Watchmaker spied to fix prices, court told

A manufacturer of luxury watches sent spies into a Toronto jewelry store as part of a scheme to fix retail prices, a court was told yesterday.

In a statement submitted to District Court Judge Stephen Borins, federal prosecutor David Littlefield said Les Must de Cartier Canada Inc. cut off supplies of new watches to Oliver Jewellers and insisted on the store submitting its proposed advertising for approval.

The statement was filed with the court after Sheila Block, the lawyer representing Cartier, entered pleas of not guilty to two charges under the Competition Act involving alleged price-fixing between 1982 and 1986.

The store’s problems with Cartier began after it ran a series of advertisements in The Globe and Mail announcing that all of its stock, including Les Must de Cartier, was on sale for 10 days at 50 per cent off.

Mr. Littlefield said Mr. Djaoui told Barbara Oliver that she could not have any watches until the ads were pulled. Mrs. Oliver responded by removing the Cartier name from the ads.

Mr. Littlefield said evidence will show that Cartier’s interest in its products’ marketing extended to the company exercising ”omplete control”over the advertising in exchange for paying part of the cost.

The prosecutor said that when Mrs. Oliver and her husband, Russell, went to Mr. Djaoui’s office in May, 1982, they were told they would get no more Cartier products until they signed an agreement to submit all advertising involving the Cartier name to the firm for approval, ostensibly to protect the company’s trademark interests.

In 1985, when the jeweler had difficulty getting a steady supply of Cartier’s Panthere watches, Mr. Djaoui said he was still concerned about the store’s pricing policies and admitted he had sent spies to the store.

”hese spies reported back to him about Oliver’s big discounts on the Panthere line,”Mr. Littlefield said, adding, ”n internal memo to Djaoui from March 1, 1985, confirmed that Djaoui had someone secretly shop the Oliver’s store to monitor its prices.” Mr. Oliver complained to the federal Department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, which advised him to try to tape record one of his telephone calls to Mr. Djaoui.

The prosecutor said a transcript of a call made shortly afterward shows that Mr. Djaoui’s message ”as very clear.

The accused would not tolerate any sale advertising that used Cartier’s name.” The trial continues today.

Spend a few minutes on cheap time

The problem is always the same. Whether the purchase at-hand is a new car (Corvette or Cavalier?), a vacation (Cancun or Cleveland?) or replacing a wristwatch (Cartier or Cardinal?), how do you find something that mixes quality, style and individualism, but leaves the line-of-credit intact?

At least with watches you’d think the search would be a snap. Browse through a department orjewelry store and you’ll see enough watches to dress up a nation of wrists. The trouble is if the watch isn’t expensive, chances are it looks more suited to the school yard than the workplace.

Don’t despair. Here are three of the many good watches that look good and will demonstrate to your colleagues that you want value for money spent – a hallmark of the thrifty nineties.

If you were in elementary school in the late 1950s or early 1960s, your first watch was probably a Timex. Priced low and advertised heavily, a Timex was how young people told time before the Swatch. Today there are 225 different Timex watches, all of them priced under $100.

While some Timexes look like cheap watches trying to masquerade as expensive models, that’s not the case with Model No. 41711.

This is a no-frills watch priced right at $39.95. Its simplicity makes it surprisingly stylish and popular. The watch has been on the market for five years, almost twice as long as the average Timex. The case is plastic, the band is nylon, the colour of the band and the face is khaki. The watch has a sweep second hand but no date window.

Inside there is a quartz movement and it’s water resistant to 30 metres. Its numbers glow in the dark, but that’s the end of its features. This is not an heirloom in the making, but it is guaranteed for a year. Timex watches are available virtually everywhere.

If a Timex doesn’t fit your dressed-for-success look, consider an upgrade to the Eddie Bauer field watch, available for both men or women. Strapping one of these around your wrist will set you back $100, but it will also suggest a relatively healthy financial situation.

According to research from Eddie Bauer, the sports outfitter, its typical catalogue customers are in their 40s, married and with a household income of more than $50,000 (U.S.). (In-store customers tend to be several years younger.) The Field Watch has a French-made quartz movement. The face comes in black or silver and both the hands and dial are luminous. The case is hardened stainless steel, there’s a second hand, a scratch-resistant crystal and a date display.

Water resistant to 45 metres, the watch comes with a choice of three interchangeable nylon bands (olive, black and chestnut), or a single leather band. The company even replaces the battery and crystal, free and forever. The watch is available at any of the 19 Eddie Bauer stores in Canada or through its catalogue operation at 1-800-426-8020.

If only a Swiss-made watch will do, consider the Swiss Army Brands Original Series 2000 watch, which sells for $175. Introduced in 1989, this watch has bold analog hour markings in black, with the 24-hour clock in smaller numbers in red.

There is a date window and a sweep second hand and the tips of the hands and hour markers are luminous. These watches also have a hardened mineral crystal, stainless steel snap back and are water resistant to 100 metres.

There are 10 variations of this basic design. There are both men’s and women’s versions (large or small face). The bezel (the ring around the watch face) can be either stainless steel or enamel and comes in silver, black or red. There is a choice of two water-resistant leather straps or a nylon mesh strap. All bands have a stainless steel buckle.

Swiss Army Brands watches are sold at Birk’s, Eddie Bauer stores and other jewelry and department stores.

Batman accessories flying at retail

Batman has been cleaning up at accessories counters as well as at the box office.

A full range of Batman accessories hit the department stores when the film opened in late June, and early response has exceeded manufacturers’ expectations.

D.C. Comics, where the “Batman” comic strip originated, licensed the name and logo to a number of accessories firms, some for department store distribution and other lines are geared toward the mass market. D.C. Comics is a division of Warner Communications, Inc., whose Warner Brothers, Inc., division made the film.

Macy’s Northeast was one of the first to carry the Batman watches and sunglasses. Joan Kaner, vice president and fashion director, said, “The Batman watches and sunglasses have been tremendous sellouts for us. I think the movie will stay in the theater for a while, and the products should continue to sell after that.”

Jerry Friedman, vice president of Status Eyes, the firm based in Long Island City, N.Y., holds the license for the sunglasses, which wholesale for $5.50, projected $3 million in sales the first year.

There is one basic style in the sunglass line. “We wanted them to be wearable for people of any age,” Friedman said. In addition to department and specialty stores, he said some movie theaters are selling the sunglasses.

Kosta Kartsotis, a principal at Fossil Time, Inc., the company putting out the watches for department stores, said, “We shipped the watches the first week in June, and got reorders five days later.” The watches wholesale for $22.

He said the 11 watch styles are simple and classic, with either Batman logos or action scenes on the faces, and leather straps.

“We wanted adults to buy them as collector’s items. This is not a new phenomenon, but a nostalgic return to an old comic book character with a history,” explained Kartsotis.

At the mass market level, Quintel Consort, a Chicago firm, holds the license for Batman watches. Ken Genender, president, projected $5 million to $7 million in first-year sales. The watches wholesale from $3 to $15, and are sold at chain stores and comic book shops.

Rosecraft, a costume jewelry firm here, has projected sales of $2 million to $3 million for its licensed Batman earrings and pins, according to Arlene Peller, vice president of sales. They wholesale for $2 and $3.

Other lines include nylon wallets and purses accesories by R.G.A. Accessories, here, and stretch belts and suspenders by Pyramid Belt Co., Inc., here, which will begin wholesaling next week.

Really big tickets are ringing the bell for accessories in ’97

Fine jewelry and watches are selling well during the holiday season of 1997. People are spending five figures to buy these luxuries. Cartier is selling jeweled watches and white metals while Harry Winston is selling diamond watches. People are investing for the long term in the late 1990s contrary to the jewelry purchases of the 1980s which were flashy and gaudy.

There are luxury goods, and there are luxury goods.

Those spending serious money — at least five figures per item — during the holidays are turning to fine jewelry and watches.

Though often loathe to discuss the specifics of their sales receipts, fine jewelers and watchmakers were nearly dizzy relating tales of holiday shopping this year.

Wall Street’s record levels have a lot to do with the bustle in stores, but merchants were quick to point out that buying patterns are different from those in the free-spending, gaudy Eighties.

Anthony D’Ambrosio, executive vice president of watch retailer Tourneau, said investing for the long term describes the mood this season.

“In the Eighties, people bought very flashy, gaudy looks, which went out of style quickly, and consumers didn’t care what the brand name was or how the watch worked,” said D’Ambrosio. “Now we see more investing in traditional watches that will become future heirlooms, and buyers are more interested in quality [brand] names with a history.”

This doesn’t mean shoppers are avoiding larger pieces loaded with stones, but in general the heavily laden items have a vintage rather than showy, ultracontemporary look.

Corporate gift departments are getting a boost this year.

Raffi Davoudlarian, manager of Piaget’s Fifth Avenue boutique, said both the numbers of gifts per company and the average prices have risen this year.

“Generally, executives come in and buy three or four watches at a time, beginning at roughly $8,900,” he said. “And it’s not all from the financial community. We’ve worked with real estate and printing firms, and even a car dealership. In good times, companies want to thank people.”

Here, a roundup of some of the top items selling at some of the top names in jewelry and watches.

Cartier

“As of now, we’re trending 30 percent ahead of last year around the country,” said Simon Critchell, president and chief executive officer of Cartier Inc.

Standout categories are jeweled watches and white metals.

“White gold is really happening — it’s not just hearsay,” he said. People desire the lustrous metal, he added, because it’s more discreet than yellow gold.

As the healthy economy chugs along, particularly in New York, Critchell noted, “people are feeling relatively confident and happy” and seem more willing to spend.

Best-selling items include the Panther 1925 watch with diamond-encrusted panther figure detailing and alligator band, at $27,100; the Tank Obus watch with diamond-encrusted white gold case and alligator strap, at $17,200; the Benoit watch with gold bracelet, at $63,500, and the Panther watch with diamond detail, at $18,600.

Van Cleef & Arpels

“There are really two economies that are affecting us this year,” said a Van Cleef & Arpels spokeswoman. “Wall Street here and Hollywood.”

On both coasts, she said, the trend is to larger and more gem-laden pieces. She said even engagement rings are getting bigger — and more expensive.

“We’ve been selling first-time engagement rings of two to three carats instead of the usual one carat.”

Two key holiday areas at Van Cleef are watches from the new Roma collection, retailing from $2,200 to $12,000, and pieces from a Van Cleef signature collection, Clover.

“It’s very traditional Van Cleef & Arpels emblems and comes in a variety of styles, sizes and prices from $1,000 to $14,000.”

At least one customer will be particularly delighted when she receives a $2 million diamond and ruby parure — necklace, bracelet and earrings — that a man purchased for her at the Beverly Hills store.

Harry Winston

“The last two months have been extraordinary,” said Nancy Bothamley, director of sales at Harry Winston. “On both coasts, it’s diamond watches that are most popular.”

Unlike watches of the past, with mere diamond accents, Bothamley said the pieces selling this year are entirely covered in diamonds, from the face to the bezel to the strap. Prices start at $75,000.

Diamonds are driving jewelry business, she said, especially pieces featuring a signature setting that enhances the brilliance of the gems by angling the stones against each other in a three-dimensional wreath effect.

Bracelets and earrings with the setting start at around $125,000, and necklaces start at $800,000.

“Our engagement ring business has doubled since November, led by classic settings [of center diamonds] flanked by two baguettes,” Bothamley said. “Couples are going for larger stones, and we’ve seen an increase in demand for colored diamonds, in hues such as fancy yellow, cognac, champagne and orange.”

Chopard

“The level of an average sale has definitely risen,” said William Fuhrmann, president of Chopard’s North American division. “Those sales of roughly $20,000 have now been notched up to the $50,000 to $150,000 range very easily. People who have money are being freer with it this year. They may be equally as wealthy, but [this year] they aren’t repressing their emotion about buying luxury products.”

Topping the list at Chopard’s store here are women’s diamond watches, from $50,000 to $200,000, such as the Imperiale mini, which Fuhrmann referred to as “a little ice cube,” and Happy Sport models.

Bulgari

At Bulgari, Massimo Piombimi, East Coast operations manager, said sales have increased about 20 percent, while the amount of an average sale has remained stable.

“It’s a very good period for us,” he said. “The U.S. is a booming country compared to the others where we have stores.”

The bestseller is the XL collection of yellow and white gold rings with semiprecious stones, ranging in price from $1,500 to $4,500. These rings represent the “democratization of the Bulgari brand,” Piombimi said. “We want to give the impression that Bulgari is not only the brand for important items, but for fashionable and trendy items. Even a younger person with less money in his pocket can buy something at Bulgari.”

Other hot items have been the white gold Parentesi line of interlocking metal pieces, some with pave diamonds. It opens with earrings at $8,300 and reaches $13,600 for a necklace.

Piaget

“In the past, large pieces were purchased by Middle Eastern or Asian customers, but today it’s Americans,” said Raffi Davoudlarian, manager of the year-old store. “Over $100,000 isn’t off-putting to Americans anymore. They seem to be more educated about the value of such items now.”

In that category, Davoudlarian said a particularly strong seller has been Piaget’s heart-shaped Coeur Ruban watches, which feature diamond faces and silk straps, for roughly $135,000.

“I wish I had more pieces available, because at this pace, we won’t be able to satisfy demand for them,” Davoudlarian said.

“Our more traditional watches are still selling, as well, but many customers are gravitating toward styles that include more diamonds and colored stones. Our new Protocole line, introduced this spring, has also been selling well in white gold and diamonds. Those prices range from $13,000 to $20,000.”

Tourneau

In spite of adversities such as flooding in California and the traffic disruption on Madison Avenue here, Anthony D’Ambrosio, executive vice president of Tourneau, said, “We are showing substantial growth this season.”

As reported, stretches of Madison Avenue, including the block between 54th and 55th Streets, has been closed on and off to pedestrian and vehicular traffic since Dec. 7 due to falling bricks from the facade of 540 Madison Avenue, and the surrounding area has felt the disruption.

Tourneau has a unit at 52nd Street and Madison, which has remained open, but has had less traffic.

Its other Madison Avenue units at 57th and 59th Streets have not been effected.

D’Ambrosio attributed the growth to both an increase of new customers as well as better educated consumers who have developed an appreciation of fine watches “as both status symbols and required accessories in life.”

“We’re also seeing existing customers returning to buy different watches for different aspects of their lifestyles, as the concept of watch wardrobing takes hold.”

D’Ambrosio pointed to a return to classic and traditional watches and continued demand for sportwatches as two major trends.

H. Stern

“Many people made a lot of money this year and wanted to treat themselves to the finer things in life — luxury jewelry being one of the top items on their list,” said Andrea Menezes, director of marketing at H. Stern.

The company’s Justine rings have been the number-one item, and the bestseller has been the $950 white gold style studded with a large crystal and a small diamond.

At the other end of the spectrum, one of the more expensive purchases was a $680,000 13-carat canary diamond ring with princess-cut diamonds on either side.

Asprey

At Asprey, senior vice president Colleen Caslin said store traffic is up dramatically, but buyers are still thoughtful about their purchases.

“It’s not just like a quick fix, where they have to have it,” she said. “People are looking for classic items that will be long-lasting.”

She said attention has turned to fine jewelry and added that floral motifs, pearls and colored gems were strong.

Bestsellers include the $19,500 Daisy necklace in white gold with blue topaz and diamonds, a style that actress Claire Danes wore to the last Academy Awards, and a $16,575 pearl necklace with a magnolia-shaped pendant encrusted with yellow sapphires and a diamond.

Tiffany

The firm declined to comment on specifics of holiday sales, but shoppers at the flagship store here last Thursday were purchasing such items as Elsa Peretti’s sterling silver mesh earrings topped with a freshwater pearl for $190.

The engagement ring counters were quite busy and couples mostly focused on Tiffany solitaire settings and matching wedding bands, some with diamond accents. One couple purchased an engagement ring for $13,010 and a matching band for $11,400.

The counters featuring wedding bands were particularly crowded. There purchases ranged from $725 for a simple gold band to $5,175 for the Schlumberger 16-stone ring in 18-karat gold and diamonds.

Tiffany’s recent advertising has featured Peretti’s 18-karat gold Round motif in earrings and necklace, from $625 to $1,150; Paloma Picasso’s 18-karat gold and colored stone Forever X rings and earrings, from $1,250 to $2,850, and the “1837” hallmark collection in sterling silver rings and bracelets, at $95 to $250.

Lane licenses Margrove for line of watches

Fashion jewelry designer Kenneth Jay Lane has licensed his name to Margrove Industries, Inc., for fashion watches.

A few styles will be shown at the August market week here.

The line is being developed by Lane and designers at Margrove. Prices and details have not been completed.

Lane said the watches will be in jewelry and conventional styles. He said he especially liked the fact that Margrove manufactures its watches in the U.S. because “it will allow me to start my designs from scratch.”

Margrove, based in Linden, k N.J., manufactures watches under the name Spats. It will produce the Lane watches in its Linden factory and plans to open a showroom here in time for the August market.