Miriam Haskell to do fashion watches

Miriam Haskell, fashion jewelry manufacturer, is making its entry in the ever-expanding fashion watch market this holiday. According to company president Sanford Moss, “The timing for our watch collection is good because sales in some of the plastic watch brands are falling.”

Haskell’s watches coordinate with the jewelry line and will be merchandised with its jewelry, rather than in fashion watches.

The collection features eight styles of watches in the form of pendants and pin fobs. The antique-looking watches are gold plated, and have a Swiss quartz movement. Wholesale prices range from $45 for the pin fob to $75 for the pendant.

Moss points out its packaging will be unusual in the fashion watch market. The watches will come in blue velvet boxes, he said. “Most fashion watches come in plastic cases; our packaging will be good for the holiday season.

Basel: putting on the glitz

The Apr 1994 Basel Watch Fair in Basel, Switzerland, attracted 80,000 visitors to view more than 2,000 exhibits and featured both traditional craftsmanship and glamorous contemporary styling. The Swiss industry holds 61.6% of worldwide watch exports, far ahead of Hong Kong and Japan, and saw sales rise 3% in 1993 to a record $5.29 billion. The strength of the industry may have been one reason for the luxurious diamond-laden styles displayed.

Both high-style glamour and old-fashioned craftsmanship shared the limelight at the Basel Watch Fair here last week.

Women’s watches were often loaded with diamonds, answering a demand for more sex appeal and greater intrinsic value. Mechanical watches were also present in quantity, a development watchmakers said was indicative of a thirst for more authentic, handcrafted pieces.

The emphasis on luxe reflected the good feelings of an industry that was able to push ahead despite the recession that prevailed in many markets.

In 1993, the Swiss industry posted a 3 percent gain in sales of watches and parts to hit a record $5.29 billion (7.59 billion Swiss francs), according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch & Clock Industry.

Moreover, Switzerland continues to dominate the world watch industry, responsible for 61.6 percent of global watch exports last year. Hong Kong and Japan came a distant second and third, with 13.3 and 11.5 percent, respectively. Also, the average price of Switzerland’s export watches was $111 (160 Swiss francs), four times that of Japan and nearly 20 times Hong Kong’s.

Attendance at the eight-day fair, which ran through Thursday, rose 2 percent to 80,000 visitors, according to show officials. The event once again took over the town of Basel. Demand for hotel rooms was so heavy, organizers brought riverboats down the Rhine to house all the extra visitors.

Networking is also a key part of the fair, with scores of launch and cocktail parties. Among the key events is the reception held annually at the Kunstmuseum by De Beers, the World Gold Council and W magazine, where one party guest, Stephen Magner, vice president of fine jewelry for Neiman Marcus, summed up the value of the fair this way: “It’s not just what you see on the stands and the exciting resources, but also the quiet deals. If you want a certain set of pearls, of rare diamonds, then Basel is the likeliest place to find it.”

The number of exhibitors increased, up 60 to 2,120, boosted by the return of South African diamond manufacturers to the international scene after years of boycott.

Among the big diamond users was Chopard, featuring sports watches highlighted with floating diamonds on the faces. It also offered the same concept in 18-karat gold earrings that will retail for about $5,000.

Chopard also went with the trend toward Australian pink diamonds. One women’s evening watch with clusters of pink and white diamonds was a work of fantasy to retail at $107,000.

A new feature of the fair this year was a Prestige Hall for 41 high-end jewelers, where designers such as New York’s Henry Dunay showed major statement pieces.

Dunay unveiled several brooches in beryl and tourmaline that he surrounded with an urban landscape shaped in gold. He also showed jewelry and watches in interwoven strands and combined with emeralds, diamonds and, in one case, a huge South Sea pearl.

“We are very happy with this new section,” Dunay said. “And business has been good, but building these stands is certainly an expensive undertaking. This place cost more than my apartment.”

Around the corner, Gianni Versace had a large stand showing his line of fine jewelry and watches, launched last year.

The Italian designer showed diamond and gold rings in his signature Medusa head motifs, set to retail at about $15,000, and a group of dramatic necklaces with retails of up to $150,000.

Elsewhere, Tiffany & Co. was displaying women’s watches with gold bracelets in a basketweave style with the weave wrapped around the watch. Central American influences popped up in Tiffany’s line of scroll jewelry, in cast gold with a soft patina.

Among other developments, John Loring, Tiffany’s senior vice president and design director for the New York-based company, said the company has been looking for a major retail space in Paris for several years.

“We’ve seen several sites, but have not been able to find a space of the right size,” Loring said. “Tiffany being an emporium, we can’t just open up a small shop of 200 square meters, but Paris is a city that doesn’t have that many large shops.”

Nearby, Tag Heuer‘s stand was packed with visitors, a tribute perhaps to the Swiss watchmaker’s international ad campaign, “Don’t Crack Under Pressure.”

“Our global concept is to communicate with an image and not the product,” said Tag Heuer president Christian Viros. “We don’t want to be tempted to change our collection every season like a fashion house. The strength of a brand is measured by whether you recognize it immediately, like, say, an Hermes scarf or a Louis Vuitton bag.”

This season, Tag Heuer introduced its first all-gold sports watch. This fall, it’s planning to launch a limited edition group of 5,000 watches, with the line being named after Brazilian race car driver Ayrton Senna.

Another trend at the show was animal motifs, dramatized at Paris jeweler Rene Boivin, with delicate elephants, bumblebees and octopuses, all in intricate gold with some featuring moving parts.

Carolee adds watches

Carolee, the jewelry manufacturer based in Greenwich, Conn., is taking her faux jewelry look into watches in a collection being launched in the January market.

Carolee Friedlander, owner of the firm, projected first-year sales of $1 million to $2 million. “Everyone has a strap watch. Our research shows there is a void in the jewelry watch category.”

The collection, which comprises about 15 styles, wholesales from $75 to $175. The watches are made with Swiss movements and are put together in the firm’s Providence, R.I., factory. While bracelet watches with stones are the mainstay of the line, there are some strap watches, including leather and faille fabrics.

Friedlander is also offering some watch fobs. “The fobs are a natural layering of the Chanel-inspired look,” she said. The watches will be merchandised with the jewelry where possible because it all relates, Friedlander said.

New collections will be shown seasonally. Friedlander said extensive lines are planned for the March and May markets. The firm is planning a advertising campaign in fall ’89 to promote the watches.

Carolee is also working with some retailers to create private label watch lines, though she would not reveal store names.

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.”