Tag Heuer launches first U.S. unit in SoHo

Tag Heuer is dipping its toes into Manhattan’s crowded retail scene with the opening tonight of its first U.S. store in SoHo.

The Swiss watch firm is also set to announce today that Daniel Lalonde has been named the chief executive officer of the LVMH Watch and Jewelry USA division, taking over the position formerly held by Susan Nicholas. Lalonde, a former executive at Nestle Group, will report to Jean-Christophe Babin, Tag Heuer’s worldwide president.

The 1,800-square-foot store is located on West Broadway between Spring and Prince Streets and features the range of the brand’s watches for men and women, as well as its new licensed sunglass line.

We are looking to raise the level of the brand’s profile here,” said David Savidan, the company’s vice president of marketing, as he put finishing touches on the store Wednesday. “We have large international distribution and we thought it was important to have a store in New York also. This is a way for us to show what the brand is about.

This unit is the brand’s eighth store worldwide and the third featuring its new design elements. Designed by Tokyo-based architect Gwenael Nicholas, who also worked on the Issey Miyake SoHo unit, the store has watch displays integrated into the architecture and, overall, the site has a sleek, minimalist feel. The space features a curved wall in dark, walnut wood, while another wall has black transparent glass with large reproductions of Tag Heuer advertisements and marketing materials. In the back is a small sitting area where customers can view high-end watches, said Zane Rhodes, the firm’s retail business director and manager of the SoHo store.

Savidan declined to say if Tag Heuer is looking at opening additional stores in the U.S., but said the company was particularly pleased to be in SoHo, which was its first-choice neighborhood in Manhattan. The area has been bustling with new watch and accessories stores. Movado and Montblanc recently opened stores in the neighborhood.

The 142-year-old company, a division of LVMH since 1999, now has sales estimated at about $300 million. The brand made its mark in the last decade primarily by offering steel, sports watches in the $600 to $800 range, an opening price point for fine watches. In the last few years, it has focused more on its higher-end business and had added more watches in the $1,500-and-up range. Now the bulk of the watches sell for between $1,000 to $3,000 and the firm has steadily increased its offerings of women’s styles with gold and diamonds.

Tag Heuer is sold in 1,200 stores in the U.S., evenly split between department and specialty stores, according to Savidan.

The sunglasses, produced under license by Logo, sell for $205 to $385 and include sport andfashion pieces. This is the first season sunglasses are in stores and also the first licensing deal for the company.

“Similar to our watches, we have both sport and fashion styles,” Savidan noted.

Main-floor women’s watchmakers add swiss functionality to new spring styles

Women’s ready-to-wear designers are increasingly looking toward haute couture to find those special touches that can be adapted to distinguish a garment, and now main-floor watchmakers are following suit.

Brands like Casio, Guess, Fossil, Bulova and Citizen are adding chronographs, dual dials, moon phases, sweeps and other signature complications from the world of haute horology to transform today’s wristwatches into anything but basic timepieces.

Watches with complications have been around for hundreds of years,” said Andrew J. Block, senior vice president of Tourneau, which has 21 watch stores throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean. “They first came out of Europe in the 1800s. But they’ve [proliferated] since the late Eighties and early Nineties.”

Block said these watches are typically favored among men, because the cases generally need to be larger to fit all of the movements within.

At April’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, however, a number of luxury watch companies established a new trend by showing complicated timepieces targeted toward women.

While these watches are high on functionality and can offer additional resources to a female consumer who already carries around a cell phone or BlackBerry that tells the time, many watchmakers concede that women will respond to these new timepieces more for their aesthetic.

“The number of people buying watches to tell time has been shrinking over the years due to the explosion of the cell phone,” said Dave Johnson, vice president of sales and marketing for timepieces at Casio Inc. “[People want] watches to do more than just tell time. A watch needs to have a functional lifestyle application, or it has to be a brand with an image and status that matches that person.”

In order to translate the high-end trend for the main-floor market, many brands are opting to use Asian parts, which are less expensive than their Swiss counterparts.

Fossil, for example, is introducing its new automatic Rotor watch for the spring season. The Rotor takes its cue from high-end Swiss watches, like those by Vacheron Constantin, Blancpain and Corum, which offer skeleton cases, a clear case allowing one to see the working movements within. The watch’s rotor, a weighted balance that spins and winds the spring in the automatic watch, can be viewed through this clear case and is made all the more dazzling for a female consumer with the addition of crystal studs. It retails for $95.

“It’s a challenge because of the assembly,” said Karen Schuback, director of product design and development for Fossil Inc., which is using Japanese movements in its watches to cut costs. “Because [a complicated watch is] put together by hand, it’s much more difficult to assemble than an analogue or battery-operated watch. There are a lot more steps to it.”

Android, a watch company based in Deerfield Beach, Fla., offers skeleton case watches for spring. One style, the Challenger Skeleton Automatic, retailing for $249, has a 36-hour power reserve and a profusion of cogs and wheels that commands attention.

“People are fascinated by the look of it, because you can see all the parts,” said designer Wing Liang. “Traditionally skeleton watches cost thousands of dollars. We have made it affordable by using Swiss parts that are assembled in Hong Kong so that anyone can enjoy the watch.”

Callanen International, which produces Guess and Nautica watches, is looking to Asia, as well.

“This part of the watchmaking industry used to belong to the Swiss. Now it’s migrated to Japan andChina,” said Cindy Livingston, president and chief executive officer of Callanen.

Guess is adapting for women a men’s style featuring a sweep movement within a tonneau-shaped stainless steel case. The styles will begin retailing in May, with retail prices ranging from $105 to $135.

“Main-floor watch departments, specifically Guess, follow trends in watch shapes, colors and details,” said Livingston. “Complications and movements are another trend. When women pay attention to high-end watch advertising, they follow the trend, but it’s the look that they follow. On a subliminal level, [consumers] understand that it’s an expensive movement and for those people who can’t afford it, they want something that looks like it.”

Oceanus, a Casio-produced men’s sport watch line featuring chronographs that launched in June, is responding to the trend in the luxury market by adding on women’s styles. The more feminine silhouettes will be on the main floor in March, with prices ranging from $380 to $400 retail.

Bulova includes in its spring assortment a chronograph watch, which is given a feminine touch with diamond markers on the brushed steel bezel, gradient hues of blue on the dial and a coordinated leather strap. The style will retail for $450.

Citizen’s Eco-Drive Ladies’ Fashion Strap watch, retailing for $295, will feature more than a few points of interest. It has a one-second chronograph that can measure one-hour, 12-hour and 24-hour time periods. Fashionable touches include a pink strap and a mother-of-pearl dial surrounded by a Swarovski crystal-studded bezel.

“Ladies’ chronographs seem to have come of age,” said Laurence R. Grunstein, president of Citizen Watch Company of America Inc., president of Citizen of Canada and managing director of Citizen Watch United Kingdom Ltd.

He attributed the cause to the sporty aesthetic of complicated watches.

“The reason you’re seeing a lot of these watches is because dress in general has gotten a bit more casual,” he said. “When you go to the theater today, you don’t see people wearing a jacket anymore. It’s jeans or elegant casual.”

Sebastiano Di Bari, managing director in charge of U.S. operations of Sector Group USA, agreed.

“If you look at the past 10 years, women have changed the way that they buy their watches,” said Di Bari, whose company produces Sector watches and timepieces for the Valentino, Pirelli, Moschino and Roberto Cavalli brands. “Overall the lifestyle [of the consumer] is going more toward the sporty and athletic. Watches change together with that. People like to mix and match an expensive top with Levi’s jeans, and the watch becomes the casual-chic piece.”

As for how long the trend of complications will continue, only time will tell.

“We see that complications in watches are becoming more accepted in the marketplace and it’s not just at the high-end level,” said Brad Bollinger, senior design manager for Fossil. “By integrating them into the watch’s design, there’s more of an enjoyment factor in it.”

After all, as Citizen’s Grunstein said: “Women don’t buy [watches] for functionality. They buy for looks. It’s like hemlines or hats.”

Spring’s complicated watches are more than just a pretty face. Here, a brief glossary of some of the details that make them tick:

AUTOMATIC: A watch that doesn’t require a battery. The energy source is the movement of the wearer’s wrist via a rotor.

CHRONOGRAPH: A watch with two independent time systems, one measuring the time of the day and the other measuring a briefer interval of time, such as seconds, minutes or even hours. Each is controlled by a separate crown.

COMPLICATION: Any function on a watch that tells something other than the time or date.

DUAL DIAL: A watch with two dials within a case, enabling the timepiece to have a second time zone.

MECHANICAL: A watch that winds at the crown, supplying it with energy.

MOON PHASE: A watch complication that depicts the phases of the moon as seen from Earth.

MOVEMENT: The engine of a watch.

QUARTZ: A battery-operated watch.

ROTOR: A weighted metal disc inside the case of an automatic watch that is made to rotate by the energy produced by the movements of the wearer’s arm. These rotations help wind the watch.

SKELETON: A watch with a clear or partially transparent case, allowing the movements within to be seen.

SUB SECOND: A second “second” hand, which helps joggers and divers time their sports by acting as a stopwatch.

SWEEP: A minute hand that counts from zero to 60 and jumps back to zero at the end of each hour via a spring. Also known as a spring hand.

Di Modolo drips with diamonds and watches

After three decades in the jewelry and watch business, Benny Shabtai is only getting started.

Shabtai, who founded Raymond Weil USA in 1977, staked his claim in designer fine jewelry in 2001 in cofounding Di Modolo with the Swiss-born Dino Modolo, who was trained in watchmaking as a young man in La Chaux-de-Fonds.

The line is rife with gold, diamond and colored gemstone jewelry and is distributed in Di Modolo’s three stores in New York, Short Hills, N.J., and Milan, as well as Neiman Marcus and other specialty stores. Now the company is gearing up for phase two.

First up, the brand has launched a watch collection. Called Tempia, it features a rounded tonneau case with a delicate bracelet and comes with options of diamonds and gemstones.

We first wanted to be known as jewelers,” Shabtai said. “We feel it’s now time to bring timepieces in with the feel of jewelry.”

The watches recently hit the company’s boutiques and Shabtai said the consumer response has been strong. The Swiss-made collection retails for $12,500 to $50,000 and is only available in gold, with versions in stainless steel to bow next year. The company has plans for wholesale distribution.

The launch comes at a time when the thirst for luxury watches has been skyrocketing and jewelry brands are trying to cash in. Earlier this month, Tiffany & Co. unveiled a joint venture with Swatch Group to grow and build its fine watch business. Diamond jewelry firm De Beers also recently introduced a collection of diamond-encrusted watches that are untraditional in that they include rough diamonds and have oblique case shapes.

It’s a challenge,” Shabtai said. “There are so many name brands in the marketplace at the end of the day it’s really about ‘Who are you?'”

In keeping with another movement in the jewelry industry, Di Modolo has launched a high jewelry collection. Shabtai teamed up with DD Manufacturing, an Antwerp, Belgium-based diamond manufacturer and Diamond Trading Co. siteholder that supplies him with diamonds from 3 to 30 carats and above. Each piece is one of a kind and can go from $50,000 up to the millions of dollars. DDM also supplies Daniel K and Jacob & Co. with diamonds.

“Inventory will be my advantage,” said Shabtai. “I don’t think anyone is going to be knocking down my door asking for diamonds. No matter what, it will take time. Diamonds are a commodityit’s an investment.”

Di Modolo is placing its diamonds in good – if not competitive – company. It’s moving into a quainter 700-square-foot store at 703 Madison Avenue in Manhattan in March, with neighbors like Chopard, Leviev, Graff, de Grisogono, Kwiat and Ivanka Trump, and will shutter its store at 635 Madison Avenue. The new Madison Avenue store is expected to do $15 million in retail sales in its first year.

“Madison Avenue has become the heart of brand names,” Shabtai said. “The image and prestige of moving two or three blocks [uptown] makes a difference.”

The brand is also strategizing an aggressive retail rollout, opening up to 15 doors within the next five years. Las Vegas, Costa Mesa, Calif., and Moscow are on the horizon.

Another move to glamorize Di Modolo was tapping Catherine Zeta-Jones as its brand ambassador. Zeta-Jones is featured in the company’s print campaign that bowed in this month’s issues of Departures, Vogue, W and Town & Country.

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.