, but they don’t want to stand out as much.”

That’s still the psychological bite of the recession being felt, an early nineties period in which not only many jewelry businesses had to cut back or went under but the population at large shrank from spending on luxury. To this day, many people indeed “don’t want to stand out as much,” particularly if friends or associates continue to feel an economic pinch.

Yet McDonagh also believes that at the same time, “the world in general is becoming more comfortable with luxury goods. The whole image out there is that people want to have these status items.”

Ironically, the flamboyant, vivacious and affordable Swatch line helped pave the return to international popularity for the Swiss product, which was certainly eclipsed for a number of years by Japan’s excellent use of quartz technology.

Zinnia Crawford, the marketing manager who works with McDonagh says that, “in the Canadian market what we’ve noticed is that the Swiss line of watches have become very big items. People do not want to pay too much but they want the Swiss label.”

At a time when the Swiss industry was in trouble, the Swatch, which North American Watch does not carry, “brought a new light into Swiss watch making,” Crawford says.

Of course, competitive juices are at work here, but even McDonagh concedes that in the more accessible range up to $400, “the Japanese make a very good, very affordable, very acceptable product.” And if the Swiss passed over on quartz initially, the stunning successes of Japanese lines with that technology has decidedly influenced the European industry; indeed, half of the Piaget line today is quartz movement.

Whether from Seiko or Bulova or Malvado, you’ll see plenty of fashionable looks this season, but over at Rolex, not surprisingly, you’ll also find another time-honoured firm that also prides itself in continuity with a celebrated tradition.

“Basically, Rolex tends to be very consistent,” says Victor Royce, vice-president of marketing for the Rolex Watch Company of Canada in Toronto. “People who buy Rolex watches are not necessarily people who buy fashion pieces.”

One of the things buyers of a Rolex are seeking is a lifetime purchase, given some servicing every five years or so to change the oil in the case. You can also have a Rolex customize with anything from diamonds on the dial to the bezel.

“You can take a basic Rolex gold watch and you can get it in umpteen different ways,” Royce says. “There are dozens of different combinations you can acquire based on availability from Geneva.”

Founded in 1905, the Rolex is perhaps most famed for its creation in 1926 of the Oyster, the world’s first truly waterproof and dustproof case. Following from that history, Rolex in 1953 launched the Submariner, guaranteed to 100 metres underwater (today to a depth of 300 metres); and the GMT-Master the next year, the first waterproof, self-winding wristwatch to simultaneously show the exact time in two time zones.

Initially, the GMT-Master was for international airline pilots. But it’s “as popular today among Rolex wearers who have no particular need for that feature but who specifically enjoy having that aspect on their watch,” Royce says.

Women sometimes enjoy such features as well, but, as with most things in the world of jewelry, the men’s and women’s markets are generally quite different.

“Women look at watches as pieces of jewelry that happen to tell them the time,” McDonagh says. “Men like to tinker. And some watches do take a lot of care, like buying a high-end car.”

Even if it isn’t so high end, such as an Esquire chronograph that retails for around $200, “most people who have these never use it for what it’s made for,” McDonagh says. “It’s busy looking, it has a very sporty look to it.”

Choose your time zone.

Personal Time Precious Time

Wrist watches once may have been merely a convenience. Now they’ve become a personal statement.

It is a damn-the-torpedoes meeting. The long boardroom table is a burnished valentine to successful commerce and the aggressive executive leans confidently forward to address his colleagues. His jacket rests casually over the back of his chair, his tie is loose and his sleeves are rolled halfway to his elbows, exposing a large two-tone Rolex that gleams like a gladiator’s wrist shield. He is ready to do business.

The mighty Rolex as power accessory is almost a cliche now, but wrist- watch addicts of all stripes are more common than you might think. The reasons range from fashion consciousness (the watch is the one piece of jewelry that many men will allow themselves) to connoisseurship to the brazenly crass – for, like your car, your watch is a potent badge of material success. But, unlike your car, you can get it into the elevator and up to the boardroom to impress your peers.

So popular as a status indicator is the expensive watch that it can, like a car, now be leased. Although the coveted Rolex President model, for example, is a brisk seller at $17,000 (list), Toronto’s Movements in Time will also lease it for $548 a month over a 30-month term, at the end of which the wearer will own it. Movements in Time’s Peter Grunspan reports that trade has been brisk since he opened his leasing division last January. “I’ve had calls from executives all over the country who don’t want to lay out that much cash for a wrist watch,” he says. “Leasing obviously protects capital and gives them what they want right now. It also gives them a lock on today’s price and that’s important because, unlike cars, good watches don’t drop in value.”

According to a spokesman for European Jewellery, a tony Toronto jewelry emporium that sellswatches priced from $100 to $100,000, class enters into the choice of a fine wrist watch as well. He says the Rolex might now be too popular with the masses. “Yes, the Rolex is popular with some people but it’s also considered by others to be too gaudy or flashy for meetings,” he sniffs. “Those people may already own a Rolex but they use it for fishing or playing squash. For important business occasions, they lean to hot sellers like Baume & Mercier ($1,000 to $20,000) or Patek Philippe ($5,000 to $50,000). They want a simple, classic shape: a round white dial with Roman numerals.” European Jewellery’s anonymous spokesman has also noted sociological changes in the store’s 15-year history. “Ten years ago,” he says, “it was acceptable to wear a Timex to a board meeting. Today, it just isn’t done. Many of our customers drive a Mercedes. They choose their watches for the same reason: to own something that works really well but that also makes a statement about who they are.”

In fact, buying a good wrist watch can also make sound investment sense, according to Steve Campbell of Charleston Clocks & Watches and John Dryden of John Dryden Antiques. Both dealers, who share cluttered Port Credit premises, specialize in vintage timepieces. Campbell notes a sharp rise of interest in older wrist watches. “A few years ago,” he says, “you couldn’t give them away. Pocket watches were fashionable while there were three-piece suits around but now some of our yuppie customers just want old-fashioned rectangular wrist watches that look like the ones their fathers wore, like Walthams and Elgins and Hamiltons. These classics sell for an average $150. Then there are rare models, like the 1952 Patek Philippe perpetual calendar that shows the phases of the moon. When it was made, it cost about $750. Now, it can sell for as much as $36,000.” Another favorite among collectors is the Eaton’s quarter-century watch, which was given to Eaton’s employees for 25 years of service. The original was made by Rolex specifically for the Canadian market and models without “Eaton’s” on the dial sold for about $125 in the ’20s. Now it can be worth $4,000.

Jim White, a food consultant and former Loblaws senior executive, ebulliently confesses his passion for wrist watches and their lore. He owns six that he wears regularly, switching them according to his mood. One is a venerable Elgin that belonged to his father. “Digitals are the white chocolate of the wrist-watch world,” he asserts with some belligerence. “They’re one-hour wonders. And I like dials with Roman numerals. They’re more elegant. Have you ever noticed that the number four on a Roman watch dial is often IIII rather than IV?” Like fellow devotees, White will idle for hours in jewelry stores, contentedly gazing at the seductive faces that peer back from the velvet under glass. “I also have something else in common with other wrist-watch enthusiasts,” he admits. “I’m never on time for anything.”

Walk a lifetime in my shoes

“Oh yes. . . . Well, I’ll let him answer for himself.” Disregarding my shaking head, she handed me the telephone.

“Good evening, sir,” the voice said to me. “This is Mr. — ” The name wasn’t familiar, and now I have forgotten it. “I’m calling to see how you like your new shoes. I hope that you’re enjoying them.”

Good grief. How do I like my new shoes? I can understand someone calling and asking me how I like my new Porsche or my new Rolex or my new 36-foot cabin cruiser, none of which I own or ever will, but my new shoes?

“Well, I really don’t know. I haven’t worn them yet,” I admitted.

“You’ve had them for more than three months and you haven’t worn them yet?” he asked incredulously.

“Well, no. They haven’t got their laces in yet.”

There was a short silence. Then: “I’m sure that you had laces when you left here, sir. You tried the best shoes plantar fasciitis on, and I laced them up for you. Don’t you remember?”

“Well, of course I remember. But they aren’t ready yet. They’ve had only 46 coats. They probably won’t be ready until around 80, perhaps more because the leather has more grain in it then some of the other shoes I’ve had.”

“I see,” he said. I could tell that he really didn’t.

I was getting a bit miffed; my dinner was cooling, and I wasn’t handling the whole thing very well, even though everything I had said was clear to me.

You see, when I was in my mid-teens back in the 1940s, owning a pair of Hartt shoes was one of my major goals in life. Finally, at 16, I had saved enough money to buy my first pair — $17, I think. That was a lot of money when I was earning only 25 cents an hour. I loved those medium-brown, Balmoral-style shoes with premium-leather uppers, tough leather soles and a chamois-textured interior. Furthermore, they had been crafted in Fredericton. Being a Maritimer, that fact was important to me.

My first Hartt shoes didn’t go outside my house until they were ready to make their debut. Each morning before going to my summer job at the aircraft factory, I took the box from my closet, removed the best dress shoes for bunions without laces (laces got in the way and the hard tips could scratch the leather), opened the tin of medium-brown Kiwi shoe polish and, with a soft cloth, applied a thin coat. Then with the softest piece of flannelette that I could find from a pair of worn-out pyjamas, I buffed vigorously. Usually I had time to apply two coats before setting off for work. In the evening, I repeated the routine, sometimes buffing up to four coats.

Finally, one morning, after about six weeks of polishing, I slipped my feet into my Hartt shoes and stood on my bedroom mat near the window. The early morning sun reflected off the toecaps and, in them, I could see my medium-brown face grinning back at me. They were ready.

Those shoes, rebuilt once with full soles and new heels, partied and danced with me through high school and university. In bad weather, I put pieces of flannelette over the toecaps to protect them from scuffing inside my rubbers or boots. My Hartts almost had a personality of their own. For instance, at a reunion some 45 years after graduation, a woman whom I had known slightly when we were teenagers, said to me, “I don’t believe we’ve met, but for some reason I seem to remember your shoes. Isn’t that strange?”

Yes it was. Also, it was a little humiliating to learn that my shoes had made a more lasting impression than I had.

Last May, it happened. At breakfast, a CBC voice told the country that the Hartt shoe factory in Fredericton was closing. I was shattered. The several pairs of Hartt shoes that I have worn over the years had all been fashioned in Fredericton. Even if they were to continue making them somewhere else, the shoes would never feel the same to me.

I fretted for a couple of weeks and finally decided that I had to have my last pair of Fredericton-built Hartt shoes. I telephoned the store that I knew stocked them and asked the salesman whether he had a pair of Hartt Balmorals in my size — black, I thought, would be appropriate. He hadn’t, but he could have them for me in three days.

Three days later, the obliging salesman laced my new black Balmorals. I walked around the store’s carpeted area. As always, they were perfect.

At home, I opened the box, withdrew the shoes and admired them. Then I removed the laces, opened my tin of Kiwi and began the process.

“Well, you see, we were away most of the summer,” I explained to the salesman while my wife enjoyed her hot dinner, “and I’ve been pretty busy, so I haven’t spent the time I should have with them. But I figure that they should be ready by the end of the month.”

“I see,” he replied. I wasn’t certain that he did.

“I’ll tell you what: Sometime when I’m downtown, I’ll wear them and drop in to see you,” I offered.

“That would be nice,” he said very slowly. “As a matter of fact, I would like that very much because I’m rather curious.”

He is a very nice man; but, really, how do I like my shoes? What an odd question.

Don Tait walks the streets of Ottawa in his well-polished Hartt Balmorals.

Public reaction sought on spray

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has decided to seek public reaction to its proposal for a spring insecticide- spraying program in the Espanola area.

H. McGauley, head of the natural pest control division of the Ministry of Natural Resources, said the Ministry will hold a public information sessions in Espanola in the last week of January to discuss possible insecticide spraying options against a massive infestation of jackpine budworm on 800,000 acres of Crown land 35 kilometres northwest of Espanola.

He said three or four options have been prepared by the Ministry, which vary both the percentage of chemical to biological insecticide and the amount of spraying as opposed to accelerated cutting.

Residents will be shown maps of the proposed spraying sites to decide whether the options are acceptable to them, he said.

The Ministry says it will consider public comments when preparing its recommendation early in the spring.

Because of the public concern about the possible health effects of chemical insecticides, the federal Department of Agriculture recently granted a temporary registration for a biological insecticide called bacillus thuringiensis for the proposed spring spraying program.

The Liberals cancel the helicopter deal

Helicopters seem to defy the laws of aerodynamics. Unlike airplanes, they rise, noisily, straight up in the air–and descend, swiftly, straight down. Last week, that description applied equally well to the 43 EH-101 helicopters that would have risen to life under the Progressive Conservative government–but were permanently grounded by the Liberals just hours after they took office

There was little surprising in the announcement by Prime Minister Jean Chretien immediately after his first cabinet meeting that he was cancelling the $4.8-billion purchase. The Liberals’ promise to scrap it was a cornerstone of their election platform and was included in their already-legendary Red Book of campaign promises. What was startling was the volume and intensity of last- minute efforts to keep the deal alive. Suddenly, politicians including Nova Scotia Premier John Savage and Quebec Industry Minister Gerald Tremblay–both Liberals who had previously been silent on the subject–demanded that Ottawa keep the project alive. Newly elected MPs found themselves awash in literature from companies involved in the deal extolling its virtues, while their employees took out newspaper ads, jammed telephone lines on radio programs and sent hundreds of handwritten letters to MPs. One new Liberal MP arrived home to find that a cousin he had not spoken to in years–and who now works for one of the firms–had driven more than 200 km to hand-deliver an appeal to him.

Companies emphasized the number of jobs that the contracts would create and the benefits that various regions would receive. That was coupled with warnings of the consequences of cancellation: Montreal’s Paramax Systems Canada Ltd., the company that would have benefited most, said it would immediately have to lay off many of the 500 people working on the program. And, it said, the cost of cancelling the agreement could run as high as $1 billion. The Liberals themselves estimated the price tag at $440 million in money already spent, plus as much as $300 million more to fulfil the terms of contracts with defence companies. The final bill will not be known until negotiations with the firms are completed–which could take months.

Senior Liberals said there was never really any debate in their ranks over whether to reconsider. One reason was tactical. “We could not,” said an adviser to Chretien, “be as adamant as we were about killing the deal and then reverse ourselves within 24 hours of taking office. We would have no credibility left, and would deserve none.” But the most compelling reason was the one that led the Liberals to oppose the purchase all along. As Chretien put it: “It was a Cadillac-type best quadcopters that was not needed.” The strong downdraft from their powerful rotors made them unsuitable, say some experts, for the search-and-rescue missions that were to be part of their mandate.

The last-minute debate obscured an unusual role reversal. The Tories and many business groups–who traditionally oppose government intervention in the economy–were the ones suggesting that in this case, such spending would be good. The Liberals, whom the Tories tried to paint as a tax-and-spend party in the campaign, opposed the deal. The debate over whether the best drone with camera purchase would have benefited Canadians will probably never be resolved. But even their severest critics had to acknowledge that, in grounding the choppers, the Liberals did nothing more–or less–than keep their word.

Invicta diver watch which gives a sub-mariner look

Invicta watches are well known for its different quality watches and styles. Some of the most prominent ones are collection of sorts, the Jason Taylor Bolt Zeus collection, and the Venom watch collection.

Below is described with invicta watch review in stunning gold, silver and blue ensemble along with precision, Swiss movement and also a quality look as well as feel. The yellow gold color sporting model is a striking blue dial, with one of the several color combinations available in this particular collection. Here, the yellow gold is a sort of common partner along with other colors as well. It gives a classic look along with the stainless steel parts, a solid feet, quality construction and also arresting without using vibrant colors.

The invicta watches have a great reputation for the modeling watches, in addition to other high class time pieces. On the other hand, you can also consider blue-gold-silver pro diver watch at affordable cost.

Description of pro diver model

This particular diver time-piece has a very hard crystal colored configuration inside along with official gold plated crown. You can easily dive, maximum up to two football fields. If you are diving too deep, then you may need to choose an Olympic career.

The pro diver invicta watch lacks battery which needs replacing as it is powered by your own hand movement. So, it is termed as automatic in nature. There are many extra links attached to the timepiece which can be easily removed from your nearby jeweler. It is an average sized wrist watch. As of quality is concerned, it is completely certified. It boasts Japanese manufactured 21 jewel Mayotte movement and it is widely recognized in the watch industry for its high precision and affordability. If you want to make any sort of adjustments on the crown, don’t employ pliers or any other type of instrument.

As it is a diver’s watch, it is screwed very tightly in order to protect the water pressure from getting it inside the watch. When you flak off some of the extra fittings of the watch, definitely you will not be able to get the same tightness level as well as proper seating unlike the manufacturer. So, it’s better to take it to a professional one or if possible use your fingers, but never allow any sharp metal to touch it.

These watches light up in dark including hour, minute, second hands and time denotations as well. It is very useful if you are walking or running in a dark place or sneaking eatables from fridge in the dark. It is not a cheap watch and it is also not known for its extreme accuracy. It looks like as if it is made out of hefty submariner.

Invicta pro diver 8926 are regarded as both high and middle quality timepieces which look elegant and affordable. Invicta watches review gives the best suggestion regarding these time pieces. The above mentioned reviews of invicta watches provide basic styles about diving watches.

The high-end watch market just keeps on ticking

After five years of sustained growth in the U.S. following a long stagnant period, industry experts said the renaissance in consumer interest here for fine Swiss-made timepieces is showing no signs of coming to an end. Optimism reigns for the holiday retail season and kickoff to the new year.

“The high-end market is on fire,” said Andrew J. Block, senior vice president of watch chain Tourneau. “Housing prices are strong, unemployment is lower. People don’t seem to be weighed down by the geopolitical situation, and this is a feel-good purchase.”

The U.S. has emerged as the biggest market for Swiss watch consumption year to date, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, the trade group in Bienne, Switzerland. Almost $1.3 billion worth of Swiss timepieces have arrived in the U.S. between January and October, a 15.6 increase from last year’s $1.1 billion during the same period. Hong Kong, Japan and European countries such as Italy, France and Germany follow behind the U.S. in Swiss watch consumption.

Finished Swiss watch exports have shown a downward trend, according to Swiss figures. Almost 20 million watches left the country between January and October, a 4.9 percent decrease compared with last year’s 10-month figure of 21 million. In 2004, total watch exports amounted to 25.1 million.

However, fine Swiss watches show increasingly strong growth because of an overall increase in the value of the timepieces leaving the country. In October, $916 million worth of watches were exported from Switzerland, a 9.2 percent increase over this month last year. Between January and October, the value of finished watch exports was $6.9 billion, an 11.4 percent increase compared with last year’s figures.

The value of Swiss watch exports increased partly because of more use of precious metals, such as white and yellow gold and platinum. Unlike the remainder of the accessories business, which has experienced a stripping away of sparkly touches, fine Swiss watches also continue to use diamond treatments on the face and bezel.

“Diamonds are everywhere, and it’s not just for women, but men also,” said Tourneau’s Block. “Watches that you wouldn’t normally associate with being bejeweled are.”

Block anticipates such bejeweled pieces to be among the bestsellers for the holiday season from brands such as Cartier, Patek Philippe and Tag Heuer. When it comes to price, the sky’s the limit, with watches in the $10,000 and up category drawing consumer attention.

Block said the holiday period is a great selling season, but doesn’t make or break a year for Tourneau, a point echoed by Cathy Cronin, diamond and watch buyer for jeweler Shreve, Crump & Low, which opened in Boston last month in addition to having a boutique in the Mall in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and a sister store, Schwarzschild Jewelers, in Richmond, Va.

“It’s a very important season, accounting for about 25 percent of annual business, but it’s equal with spring, when people are making purchases for Mother’s Day or graduation,” she said.

In addition to industry adjustments to compensate for the strong euro against the dollar, the increase in the value of timepieces has raised the prices on watches in the stores by 10 percent, she said. Retail prices range from $900 to $50,000, with average consumer purchases falling into the $5,000 to $7,000 range.

Watches are really turning into jewelry,” Cronin said. “Timepieces are carrying higher metal contents and gem weights. The leaders in the watch world are seeing that people are coming into jewelry stores to purchase jewelry. So in order to make watches sell better in the jewelry stores, they are making them more jewelry-like.”

Despite the price increases, sales of brands such as Cartier, Rolex, Baume & Mercier, Breitling, IWC, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Tag Heuer remain so strong that Cronin anticipates upping the space dedicated to watch sales in the Shreve, Crump & Low flagship by 10 feet in the next year.

Cronin also said watch complications, which were once a feature sought out primarily by men, are gaining interest among women buyers.

“Women are getting more educated,” Cronin said. “Women really want to know what they are purchasing, and the more sophisticated watch buyers are going after the more sophisticatedwatches.”

She said the women’s market still represents a huge area for growth for Swiss watchmakers, a point brands are finally recognizing. She cited advertisements by Baume & Mercier that feature Meg Ryan and Tag Heuer that spotlight Uma Thurman as positive steps in increasing a female consumer’s interest in purchasing fine Swiss timepieces. “They are absolutely making the right decision with the right consumer,” she said. “It’s about a three-pronged approach: the sophistication of the watch, the spokesperson for the watch and the fashion focus of the timepiece.”

Tag Heuer dedicated half of its media budget this year to the women’s category, hiring Thurman and tennis star Maria Sharapova as ambassadors for the brand, said Daniel Lalonde, president in North America of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which owns the brand.

“In the past, Tag Heuer has been mainly a male-skewed brand,” he said. “However, we’ve had tremendous growth in the women’s category this year. Prices have gone up, and the customer is trading up. Women’s average price points have gone up in the double digits, but they are buying more expensive watches and recognizing the value in how a watch defines a person.”

Sharapova even had input in the development of Tag Heuer’s $1,895 Formula 1 diamond watch, which premieres for the holiday retail season and features 125 diamonds on the bezel.

“The theme of this year and especially the last two months are that diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” Lalonde said. “We expect a huge sell-through on the Formula 1. We are bullish on the collection for the next six weeks.”

Lalonde said the luxury watch business in the U.S. is largely underpenetrated with only 5 or 6 percent of the population owning a watch that retails for more than $500.

“In Europe, that figure is two to three times higher,” he said. “Therefore, the U.S. market represents huge growth potential. We have a lot of great years ahead of us in the watch category, and especially on the women’s side. I think the women’s business will grow a little faster and what you will see happening is that brands will start defining themselves more to stand out, especially brands that have a heritage and a history to tell as they will be able to use that story to continue to outpace [competitors].”

Julien Tornare, president in North America of Vacheron Constantin, which has celebrated its 250th anniversary this year, said the brand’s message has been about showing the good points of being old.

“We are very proud of our history and our savoir faire, as well as our ability to run our business in a contemporary way,” Tornare said.

The holiday season is important for the brand, not only because business peaks, but also because many of the brand’s new models that premiered during April’s Swiss watch fairs begin arriving in retail stores, Tornare said.

One model Tornare said represents the direction of the brand in the ladies’ market is the new Malte silhouette with a moonface complication. The moon itself comprises diamonds. It retails from $20,000 to $30,000.

“Women are interested not only in jewelry, but also in the nice movements of the watch,” he said. “It’s a trend for the ladies’ segment.”

Tornare expects double-digit percentage growth from last holiday season to this holiday season.

Hank Edelman, president of Patek Philippe in the U.S., said the brand is also optimistic about the holiday season.

“It’s becoming an ongoing thing, but this year it is more so, especially among women,” he said. “There is more consciousness among female American consumers for a quality watch.”

Edelman said the brand’s Twenty-4 silhouette continues to be its bestseller, but the men’s-inspired sporty oversized Aquanat Luce with a colorful rubber strap and diamonds at the bezel is a new piece that has received positive consumer response at $29,950 retail.

“It’s a different look for the American market for us,” he said. “However, women are enjoying it.”

At Michele Watches, creative director Michele Barouh continues to focus on the brand’s strength in ladylike looks with the introduction for the holiday season of its new Attitude silhouette.

“We have steady business all year-round, but we do have growth at the end of the year because the brand’s watches are in a great gift price point of $500 to $7,000,” said Barouh. “We are also doing better every year in general, with our sales increasing. Women shoppers are definitely more savvy than they were a few years ago. They want the quality there, along with the great aesthetic.”