Watchmakers enter the information age with new high-tech options

With consumers becoming more accustomed to carrying around personal gadgets like cell phones or BlackBerries that store phone numbers and addresses, these days it’s not enough for a watch just to tell time. It also has to have the ability to sound an alarm, reveal the hour in at least five time zones, share the latest boutique sales and, if it’s not too much to ask, even cook dinner.

Well, the latter might be out of the question for now, but otherwise watch vendors are listening to today’s multitasking consumers and providing them with styles that were once only available to super sleuths like Dick Tracy.

The cell phone is in your purse or in your backpack, but a watch is always on, always available and always on the periphery of your attention. Therefore, I think what will be common is that you’ll seeĀ watches offering more than time,” said Bill Geiser, vice president of watch technology at Fossil. “The challenge is in simplicity. Watches have small displays, and lots of buttons just aren’t conducive.”

Fossil recently created a $249 Wrist PDA watch that stores up to eight megabytes of information such as addresses and phone numbers. This information can then be transmitted back and forth to the wearer’s Palm Pilot or any other Palm Pilot-powered device.

Swatch is also understanding the value between the marriage of technology and style. In October, the brand held a star-studded press conference, including the unlikely trio of Mischa Barton, Denis Leary and Bill Gates, to unveil its Paparazzi watch. The $150 digital watch was created in collaboration with MSN Direct, a division of Gates’ Microsoft Corp. MSN Direct transmits information like weather, news, sports scores, movie times and horoscopes to the watch. Courtesy of Time Out magazine, the watch also shows information on clubs and shopping and can even tell the wearer, for example, when a local boutique has a sale.

G-Shock’s G7500, in addition to the more common features like being waterproof and working as a stopwatch, can display the time in 38 cities and hold 30 contact numbers. Its colorful and geometric face looks a little like a robot as well, which, while not technological in itself, certainly helps to suggest such. The G7500 retails for $120.

Freestyle, a license within the Geneva Watch Company, is a sports brand that caters to surfers. It’s Shark Tide style for $100 displays current and future tide heights and directions for 128 beaches worldwide.

Zucca, a French brand, also took cues from sports in its $266 Competition style. The dial, cased in an anodized aluminum frame, glows in the dark so that it’s visible regardless of environmental conditions.

Fossil’s Geiser said in the future consumers may see even more advanced bells and whistles in theirĀ watches. “I think we’ll see watches start to solve customers’ specific problems,” he explained.

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.