Luxury stays bubbly: watches, bags drive LVMH sales up 10.5%

Consumers are still lapping up luxury on a worldwide scale.

Signaling continued momentum for the high-flying sector, LVMH Mot Hennessy Louis Vuitton beat forecasts Tuesday and reported a 10.5 percent rise in second-quarter sales to 3.41 billion euros, or $4.29 billion, headlined by strong demand for logo handbags, champagne and high-end watches.

The world’s largest luxury group reported revenue growth across all business units and geographic regions, bolstering its confidence of achieving “very significant” growth in profits for the full year. LVMH is slated to report first-half earnings Sept. 6.

Analysts predicted a strong showing from other luxury firms, with Herms, Bulgari, PPR and Tod’s all due to report first-half sales this week.

Goldman Sachs analyst Jacques-Franck Dossin, encouraged by LVMH citing rapid development in the U.S., wrote in a research note that the results offered “a reassuring data point for the sector, and [we] continue to believe that concerns over a slowdown in luxury goods are overdone.”

LVMH’s sales in the half rose 12.9 percent to 6.97 billion euros or $8.57 billion. Dollar figures are at the average exchange rate.

“We are very satisfied with our performance in the first half,” said Jean-Jacques Guiony, LVMH’s finance director, during a conference call on Tuesday. “All areas have contributed to this strong growth. Europe and the U.S. have remained very strong and Asia is moving from strength to strength.”

Questioned by analysts about any risk of a U.S. slowdown, Guiony replied dryly: “We are not particularly worried.”

In the first half, total sales in the U.S. leaped 11 percent in dollars, with watches and jewelry rising 21 percent, perfumes and cosmetics 15 percent, selective retailing 14 percent, fashion and leather goods 8 percent and wines and spirits 6 percent. Guiony declined to quantify July sales trends, but said there was no slowdown.

One of the few blemishes on the results was a dip in Vuitton sales in Japan in the second quarter, which LVMH blamed on an April 3 price increase there. Guiony explained that Japanese increases are announced two or three weeks in advance, creating a “bubble” of demand beforehand and a negative impact thereafter. “This is shifting 2 or 3 points of growth from one quarter to another,” he said. “The price increases are absorbed quite rapidly. We don’t see major changes on the Japanese market so far.”

Sales in Asia, meanwhile, roared ahead in the first half, with sales of wines and spirits catapulting 34 percent, perfumes and cosmetics 29 percent, fashion and leather goods 22 percent and watchesand jewelry 21 percent.

Guiony said the boom in Asia applies to all countries and reflects a sharp rise in demand rather than any big increase in store openings there. “We are getting more people in the stores and more people drinking cognac,” he said.

Similarly, Guiony said growth in Europe is “coming from all directions,” with Italy described as “very strong” and Germany as “booming.”

In a report last week, HSBC analysts Antoine Belge and Erwan Rambourg characterized rapid growth in Europe as the “real surprise” of the luxury sector this year, underpinned “by more than just healthy trends in tourism and emergent Eastern Europe: even in so-called ‘mature’ markets such as France, Italy and the U.K., most luxury brands are attracting new clients, particularly an increasingly young clientele.”

In their view, investors “overestimate the possible impact of a potential rise in interest rates on worldwide demand for luxury goods” and that trends should remain above historical averages through 2007.

At LVMH, double-digit organic growth at Vuitton buoyed sales in the fashion and leather goods division, up 12 percent in the half to 2.47 billion euros, or $3 billion. The company cited “extraordinary” success with Vuitton’s suede and perforated monogram handbags and new colors in its permanent denim line.

Fendi was cited for “exceptional” revenue growth and crowned a “rising star” within the group. LVMH also highlighted strength at Loewe, Marc Jacobs and Berluti, and lauded a solid performance for Donna Karan’s collection line.

Questioned about reports of a forthcoming management change at Karan, Guiony declined comment.

Robust demand for Tag Heuer’s expensive Carrera and Aquaracer watches buoyed the watchesand jewelry division, which posted a 23 percent spike in the half to 320 million euros, or $393.6 million. LVMH also cited good progress with Zenith and Dior watches, primarily its Christal model.

Continued growth in Chinese tourism led sales in the selective retailing division up 7 percent in the half, to 1.8 billion euros, or $2.2 billion. At Sephora, LVMH highlighted “excellent” sales and market share gains in Europe and double-digit same-store sales growth in the U.S.

Sales in perfumes and cosmetics leaped 13 percent in the half to 1.17 billion euros, or $1.44 billion, led by “excellent” performance of Dior product lines, especially its Capture skin care line supported by an ad campaign featuring Sharon Stone. The company also trumpeted Guerlain’s Orchide Imperiale skin care and Givenchy’s Very Irresistible line.

Price increases in key markets buoyed revenues in wines and spirits, with sales in the half bubbling up 18 percent to 1.22 billion euros, or $1.5 billion.

LVMH shares rose 1.8 percent Tuesday to close at 76.70 euros, or $96.40 on the Paris Bourse.

Separately on Tuesday, Christian Dior SA, parent of LVMH and the Dior fashion house, posted results largely in line with LVMH’s. Sales at Dior rose 5.8 percent in the second quarter to total 164 million euros, or $206.1 million.

The company noted that its retail network now numbers 202 boutiques.

Caption(s): Suede handbags were hot sellers for Louis Vuitton. / High-end watches, like this Dior Christal model, performed well.

Fossil’s business keeps ticking ahead

Fossil Inc. conquered the fashion watch world during the Eighties and Nineties with moderately priced, stylish timepieces. Now the company known for its all-American aesthetic is rapidly expanding its international presence and entering a variety of new fashion and watch categories.

“Fossil is the Timex of today’s generation,” said Robin Murchison, an analyst with New Orleans-based investment firm Hibernia Southcoast Capital. “And the company is doing so many things, I think it will continue to gain market share.”

The company’s drive manifests itself almost across the board, from licensing to retail rollouts to product launches. Fossil jewelry, for example, is now sold in Europe, with plans to introduce it Stateside, and Fossil apparel — including jeans and tops — is being tested in company stores. Handbags have been updated and expanded to include more directional styles in fabrics such as straw, suede and velvet.

Fossil also dabbles in the designer world, producing timepieces for some of the hottest names in fashion, including DKNY, Emporio Armani and Diesel. This holiday season, the company will add to its designer stable, launching a line of watches for Burberry. In addition, Fossil is launching a new crop of watches that features special technologies that can sync with personal digital assistants and other high-tech gadgets.

On the retail front, Fossil operates 93 stores including 50 outlet units, scattered throughout the U.S., Australia, U.K. and Singapore. This year, the company plans this year to open five outlet stores as well as three accessories doors in Fair Oaks, Va., Las Vegas and Detroit, Mich.

The Richardson, Tex.-based firm is also rapidly expanding its international business by acquiring new licenses as well as some of its distribution partners. The $545 million company last fall went on an international shopping spree, acquiring Swiss watchmakers Montres Antima SA, Meliga Habillement Horloger SA and Synergies Horlogeres. Fossil in the fall also acquired the worldwide rights to the Zodiac brand. The sum paid for all four companies was approximately $7 million.

The acquisition of the three manufacturers provides the company with the design, sourcing and production capabilities necessary to manufacture and market Swiss-made watches. Currently, the bulk of the company’s products are made in East Asia. These acquisitions will allow the company to manufacture pricier watches that could be sold to independent jewelry stores — which typically balk at selling non-Swiss-made watches — where Fossil does not have a significant presence. Zodiac, Fossil’s first Swiss brand, features stylish timepieces that range from $300 to $1,000 at retail.

Fossil in April relaunched Zodiac with price points ranging from $300 to $1,000. The line includes fashion, sport and everyday styles, many in steel, for men and women.

One of the best-known names in the watch world, Fossil burst onto the scene in the mid-Eighties, at a time when fashion watches were just becoming a hot property. The company was founded by Tom and Kosta Kartsotis, two brothers originally from Albuquerque, N.M., who saw a niche for trendy styles that didn’t break the bank.

During the Nineties, Fossil solidified its position as a key department store watch resource and started to introduce other categories, including leather goods in 1992 and sunglasses in 1995. The company grew quickly, eventually going public in 1993, and it remains one of the few watch companies to successfully make the jump to Wall Street. Now sold in more than 8,000 doors, Fossil’s products continue to account for a hefty chunk of the overall fashion watch category — as much as 35 percent, according to one industry executive.

“What the company has been doing is working for them,” said Bill Baldwin, an analyst at Baldwin, Anthony & McIntyre, a Dallas-based investment firm. “They have been successful with their licensing arrangements and they still have a lot of opportunities in Europe.”

Unlike many fashion companies today, however, Fossil has grown from within. While it has a broad product array, the company has eschewed licenses for the Fossil name, choosing instead to produce all Fossil products in-house.

“We continue to develop Fossil, and we feel we have real staying power,” said Richard Gundy, president of Fossil’s watches and stores division. “We have grown organically, and we have done it by growing our existing businesses and leveraging our design and infrastructure.”

On the financial front, Fossil hit a few rough spots during the last few quarters, but it has come back in recent months. During the fourth quarter of 2001, sales grew 10.6 percent to $176.1 million from $159.3 million, while earnings improved to 59 cents a share from 57 cents, excluding charges.

For 2001, net income, excluding charges, fell to $1.49 a share from $1.71, as sales grew 8.2 percent to $545.5 million from $504.3 million. Nonetheless, Hibernia Southcoast Capital’s Murchison said the company ended the year “on a positive note.”

“2001 was a difficult year for most retailers, and Fossil was no exception,” she said. “However the company continued to execute their international initiatives and ended the year in a strong financial position.”

Watches remain the company’s key focus, accounting for about 75 of overall sales, which are expected to grow to more than $600 million this year, due in part to its many new introductions. Two years ago, the company formed a think tank to focus on the high tech watch arena, Gundy said. As part of this initiative, in late April Fossil will introduce timepieces compatible with personal digital assistant features. Data such as calendars, to-do lists and addresses from the user’s pda are downloaded to the watch through an infrared interface. The watches will retail for $145.

Other technologically advanced lines introduced include Big Tic, which has both analog and digital time displays, and Kaleido, a line of watches featuring dials that change color at the push of a button.

The company’s offerings are also getting a major infusion of hipness with a collection of watchesdesigned by Philippe Starck. The line, first introduced last year, has plastic and stainless steel straps and distinct digital modules featuring oversized numbers and is being expanded with a number of new styles for fall.

The company’s core line, carrying an average price of $65, continually gets updated, and styles on tap for fall include oversized looks and plenty of colored dials.

Overall, department stores remain the company’s core distribution channel for watches and other products, accounting for between 60 and 65 percent of sales. But specialty stores, including Watch World, and youth-oriented chains like Gadzooks, Pacific Sunwear of California and The Buckle have become more important, Gundy said. Fossil is also expanding the distribution of its Relic brand, which is priced between $50 and $85 and is sold by mass retailers, including Sears, Kohl’s and J.C. Penney.

Fossil is also continuing to expand its international business, which has been propelled by the recent acquisitions of its distributors in France and Australia. The international business accounted for 35 percent of total sales last year.

Licensing is also emerging as a major driver, due to its deals with established and up-and-coming fashion names such as Paul Frank, which is geared toward younger customers.

‘`Now that they have access to new movements, you will see Fossil go after more and more licensed businesses,” observed Murchison. “It will bring them into new distribution and help drive business.”

Tag Heuer relaunches its 2000 watches

Tag Heuer is relaunching its 2000 watch collection and trying to expand its reach to women, while developing a new policy to discourage retailers from discounting watches.

When the revamped 2000 line, with its broadened range, begins to hit stores in September, it will be the largest of several Tag lines, according to Susan Nicholas, president of Tag Heuer USA. The 2000 collection has been the company’s signature line since its launch in 1982.

“The 2000 line is our entry series; the true classic sport watch,” said Nicholas. “We had a 1500 line and a 4000 line that flanked the 2000 series, but they have now been phased out. We’re taking the 2000 line and embracing a broader price point.”

There are now three tiers to the 2000 assortment. At the low end is 2000 Sport, the most youthful, featuring multicolored bezels and retailing from $650 to $795. 2000 Classic features the recognizable 12-sided bezel and stainless steel bracelet, and retails from $795 to $1,095.

At the highest end is 2000 Exclusive, a sleek combination of stainless steel and rose gold with anthracite, blue, silver or black faces retailing for $1,050 to $1,450. The rose gold looks are expected to be particularly strong with women, Nicholas said.

Despite tough going in Asia, where the firm expects a dip in sales of as much as 5 to 10 percent in the first half, the U.S. division is on plan and expects to achieve modest growth of 5 to 7 percent, Nicholas said.

“Obviously, we’re quite important to Tag’s corporate structure right now,” she said. Nicholas said if the firm can produce enough of its Kirium watches and the 2000 launch is slightly more successful than planned, the U.S. could contribute even more to the bottom line.

Tag also is taking a dramatic and controversial step to stop stores from discounting watches, a common practice among jewelry and watch retailers.

“We implemented a new policy effective July 1, saying that we could elect not to do business with any retailer who discounts our product more than 15 percent,” said Nicholas. “We’re about to take our first steps toward enforcement and are prepared to close doors and know that we will. It takes so much to build a brand. Why should we view discounting in a different light?”

A six-page ad insert, called “The Line on Design,” will feature a 4-to-2 ratio of female to male models and will make its debut in September issues of Vogue, Vanity Fair, HG and GQ.

Tag Heuer, along with Ford, will for the first time be a major sponsor of the fourth annual Gen Art Faces in Fashion event that showcases young talent. The show will take place at the Manhattan Center here on Sept. 16 and in Los Angeles for the first time on Oct. 5. The runway and still-life exhibit will present six women’s wear designers, two men’s wear designers and four accessories lines.

Nicholas said Tag liked the idea of focusing on young talent, and this is the first time the company is doing something for women’s fashion. Tag Heuer has been a sponsor of the men’s apparel runway shows here in the past.

“In sports and fashion, we like to identify with people on the rise,” said Nicholas. “Tag is for the person for whom the best may lie ahead.”

VLG: great potential for Piaget business

VLG North America was keeping mum on its plans for the Piaget brand following the announcement last week that it was acquiring Movado Group’s Piaget business for an estimated $30 million.

Movado is the exclusive distributor of Piaget watches and jewelry in the U.S., Canada and Caribbean. Following the sale, expected to take place in February, VLG, a subsidiary of Geneva-based Vendome Luxury Group, will take over the distributorship and will also operate the Piaget boutique on Fifth Avenue in New York.

The Piaget brand is owned by Vendome, but has distributor deals in some countries.

“We know there is great potential for future development of the Piaget business in the North American marketplace,” said Simon J. Critchell, president and chief executive officer of VLG as well as Cartier Inc., also owned by Vendome.

However, he declined to offer any specifics about the future of the brand, adding, “It is premature to make any comments about what will happen. We will be more in a position to talk about it in January.”

The acquisition will add a third luxury brand to VLG’s stable of high-end watch brands, which now includes Swiss watchmakers Vacheron Constantin and Baume & Mercier. VLG was organized in September 1997 as an umbrella entity over the North American operations of the two brands, although each brand retains control of day-to-day activities, including sales, distribution, credit, customer service, after-sales service, public relations and advertising.

Piaget was the founding business for Lyndhurst, N.J.-based Movado, which began distributing the brand in 1961. The luxury watches now carry an average price point of between $12,000 and $20,000, and Piaget products are now sold in about 75 stores, mainly independent jewelry shops, in addition to its own boutique, according to Movado Group President Efraim Grinberg.

Grinberg told WWD that the sale allows Movado to focus on its own brands that it manages worldwide, including Movado, Concord, ESQ and the licensed Coach brand. The company does not break out individual sales figures for Piaget, but combines them with Corum, its other Swiss-made brand Movado distributes. In the most recent fiscal year ending in January 1998, Corum and Piaget had sales of $17 million, against $22.4 million in the prior year; Movado attributed the decline primarily to planned reductions in Piaget’s distribution.

“Given the scope of our own broad activities, we felt that we would be better off selling the North American Piaget business to VLG North America,” Grinberg said in a statement. “This transaction allows us to give greater focus to the rest of our business and frees capital that can be reinvested.”

Joe Gladue, an analyst at the Chapman Co., said the sale was likely a combination of Vendome wanting the distributorship for its brand, and a desire on the part of Movado to concentrate on its higher margin brands.

“Piaget watches are very expensive, and with watches that are that expensive, inventory turns are much slower and it ends up being less efficient,” Gladue commented. “Also, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of synergy between Piaget and the other Movado brands.”

In addition to the watches and Cartier, businesses owned by Vendome include Montblanc, Chloe and Sulka. Vendome is wholly owned by the Switzerland-based Compagnie Financiere Richemont AG conglomerate, which took Vendome private earlier this year to allow the luxury firm to escape the pressures of the stock market.

Movado, in addition to the brands it manufactures, distributes Swiss-made Corum watches in the U.S., Canada, Central America and the Caribbean. Grinberg said there are no plans to sell or change its Corum business.

Rolex raids suspect stores to stop sales on counterfeits

Rolex Watches USA, Inc., on Thursday raided several lower Manhattan retailers suspected of selling phony Rolex watches.

Rolex had obtained an order to seize the watches in federal court on Wednesday. Businesses listed in the order were: Penta Watch Co. and Tempa Watch Co., both at 864 Broadway; Charlie Co., 253 Canal St.; Kim Lee’s, 263 Canal Street; Lucky Jewelty, 157 Centre St., and Jewelry & Watches, 277 Canal St. They were charged with infringing on the Rolex, President and Crown Device trademarks. Exactly which firms were raided couldn’t be determined.

Also named in the suit were three individuls, Nguyen Ng and “Mrs. Ng,” of Jackson Heights, N.Y., and Kim Lee, 263 Canal St.

All have been temporarily barred from buying or selling the allegedly phony watches under the order.

Rolex argued in court papers filed with Judge Robert J. Ward that the defendants would continue to sell the watches unless they were quickly stopped.

The order signed by Ward authorized Rolex to seize the watches along with any bank records connected with their sale.

A hearing for a preliminary injunction has been scheduled for Dec. 24. Gibney, Anthony & Flatterty represents Rolex.

Legal briefs

Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean the Cartier folks get to take time off from their battle on the legal front. Cartier and Cartier International B.V. filed a lawsuit in late July against Aaron Faber Gallery, alleging that the business altered genuine Cartier watches. According to court documents, Aaron Faber Inc., Edward Faber and unnamed John Does allegedly added diamonds to genuine watches and sold them with the original Cartier trademark on them. Edward Faber said he was surprised that the case was filed. “The secondary market is very vast and very large and it’s astounding to me that Cartier is concerned when clients ask to embellish Cartier product,” he told WWD. Aaron Faber sells mostly secondhand and collector pieces, many of which are Cartier, Faber said.

The owners and U.S. licensees of the Cartier, Piaget and Baume & Mercier, as well as the Van Cleef & Arpels brands, filed a similar trademark infringement complaint against Capetown Diamond Corp, an online jewelry retailer based in Roswell, Ga. The lawsuit, filed July 6 in Manhattan federal court, alleged that Capetown Diamond, Capetown Luxury Group, Carl Kenneth Marcus, Jonathan Marcus and a number of John Does replaced parts and added diamond arrangements to genuine watches. According to a statement from Capetown, “Mr. Marcus and Capetown Diamond Corporation are within their legal rights to continue this service. We intend to defend our legal rights and the rights of our customers to add diamonds and gems to pre-owned watches that were purchased in good faith from the manufacturer and whose owners wish to customize at a competitive price for diamonds and gems.” Cartier’s lawyer declined to comment on the case, citing a Cartier policy.

Cartier and Cartier International also resolved a trademark infringement case against a group of 47th Street jewelers that has been in the court system since March 2004, alleging that the retailers were selling Cartier look-alikes. L&M Jewelry and David Rappaport settled the claims against them on June 27 when they reached a final judgment on consent with Cartier. The initial complaint was filed against Samo’s Sons, Freddie Samuel, Gabriel Efraim Jewelry, Gabriel Musheyev, L&M Jewelry Creations Inc., David Rappaport, Awad II, Italiano Gold Mounting, Sardell Jewelry and John Does. Most of the defendants named in the case settled with the jeweler in April. A motion for summary judgment against the remaining defendant in the case, Sardell Jewelry, is still pending.

On the dial

A Guess Girl

Kaci Brown is just your average 17-year-old teenager from Sulphur Spring, Tex. She loves fashion, hanging with friends and, of course, shopping. She does, however, have something that a lot of teens crave: a record deal. Her album, “Instigator,” just hit stores last month, and Brown is already getting rave reviews. But it’s Guess that’s given her the best review so far.

Guess Watches just launched its latest worldwide campaign, Faces to Watch, a follow-up to its Timeless Beauty effort. As part of the campaign, Guess Watches has teamed up with Universal Music Group, Brown’s label, to release the limited-edition Instigator watch. Named for the title track of her first album, the watch will be featured in her music video for the song.

For Guess Watches, Brown was a natural choice for the campaign. Her self-written lyrics and funky beats complement the image of the brand. Here, WWD gets the inside scoop from Brown, who is the first of the up-and-coming artists to be featured in the promotion.

WWD: How does it feel to inspire a fashion house?

Kaci Brown: I knew Guess was teaming up with Universal Music on this project. When I heard that I was going to be one of the first, I was so excited. I’ve been a Guess lover for a really long time, so it was a thrill for me.

WWD: How does it feel to be a Guess girl?

K.B.: I really don’t consider myself one. I can’t compete with those girls!

WWD: Your friends must be pretty impressed.

K.B.: They are in awe. They are most impressed that I got to meet Paul Marciano [Guess’ co-chairman and chief executive officer]. When we first met, he came up to me. We just started talking about our favorite restaurant in Nashville, where I lived after Texas. It’s called The Pancake Pantry and it’s this world-famous place with the best food. So we were just sitting there talking about it, and about models and what they eat and don’t eat. Then someone came up and asked him a question and said, ‘Paul…?’ I must have turned the brightest shade of red! I didn’t know I was actually talking to Paul Marciano. I just thought he was someone else from the company. I was so embarrassed.

WWD: What is your favorite accessory right now?

K.B.: It’s funny because I’ve never really been into watches. I’m never on time, and a watch never really seemed to help. But now I wear a Guess watch all the time. My outfit isn’t complete without it. I look at it as an accessory, not really as a way to keep time. In fact, I don’t even think the time is set on it, so I’m still always late.

WWD: How does your song relate to the Guess watch?

K.B.: Well, my song, “Instigator,” is bold and alluring. It’s about being a girl and having a good time. I would say the watch is also bold and alluring.

WWD: Did you have a hand in the design of the watch?

K.B.: I gave them input on which watches I liked the most from the line and I saw the mock-up of the Instigator watch before it was made. That was pretty cool.

WWD: Are you really into fashion?

K.B.: What girl isn’t? I’ve always loved fashion. Being from a small town, though, there wasn’t a lot available. But I’ve always loved getting dressed up.

Julee Greenberg

A Wristed Development

Music and fashion impresario Jay-Z is bringing his sensibility to a new Rocawear watch line. A timepiece collector himself, Jay-Z was heavily involved with the creation of both the women’s and men’s styles, adding on all the touches one might expect, from leathers stamped in croc patterns to Swarovski crystals galore.

“It stands on its own as a watch line, and isn’t just something to wear with the pants,” says Rudy Theale, president of licensing for the Vestal Group, the Anaheim, Calif.-based company producing the collection.

The collection of 63 stockkeeping units, of which 60 percent are designed for women, is being targeted toward department stores and specialty boutiques and begins shipping this month. Retail prices range from $95 to $295.

The Breil Thing

Come September there will be a new Italian watch in town.

Breil Milano, a 64-year-old brand manufactured by the Binda Group of Milan, is making its first serious foray into the U.S., beginning with the opening of a flagship store in Manhattan’s SoHo district, according to Marcello Binda, chief executive officer. It is also seeking distribution in department and select jewelry stores.

Known in Europe for its “Take everything, but not my Breil” and “Don’t touch my Breil” advertising campaigns, the brand will use similar messages to bond with its target 18- to 30-year-old market here. Steel silhouettes and chronographs in unique shapes and colors, as well as Swarovski crystal embellishments, define the unisex collection, which is priced at retail between $200 and $500.

“It is a brand of style, braveness and boldness,” says Binda.

Now a $200 million business, Breil hopes to double in size within seven years.

An Easy Reader

Matthew Waldman thinks telling time should be child’s play.

The president and designer of New York-based watch line Nooka conceived of graphic and linear time representation, rather than traditional analog or digital methods, after recalling the difficulty some of his grade school classmates experienced learning how to tell time. His signature designs use minimalist bars or dots to explain time increments. The designs were patented and licensed by Seiko in the late Nineties, and then improved upon after Waldman, who also runs the graphic design studio Berrymatch, went out on his own in 2004.

“The first versions were more like fine art pieces. These new models are more practical and wearable, because they stay clean and legible,” he says of replacing the watches‘ LCD faces with covers in mineral crystal that have cutouts through which the wearer views the necessary information. Collections with futuristic names like Zoo, Zot and Zen retail from $250 to $275.

For spring 2006, Waldman is enhancing his line with a collection of analog watches. Also retailing from $250 to $275, the Zan collection has mirrored stainless steel faces and straps in black Italian leather, stainless steel mesh or silver satin.

“I want my pieces to be more like fashion accessories than watches,” he says. Nooka is carried at museum shops, such as the one at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, but plans are already under way to add department store accounts such as Barneys New York this spring and Selfridges & Co. in London this summer. Waldman is also working on plans to introduce Nooka wallets, bags and belts in 2007.

The Big Time

Clearly not content to have the most massive watch store in the world, Tourneau had to go and beat its own record. The chain retailer, whose 16,000-square-foot Manhattan flagship was named the world’s largest watch store by Guinness World Records in 1998, topped itself with the newer Las Vegas store, which is 17,000 square feet. The Tourneau Time Dome, open since February in the Forum Shops in Caesars Palace, carries its own private label brand, as well as styles from Tag Heuer, Omega and Cartier.

For now, Tourneau has no plans to try and outdo itself again, but it has just announced that it will expand beyond U.S. borders for the first time, with 30 new locations in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, to be opened within five years.