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 nixon watches for men 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.

The fashion watch category is as hot as it ever was.

A number of medium-priced lines of sport wrist watches are selling well in department stores. These include the Ann Klein, Ann Klein II, Fossil, and Guess lines, as well as licensed cartoon-character watches. Most of these watches are selling in the $20-$200 range, and some industry executives believe that sales are coming at the expense of higher-priced watches. In addition, Joe Boxer and Timberland will launch wrist watch lines in 1995.

And, according to industry vendors and retailers – a segment in which merchandise typically retails in the $20 to $200 range – brands are currently the biggest news of all.

According to a variety of retailers, brand names have become a critical factor in determining fashion watch purchasing patterns. In the meantime, the price issue, which heretofore had been considered paramount, has become less important.

Much of the action right now, stores say, is happening in the Anne KIein, Anne Klein II, Fossil and Guess lines, as wen as novelty-oriented licensed lines, Looney Tunes and Disney among them.

In addition, merchants say they are always willing to test new entries. Some recent brand-name newcomers cited by stores include Nautica, Liz Claiborne, Swiss Army Watches and Hugo Maxx. Balancing out this group is a slowdown in a few other brands, such as Swatch, which some stores said has not been performing up to par of late.

Watches are one of the more explosive driving forces for main floor business,” said Kim White, merchandise manager for watches at Federated Merchandising, the buying arm for Federated Department Stores. “We’re positioned for another year of tremendous growth.

“Consumers are now building a watch wardrobe for their varied needs – career, casual Friday wear, weekend, sport and young-at-heart looks,” White noted. “It’s hip to wear a Looney Tunes watch with an Armani suit.”

Guess and Fossil are anchor brands in Federated Stores, according to White. These are followed closely by Anne Klein and Anne Klein II, which are expected to grow even more this year as a result of the return to ladylike dressing.

Sportly merchandise has also been scoring big, White said.

“It’s still `Clinton Chic’ to wear a plastic sport watch,” she noted. “And the more functions the better.”

J.C. Penney is also going strong with its fashion watch business.

“While our growth may be slightly less than last year, we’re still projecting good double-digit gains this year,” said Don McKean, merchandise manager for fashion and better watches.

Business is coming from a combination of the big brand names as well as newer entries such as Hugo Maxx and even Penney’s own private label line, Arizona.

He added that although the fashion watch category continues to grow, this is probably to the detriment of the better segment of the market, which includes such brands as Seiko, Bulova and Citizen. This segment struggled to finish last year with flat sales, McKean said, and he expects that performance to be repeated this year.

Among big-brand vendors in the fashion watch field, most reported very healthy increases in 1994 and are projecting similar growth this year. They claimed increases averaging 20 to 50 percent for last year, despite the fact that Christmas sales came very late in the season. Many are particularly optimistic because of early reports of strong retail sell-throughs in January, traditionally one of the slowest months of the year.

“The launch of bracelets and metals last fall greatly contributed to our success,” said Mark Odenheimer, vice president for the Anne Klein and Anne Klein II divisions of E. Gluck.

Those categories will be further exploited this year and, he added, “We’re being very aggressive in terms of focusing on high-performing areas like interchangeable sets and classic strap business.”

Mark Shell, vice president of sales for E. Gluck’s Armitron division, which also includes its licensed Looney Tunes and other cartoon character lines, credits his products’ growth to a surge in items priced at retail in the $20 to $30 range combined with a rebound in sport business.

Armitron’s Instalite sport line, which has a dial illumination feature, will be expanded this year to include more casual lifestyle and rugged outdoor looks with leather, suede and metal bands retailing for $35 to $45, he said.

On the novelty side, the firm has created the licensed collection of watches for “Batman Forever,” the third feature film about the caped crusader, opening in late June.

Fossil continues its focus on brand name and image expansion as well as product diversification, according to Peter Benanti, vice president of marketing.

To fill out its core watch line, this year the company is adding two new watch collections – Defender and FSL – as well as a sunglass line.

“Geared to urban sport kids, we hope FSL will attract an untapped customer niche,” Benanti said.

“We’re looking at snow boarders, mountain bikers, surfers, skate boarders and rock climbers – those leading-edge alternative lifestyle consumers that demand functionality,” he noted. “We took the utilitarian trappings of this market and made it into fashion.”

FSL’s retail price range of $85 to $90 is slightly higher than that of the Fossil brand. The firm will begin shipping it at the end of May to leading U.S. sporting goods stores as well as department stores.

Benanti declined comment on the Defender line, saying only that it will be shown at the May accessories market.

Timex is coming off a particularly strong year in 1994, which saw the launch of its licensed Nautica brand. Two more licensed collections will bow this year. The Joe Boxer line will hit stores in time for the back-to-school season, with Timberland arriving for the holidays.

Justine Jennings, manager of fashion watches, said Joe Boxer is geared to the teen and young adult market – a new market for Timex – with retail prices ranging from $40 to $100.

She would only divulge that the unisex line would represent a “unique way of telling time” and noted that the name, while known to consumers, hasn’t “maxed out yet.”

Timberland will be directed to a more upscale element. With prices starting at $60 and going as high as $200, the collection is geared for active outdoor enthusiasts, according to Susie Watson, Timex’s trend analyst.

Unlike sport, which focuses on endurance and timing, Watson said the outdoor market is geared to multiple fabrications like waterproof leather and nylon combinations, with style rather than functionality being key.

“Timberland is a global name with a strong image, which we intend to support with a large advertising campaign,” Watson added, noting that Timex will participate in the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Nevada in August in order to target sporting goods stores and other current Timberland-approved outlets as well as department stores. The print ad campaign will break in November and December.

Guess expects its projected 48 percent growth this year to come primarily from its new Waterpro line and from a new product category to be launched in August, according to Mickey Callanen, president of The Callanen Group, which produces Guess watches under license. He wouldn’t discuss any details except to say that the firm’s national advertising program, which began last Christmas, will also be expanded by 25 percent to support it.

Supreme Court to Hear Costco-Omega Case

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a case in which Costco Wholesale Corp. is challenging Omega SA’s right, as a foreign manufacturer, to use copyright law to control the distribution and resale of the watchmaker’s imported products.

The decision means Costco will have the opportunity to make the case for preventing Omega from restricting middlemen from selling its watches to discounters like Costco.

The case has significant implications for off-price retailers and discounters that often purchase imported goods from middlemen and distributors at lower prices, rather than buying direct from a manufacturer or its authorized U.S. distributor, and then selling them in the U.S. below the brand’s official price. Online auction sites such as eBay also could be affected by the decision.

Costco filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in May, on appeal, asking the court to consider the case and review whether Omega can use a copyrighted image to control secondary distribution and resale of its watches made in Switzerland once it has sold them to a foreign distributor.

At the center of the case is whether a provision under U.S. copyright laws known as the “first-sale doctrine” applies to imported goods. Under the doctrine, a manufacturer’s rights to distribution of a product end upon the first authorized sale it makes.

Costco is pleased with the cert and is looking forward to litigating the case in the Supreme Court,” said Roy Englert Jr., a partner in Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP, the law firm representing Costco.

The Supreme Court ruled in the 1998 Quality King Distributors Inc. vs. L’Anza Research International Inc. case that the first-sale doctrine does apply to goods made in the U.S., exported abroad and reimported to the U.S. The specific question in the Costco case is whether it makes a difference whether the goods are manufactured abroad.

“I think what it indicates is there were loose ends that were left open in the Supreme Court opinion in the Quality King case,” said Seth Greenstein, an attorney with Constantine Cannon LLP, which represents the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, which filed a joint amicus brief in support of Costco. “The issue does repeatedly arise in lower courts. I would surmise the reason they took it was to resolve loose ends and give guidance to courts in an issue that continues to perplex them.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a concurring opinion in Quality King, agreeing with the outcome because it involved the “round-trip” of goods manufactured in the U.S.

“That led courts, including the Ninth Circuit in the Omega vs. Costco case, to believe that the outcome would be different if the goods were manufactured outside the U.S.,” Greenstein said.

Greenstein said he was “optimistic” the High Court will reverse the decision against Costco issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

In 2004, Costco purchased 117 Seamaster style Omega watches from a U.S. distributor. It was later revealed in discovery that Omega had sold some of the watches to authorized foreign distributors in Egypt and Paraguay who subsequently resold them to a U.S. distributor, according to Costco’s court documents.

Omega filed suit against Costco in 2004 after the warehouse club sold 43 of the Seamaster Omega watches in its stores, alleging Costco’s acquisition and sale of the watches constituted copyright infringement. Costco charged that Omega created a laser-engraved emblem for the back of itswatches and applied for a copyright in the U.S. for the sole purpose of invoking the Copyright Act to “restrict the resale of its products.”

Costco also argued that “under the first-sale doctrine…Omega’s initial foreign sale of the watches precluded claims of infringing distribution and importation in connection with Costco’s subsequent sales.”

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled in favor of Costco, but the appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision, saying copies made abroad by the holder of a U.S. copyright for sale abroad are not subject to the first-sale defense.

Omega argued in court documents filed with the Supreme Court that the Ninth Circuit’s decision “gives effect to the intent of Congress to give copyright owners enforcement rights against unauthorized parallel imports.” Omega also charged that after a deal could not be reached, Costco knowingly obtained the watches from a source who was buying the watches outside of the U.S. and importing them to the U.S. without Omega’s authorization.

However, RILA and the NACS said in their brief that, “Retailers need confidence that lawfully produced goods they purchase from distributors can be resold in the United States commerce free from claims of copyright infringement and constraints on consumer rights.”

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.