Sporting goods retailers cash in on demand for aluminum baseball bats

When coach Tony Berkins calls batting practice, his Francis Howell High School baseball players take their last swings of the day with shiny new aluminum bats.

For most of the practice, though, the boys use wooden bats to keep the aluminum bats dent-free.

The reason: Aluminum bats range from $150 to $300 each — quadruple or more the cost of a $40 wooden bat.

The Francis Howell Vikings and other teams nationwide have to use-3 aluminum bats, according to a Jan. 1 mandate by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Prior to this year, high schools could use the lighter -5 aluminum bats.

That has sales of -3 aluminum bats soaring in the St. Louis area and across the nation.

It’s largely BYOB — buy your own bat — with parents or ball players picking up most of the jab for the pricey sticks. Few high schools can afford the cost.

“If I bought a bat for each of my players, I would blow my entire budget,” Perkins said. “I think part of the rule change was because manufacturers wanted to make more money.”

Whatever it takes

Clay Keeney, manager of Johnny Mac’s Sporting Goods in Sunset Hills, said he can’t keep the -3 bats in stock.

“Guys aren’t just buying the cheaper -3 bats,” he said.

“They are going for the higher-end (-3 bats), paying whatever it takes to improve their game.”

Baseball players are superstitious about equipment, said Kyle Reid, who coaches the team at Rockwood Summit High School. “They like to have their own top softball bats, each choosing his own brand. It’s kind of a status symbol.”

Mike McDonnell, manager of Gaffney’s Sporting Goods in Ellisville, said most of his customers are parents who are buying Louisville Slugger’s Omaha Gold, which retails for around $200, for their kids.

Jerry Detterman, manager of The Sports Authority on Watson Road in Crestwood said the price difference is based on the quality of aluminum alloy used. He said his store sells an average of 40 aluminum bats a week.

The -3 designation comes from the fact that the bat’s weight cannot be less than 3 ounces of its length in inches. For example, a 34-inch bat must weigh 31 ounces to be rated a -3.

Detterman, Keeney and McDonnell all said that Omaha Gold is probably the best-selling aluminum bat in St. Louis. The bright, banana-yellow bat was the official bat of the College. World Series last year.

Jeff Price, a 16-year-old second baseman for Kirkwood High School, paid a mere $164 for his Omaha Gold, which he ordered from a catalog. Before baseball practice started in, February, he and his dad researched aluminum bats on the Internet and checked them out in stores. Then his father helped finance the purchase.

“I like to swing the bat very hard, and the Omaha Gold doesn’t hurt my hands as much as ther bats I tried,” said Price, who’s been playing baseball since first grade and dreams of becoming a Major Leaguer.


Louisville Slugger and Easton Sports are the top two manufacturers in the aluminum bat market, said Jon Hodgins, Rawlings Sporting Goods vice president of marketing.

Fenton-based Rawlings is one of the largest makers of baseball equipment in the world. More than 60 percent of its revenue comes from sales of baseballs, bats and gloves.

However, Rawlings waited until after the NFHS rule change to enter the aluminum bat market. The company’s BB-750 model comes with a suggested retail price of $160.

“The high school association had been discussing changing the rules to require -3 bats for years,” Hodgins said. “We didn’t want to get into the market if there was no demand.”

Rawlings has forged sponsorship agreements with several college teams, including the University of Missouri-Columbia, to strengthen its presence in the aluminum bat market, he said.

MU coach Tim Jamieson said RawIings provides bats and other baseball equipment as part of the team’s deal. He declined to disclose the financial terms of the agreement.

All of Jamieson’s players use the BB-750.

“(MU) players had some feedback in Rawlings’ development of the bat,” Jamieson said. “But they don’t get to choose which company sponsors us, because they don’t understand the economics of the game.”

Going Toe to Toe with Shoes

At Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum, footwear opens a window on the lives and lore of peoples throughout the ages.

Footnotes-Outer row, from left: Embroidered silk shoe (c. 1860) from China for bound “lotus” foot; black lacquer wooden clog with tatami insole from 19th-century Japan; elevated traditional Korean clog; knee- high boot worn by Tibetan lamas and noblemen; Inuit sealskin kamik; 19th-century Middle Eastern woman’s stilt sandal; man’s shoe with upturned toe from Iraq; Senegalese leather mule; concave rawhide sandal (c. 1900) from Uganda; painted wood and leather Bolivian sandal. Inner row, from bottom left: Handmade wingtip brown oxford (1995); shoe with fanciful elongated tip made for upperclass men in India; pom-pommed mules worn by Pakistani women for traversing sand dunes; contemporary catfish-skin shoe from Iceland; Zairian royal sandal with carved toe knob; elegant black suede pump by famed Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo.

Clad in a designer suit and a soft silk scarf, sonja bata looks like she shops in the exclusive boutiques of Toronto’s Bloor Street, not on an icebound island in the Canadian Arctic or in the dusty market towns of mountainous Tibet. But Bata, businesswoman, philanthropist and founder of North America’s largest and most comprehensive shoe museum, will go just about anywhere to get the right shoe.

In 1992, she traveled by chartered plane to the Arctic community of Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island, one of the most remote, punishing places on earth. “I’d heard of an elderly Inuit woman there who was known for making bearded sealskin boots, or ‘kamiks,’ the traditional way,” says Bata. “I was told that she even used sinew for the stitching. Nowadays many women use dental floss. Of course I wanted to commission a pair for our collection.”

Bata found the old woman without difficulty. “She was very wrinkled, with bright-black eyes,” Bata recalls. “And she kept completely silent while her daughter translated my proposal. She looked so serious I was sure that she would turn me down. Then all at once she started to roar with laughter. Her daughter joined in, and I did, too. Finally the old lady wiped her eyes and spoke, pointing to her mouth. The daughter translated: ‘My mother says that chewing the sealskin is very hard. Therefore her price to make the boots is a new set of teeth!'”

That unusual bargain, though apparently made in jest, is just one of many that Bata, a collector of footwear both ordinary and extraordinaire, has struck during more than 50 years of far-flung forays aimed at amassing the superb collection now housed in the Toronto museum that bears her name. Opened in May 1995, the Bata Shoe Museum celebrates footwear and shoemaking not as a footnote to fashion but as a window on human history. Its collection includes such treasures as woven funerary shoes from a royal tomb in ancient Thebes, 15th-century German foot armor, Queen Victoria’s mourning boots and a rare pair of Inuit boots made of eider skin. Also featuring such crowd- pleasers as Picasso’s zebra-striped boot and Madonna’s hot-pink platform pumps, the museum has gained international attention for its provocative, sometimes irreverent treatment of an offbeat subject.

Explaining how she came to acquire more than 10,000 orthopedic shoes for plantar fasciitis and related artifacts that span 5,000 years and represent every continent on the globe, Bata says simply, “I married a shoe man.” Her husband is the international shoe manufacturer and retailer Thomas Bata. The Batas, for generations the village cobblers of Zlin, Czechoslovakia, had made their fortune by mechanizing their country’s shoe industry, ultimately developing the firm into a world supplier of footwear. In 1939, as the Nazis advanced across Europe, Thomas Bata relocated the company to Canada.

When the couple wed in 1946, Sonja was studying architecture in her native Switzerland. It wasn’t long, however, before she became involved in helping her husband rebuild the family business. On visits to company plants around the world, she applied her interest in design to product development and to adapting traditional footwear for mass production.

Realizing that local styles were losing ground to Western ones, Bata began gathering shoes to preserve the technological and cultural heritage they represented. When the collection overflowed the archives of the Bata company’s Toronto headquarters, she decided to create a museum that would do justice to the collection and enrich the city.

Designed by Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama, the five-story, $12 million museum is a striking structure often likened to a shoe box with its lid ajar. Entering the building through a two-story-high transparent wedge, visitors find themselves in an airy atrium. A graceful staircase with a glass balustrade sweeps from the basement to the fourth floor, and light pours in through a tall window that soars the entire height of the building’s south wall.

This morning the museum’s founder is ensconced behind a shoe-shaped reception desk, greeting visitors and directing traffic. “Footwear tells the whole human story,” she says in a rare quiet moment. “It’s all there, from the animal hides that prehistoric cave dwellers wrapped around their feet to the high-tech boots worn by astronauts.” Surveying an incoming group with pleasure, she adds, “I know people arrive thinking ‘What kind of wacky place is this, a footwear hall of fame?'” Then she breaks into a wide grin. “They leave saying shoes are more interesting than they ever dreamed possible. That’s my mission.”

At the entrance to the museum’s main exhibition, “All About Shoes,” is a plaster cast of the oldest known hominid footprints on earth, dating back 3.6 million years. The originals were discovered by the anthropologist Mary Leakey in Tanzania in 1978. Easily mistaken for any seen on a beach today, the prints aptly set the stage for an exhibition about footwear through the ages-its myriad guises, exotic uses and ancient past.

Prehistoric footwear scarcely appears in the archaeological record. The first crude foot wrappings were likely intended as protection from harsh terrain and cold weather, and were probably improvised from bark and other plant materials. It’s possible that the sharp flint tools found in late Stone Age sites some half-million years old were used to prepare animal skins as coverings for the body and feet. But leather decomposes quickly, and until recently the most direct evidence of such apparel were drawings made by cave dwellers in the Pyrenees some 15,000 years ago. Two recent discoveries, however, have added many more details.

In 1991, hikers crossing a glacier in the Italian Alps happened upon the protruding head of what turned out to be the virtually intact body and clothes of a 5,300-year-old hunter now known as the “Iceman.” The find gave scientists a firsthand look at late Stone Age attire. Complementing a finely designed coat of animal skins and fur, the man’s ingeni0us leather shoes had an upper flap sewn onto a bottom sole, with a socklike net liner and laces made of grass rope. He evidently stuffed the net with grass for insulation, wriggled his foot into it and tightened the laces, molding the grass around his foot to prevent it from slipping.

It was dry conditions, rather than glacial ice, that pre-served a trove of slip-ons and padded sandals left behind by generations of prehistoric Native Americans who once took shelter in a Missouri cave. The fragile grouping, skillfully crafted of woven plant fibers, was unearthed four decades ago, but it was not until 1997 that surprised scientists were able to determine that several of the shoes dated back 5,000 years or more. The oldest, an 8,300-year-old thick-soled sandal with decorative braided cords that crisscross the foot, would look right in step today on Miami’s South Beach or France’s Cote d’Azur.

Shoemaking is one of the oldest crafts in the world. In virtually every early civilization skilled craftsmen plied their trade using handtools and techniques that were to remain essentially unchanged for thousands of years. The sandalmakers depicted in wall paintings found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, for instance, could easily have shared the workbench on which their itinerant Colonial American counterparts made stout farm boots five millennia later.

Over the centuries, shoes have undergone countless changes in style, form and function. These changes speak volumes about the lives of the people who wore them and the societies in which they lived. Shoes were used not only for work, sport and play or to make a fashion statement, but also to mark special occasions, display status and even express religious beliefs. In ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, shoes were an established symbol of rank and worn mainly by the rich and powerful. “How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince’s daughter!” reads a passage from the Bible’s Song of Solomon. In the Yoruba culture of Nigeria, royal status was indicated by the quantity of beads and patterns on boots. In America, the Iroquois made plaited corn-husk slippers to be worn by the dead in funerary rituals. At the height of the Victorian period, genteel women were expected to wear sweeping skirts and crinolines to hide their feet, which modesty demanded be confined in ankle-high boots lest a glimpse of uncovered skin be revealed.

In the early 14th century, shoes with comically long pointed toes were all the rage. Although it seems more appropriate to a court jester than a gentleman, this fashionable men’s style was no joking matter and ultimately forced King Edward IV of England to put his foot down. In 1463 an edict was issued decreeing a 6-inch toe for commoners, a 12- inch toe for gentlemen and a 24-inch toe for nobility. According to some sources, the elongated points of nobles’ shoes were sometimes attached to a chain worn at the shin to keep the titled wearer from tripping over them. The style endured for two centuries, despite the church’s disapproval of the shoes’ suggestive shape.

Another British monarch, it is believed, was responsible for establishing the standardized foot measure. In 1320, Edward II decreed that the measurement should equal a row of 36 barleycorns-the actual length of his own foot. Each barleycorn was one third of an inch, which added up to 12 inches or one “foot.”

For most of history, fashionable footwear was the preserve of the well- to-do. Everyone else thought themselves lucky to own a single sturdy pair of work shoes; the poorest people often went barefoot, as many still do in some parts of the world. All that changed when a host of principally American inventions mechanized shoemaking in the 19th century, displacing handwrought shoes with cheaper, factory-made products. Suddenly even those of modest means could own a small footwear wardrobe.

The shoes of our time often hark back to earlier eras in surprising ways, yet tread new ground. The outlandish platform shoes used on stage by rock stars such as David Bowie and Madonna recall shoes worn in Greek theater of the fifth century b.c. Wanting the tragic heroes in his plays to loom larger than life, the dramatist Aeschylus required that his actors all don shoes with thick cork soles.

No longer defined by the narrow tastes of a ruling elite, today’s footwear fashions are driven by popular and street culture. The 1973 film American Graffiti sparked a short-lived revival of saddle shoes, the de rigueur high school fashion of the 1950s. Punk subculture in the 1970s and ’80s transformed the Doc Martens work boot into a hot fashion item. Meanwhile, handcrafted shoes have come full circle and are now, as they were in ancient times, a luxury reserved for royalty and their ilk. Prince Charles is shod by the British bespoke shoemaker John Lobb, while Arab oil princesses are kept in handmade shoes by craftsmen such as Rolando Segalin of Venice.

The Bata Shoe Museum explores all these themes with a deliberately playful touch, says the museum’s former curator, Jonathan Walford. Genial and bearish in his rumpled corduroy jacket, Walford worked with Sonja Bata for 11 years before leaving the museum to launch his own consulting business. A charming guide to the collection, he takes the inherent humor in his occupation very seriously. “Did you ever watch the sitcom Boston Common, which aired a few seasons back?” he asks. “The resident nerd was a character who worked as a researcher in Early American footwear. He’s forever spouting shoe esoterica, most of it complete drivel. It seems to be part of our culture that footwear is seen as necessary but somehow frivolous. That paradox is what the museum plays on.”

This particular afternoon the actor David Carradine is about to formally present the museum with the shoes he wore in a scene from the television series Kung Fu. A small crowd, dominated by the mostly female members of Carradine’s Toronto fan club, claps mightily at the arrival of the star, dressed for the occasion in black tails and scuffed white sneakers for bunions. His gift is a pair of pale beige Capezio dancing shoes, specially fitted with nonslip soles. “Dancers like to slide; martial artists don’t,” he explains, demonstrating a high kick that nearly grazes a curator’s nose. “They tell me that of all the people whose shoes are in this museum, I’m one of the few who actually showed up to donate them in person,” he quips; “but I guess it was hard to get a commitment from Elvis or Napoleon.”

Elvis, it turns out, is represented by a pair of blue-and-white “wet- look” patent loafers (p. 121), but the museum owns no shoes or boots worn by Napoleon. It does, however, possess a pair of the French emperor’s black silk socks, saved after his death on St. Helena. Walford points to a minute pile of dirt displayed alongside the socks. It is the leavings from the wash water when the socks were conserved. “That dirt is famous among Napoleon buffs,” he says wryly. “Several conspiracy theorists have asked to analyze it for traces of arsenic.”

The display will soon be enriched by a recent acquisition-an original order for new boots penned by Napoleon’s arch foe, the duke of Wellington, shortly before the two men faced each other at the Battle of Waterloo. Though that confrontation marked Napoleon’s downfall, when it came to shoes the French emperor obviously took no chances. His custom was to have servants break in his new boots before he wore them. And Napoleon wasn’t the first French ruler to demand special treatment for his footwear. Before losing her head to the guillotine in 1793, Marie Antoinette employed a servant whose sole duty was looking after the monarch’s 500 pairs of shoes.

Although the notorious 3,000-pair collection that Imelda Marcos accumulated as first lady of the Philippines may not be the largest in the world, it probably comes close. That collection became the property of the Philippine government, but after Marcos left the country, the museum acquired a pair of elegant black satin evening sandals once owned by the former shoe queen.

A rich and varied educational program accompanies the museum’s exhibitions, covering topics that range from shoe and foot fetishism to the role of shoe prints in crime detection. Recently, museum staff did a presentation about shoes and horticulture. Among the items shown were Dutch wooden clogs with flat bottoms to tamp the earth for tulip planting, and from Japan, a three-foot-high stilted platform shoe worn to pick mandarin oranges.

One group of sixth-graders has come here as part of a social studies project on the 1960s, explains their escort, museum docent Robert Barron. The children gather around the display “What’s My Line?” which shows how unusual occupations have given rise to singular shoe styles. A prototype boot that the Bata shoe company developed at the request of the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War is an instant hit. Produced at a company factory in Maryland, it features a molded sole that leaves the imprint of a Vietcong sandal, camouflaging the American soldier’s tracks.

The ’60s momentarily forgotten, a boy gapes at an object bristling with nine-inch-long serrated iron spikes. Not an instrument of torture, the wooden clog was used to crush chestnuts in 19th-century France to extract tannin for use in the leather industry. In contrast, a man’s colorful sandal from Bolivia looks harmless enough, its true purpose artfully concealed. Equipped with metal toe tips and hobnailed soles, it is in fact a lethal weapon designed to be worn in duels. Not included in the exhibition, but equally intriguing, says Walford, is an Australian shoe of human hair and emu feathers once worn by an aboriginal executioner. In traditional aboriginal society, people went barefoot. Executioners apparently wore such ritual footwear to disguise their footprints and protect their anonymity.

“What about hippie shoes?” asks a pigtailed girl as Barron leads his charges to an installation entitled “The Height of Fashion”-a wide spiral staircase with the creations of famous footwear designers adorning every step. The children stare at a pair of “Flower Power” sandals created in the late ’60s by American designer Beth Levine. With soles lined with bright-green synthetic grass and a yellow chrysanthemum toe strap, the sandals look like they stepped right out of an Andy Warhol painting. As the class troops off to its next stop, a display of ’60s-era disco boots, complete with music, Walford points out the work of two designers who made fashion history on foot. Salvatore Ferragamo, inventor of the wedge heel, is represented by a bright-red sling-back with an upturned black-and-gold kid toe from the mid-1940s. The whimsical comma-shaped heel on a bejeweled pink silk pump from 1963 is the work of Roger Vivier, once a leading designer for the House of Dior in Paris.

Continuing his running commentary, Walford paraphrases Brillat- Savarin’s famous gastronomical maxim, proclaiming, “Show me your shoes and I’ll tell you who you are.” The red high heel is the tip-off for an aristocrat’s shoe from late 17th-century France; it tells us that the shoe was worn only at the court of Louis XIV. The term “well-heeled,” in fact, originated from the upper-class fashion of high-heeled footwear. The elite of late Renaissance Europe favored costumes that made them look more imposing. Elevated shoes gave them a literal leg up on their social inferiors while protecting their feet from the muck of the street. The high heel, which came into vogue around 1600 and was worn by both men and women, had evolved from the chopine, an earlier platform style that had been popular in the East for centuries and arrived in Europe through trade between Turkey and Venice. Adopted by wealthy Venetians, the style in its most exaggerated form made the wearer, who often needed the assistance of two servants to stay on balance, appear as much as two feet taller. The elite scorned the fashion as it filtered down to the lesser classes. Last to wear the chopine were the street prostitutes of Venice, who wanted to stand head and shoulders above the competition.

An exquisitely embroidered silk slipper displayed nearby represents an extreme example of foot mutilation perpetrated in the name of beauty. Measuring just three to five inches in length, such slippers once covered a woman’s foot crippled by the Chinese custom of foot binding. Initiated in the royal courts of the tenth century, the painful procedure was finally banned in 1911. The resulting “lotus” feet, as they were called, looked like tiny hooves and almost immobilized a woman. A symbol of high status, they were also considered powerfully erotic. Of course, the practice of deforming the foot in the name of beauty is still very much with us. A recent survey found that about 45 percent of American women wear shoes that are too small, and the pointy-toed high-heeled pumps preferred by many women are a frequent cause of bunions, strained leg muscles and back pain.

Some of the plainest shoes on display at the Bata have the most dramatic histories. A case in point is a drab, crudely made brown boot with rough leather ties. Part of a grouping called “Shoes and Religion,” it is a halizah shoe. According to an ancient Jewish custom, an unmarried brother-in-law of a childless widow is obliged to marry her. In the halizah ritual, by publicly untying and removing his shoe, she can release him from this duty. Also compelling is an ivory sandal from India that belonged to a follower of the Jain religion, a main tenet of which is the preservation of all life. Designed to make minimal contact with the ground, its sole rests on a thin-sided hollow platform about two inches high, helping its wearer to avoid crushing insects underfoot.

Nearby are a pair of cowboy boots donated to the museum by the actor Robert Redford. Fittingly, Redford’s boots owe more to the Hollywood film industry than the Old West. Their dandyish stacked heel, pointed toe and decorative punchwork and stitchery were inspired by the Spanish tradition of fancy equestrian leather gear. A boot with a tapered toe slid easily into the stirrup, and the raised heel helped it stay there. The style made its way from Spain to Mexico and from there to the United States, where it was popularized by Tom Mix westerns during the 1920s. As for the real cowboys, they rode the range in boots of the type worn by Civil War soldiers, with a low heel, loose-fitting shaft and square toe.

A sleek red-and-black running shoe worn by track-and-field gold medalist Donovan Bailey at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996 exudes its own cachet. Through highly paid product endorsements, celebrity athletes like Bailey and Michael Jordan helped push the mania for designer athletic shoes that gripped North America in the 1970s and reached tsunami-like proportions over the next decades.

“At the height of the boom, pretty well every grade-school kid and teenager, not to mention their parents, were victims of ‘sneaker snobbery,'” says Walford. “If you didn’t have the model with the latest color scheme or the flashing lights or the gel-padded soles, you were toast.” Few of these aggressively marketed features improved much on the original sneaker-a flexible, rubber-soled cotton-canvas shoe with laces that was created in England in the 1860s for the newly fashionable sport of croquet.

“Now we look back at the sheer silliness of some of the styles and laugh, but the craze has left its mark,” Walford says. “Because they’re so comfortable and affordable, sneakers have become casual streetwear for everyone.” Nor is this fashion a spent force. Ironically, the trend in North America is back to basic, simple styles that look rather like the original croquet shoe.

An installation called “Star Turns” is the museum’s biggest crowd- pleaser. A glitzy array of celebrity footwear is displayed on a stage under a flashing marquee; behind it, a screen shows vintage newsreel and film footage about the shoes’ original owners. Here a pair of low- heeled black pumps worn by Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi share the spotlight with Marilyn Monroe’s saucy red stilettos. Here, too, are Elton John’s outrageous rhinestone-studded platforms. “Elton said they were too dull for stage wear, claiming he only wore them shopping,” Walford grins. “But we have a photograph of a 1974 concert that shows the good shoes for high arches right there on his feet.” The only item that rivals Elton’s platforms in popularity, it seems, is a fuchsia pump made c. 1985 for Diana, Princess of Wales.

“All About Shoes” is complemented by exhibitions in three smaller galleries with more specialized themes. The bearded sealskin kamiks that drew Sonja Bata to Ellesmere Island were destined to enrich the Indigenous Gallery, a showcase for the museum’s remarkable collection of some 500 traditional handmade boots gathered from across the Arctic Circle. Essential to survival in a harsh environment, the boots have been made using traditional styles, materials and techniques, many never previously documented.

A magnificent feathered boot represents one group’s response to the dwindling seal herd in their locality. Deprived of hides, the women fashioned boots from virtually intact eider-duck skins. “Even the Inuit who’ve seen the boots we have here are amazed,” says Walford.

Changes are afoot as the Bata Shoe Museum plans for the future. A new director, Sharon McDonald, has joined the staff. McDonald, formerly the head of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Museum, jokes, “I used to work with gumshoes, so I fit right in.” The museum’s first director, Edward Maeder, a former chief curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has moved on to other projects but still serves the Bata as a consultant.

Although the museum will continue to collect shoes and related objects from around the world, Sonja Bata’s aim is to make it a center of footwear scholarship, with an emphasis on Native American and circumpolar footwear. “Our fieldwork yields insights into indigenous cultures that are not widely known,” says Bata. “Preserving footwear helps enlarge our knowledge of a disappearing way of life.”

The museum’s newest exhibition, “Paduka: Feet and Footwear in the Indian Tradition,” opened in September. For Sonja Bata, the show has special meaning. It was during her early travels in India and Pakistan as the young wife of a shoe magnate that her fascination with traditional footwear took root. “In those days I collected intriguing shoes right off people’s feet,” she laughs. “I would trade a brand-new pair from our factory in exchange.” Some of her first acquisitions were proudly displayed in her Toronto home. “Other people put porcelain bowls and such on their shelves,” Bata recalls. “Mine were filled with Indian padukas-ivory-and-silver platform sandals with superbly shaped knobs that fit between the wearer’s toes. To my eye, nothing could be more beautiful.” For a second, the footwear museum founder sounds faintly abashed. “I’m afraid I just get carried away with shoes.”


One thing you’ve got to say for the Swiss watch industry: it’s resilient.

Twenty years ago, it was the world’s No. 1 watchmaker in volume, value and reputation.

Ten years ago, beset by what a leading Swiss bank called “a series of technological, economic and structural upheavals,” it seemed to be sinking into oblivion.

Now, it’s bounced back, thanks to major structural changes, innovative products and aggressive marketing. If no longer the world’s leading watchmakers, the Swiss have regained some of their market share. And they intend to keep it.

Downfall: In 1969, the Swiss were the king of the watch hill. One of every two watches (stuhrling reviews)– almost all of them mechanical movements — were Swiss-made. But that changed with the advent of electronic watches (quartz crystal analog and digital). Swiss technicians had been fiddling with the new technology, but the Japanese and Americans were the first to adapt it to the commercial watch market.

Many Swiss watchmakers thought digital and quartz watches were a fad, so they continued to concentrate on mechanical watches through the early 1970s. By 1975, they started to feel the heat as the U.S. and Japan snatched large chunks of the market. Swiss exports dropped 22% — serious for a land that exported 97% of its watch production — and sales in the U.S. — its largest market — were off 40%.

An enormous backlog of unwanted mechanical watches built up, tying up critical amounts of capital. Small companies closed, and for the first time in decades, Swiss watchmakers laid off workers in large numbers.

Making modules: The Swiss didn’t entirely ignore the quartz revolution. Major firms such as ASUAG, one of the country’s biggest watchmaking groups, made quartz modules (the equivalent of mechanical movements) for other firms’ electronic watches. And Ebauches S.A., a major movements producer, worked with Texas Instruments to produce liquid crystal display (LCD) digitals for a few Swiss brands.

But overall, the Swiss were slow to develop their own electronic timepieces and innovative, aggressive marketing campaigns. Other problems beset the Swiss also. Unlike the unified Japanese watch industry, the Swiss industry comprised hundreds of independent firms. And when the U.S. dollar was devalued in the mid-1970s, the Swiss franc sky-rocketed, making Swiss watches (read akribos watch reviews for more details) more expensive and less competitive in foreign markets.

In the late 1970s, the Swiss began to fight back. They invested heavily in electronic equipment, and by 1979 were making all their own quartz components. They entered the digital field in full force and put more stress on quartz analogs. The changeover to quartz technology also led to more coordination and consolidation among the country’s many small producers.

Facing `disaster’: But the changes came late, and the Swiss industry entered the 1980s facing its biggest crisis in decades.

In 1981, key Swiss watchmakers got a stern warning from Gedalio Grinberg, chairman of North American Watch Co., a successful marketer of upscale Swiss watches. He said the Swiss faced “disaster” if they didn’t challenge the Japanese advances in the low- and mid-price range in the U.S.

At the time, the speech seemed more epitaph than warning. Production of Swiss watches and movements was dropping (from 96 million in 1976 to a low of 45 million in 1983). Exports to the U.S. fell 50% from 1976-’81 (12 million to 6 million), and Swiss watch firms dwindled 47% from 1970-’79 (1,620 to 870).

Switzerland’s major watchmakers were in serious financial trouble. In 1980, SSIH, another large watchmaking group, lost some $80 million. In 1981, it got a $150 million credit transfusion in a rescue devised by a consortium of Swiss banks. Even so, SSIH and ASUAG lost a combined $50 million in 1982.

Shotgun wedding: In a surprise move the following year, ASUAG and SSIH announced they would merge to cut losses to Far East competition, to regain market share and to try to revitalize the Swiss watch industry. The merger included ETA, the largest Swiss movement maker and a subsidiary of ASUAG.

Actually, the merger was something of a shot-gun wedding, demanded by the bank consortium that earlier came to ASUAG’s rescue. The consortium wanted to help the two firms because they represented more than half the annual output of the Swiss industry. The bankers kicked in $300 million in credit in return for a streamlined, efficient firm with the product, financing and marketing know-how to compete with the Japanese.

The result was the ASUAG/SSIH Group, later renamed the Swiss Corp. for Microelectronics and Watchmaking Industries Inc. (SMH for short in English).

Enter Swatch: Even before the merger, ASUAG started to work on ways to beat the Japanese at their own game. In 1979, it developed the Concord Delirium, a luxury watch of record thinness (1.98mm) featuring a quartz movement integrated with the molded case, rather than assembled separately, then encased. If that one-piece construction could be applied to a mass-market watch, engineers reasoned, they finally might have something to use against the competition.

After almost two years of work, they came up with the answer: a one-piece, sealed, $30 watch called Swatch (short for “Swiss watch”). In a sharp departure from Swiss hand-crafted artisanship, Swatch watches come off an automated assembly line at ETA’s plant in Grenchen, Switzerland.

ETA test-marketed Swatch in the U.S. in late 1982 and formally launched it with an aggressive worldwide media campaign in 1983. The watch took the world by storm. Within in a year, Americans were buying 100,000 Swatches a month. Within five years, more than 50 million had been sold worldwide.

Fashion accessory: Swatch’s production was innovative, but even more important was its focus on watches as fashion accessories. Since 1983, Swatch has introduced more than 400 models in styles for every season, taste and activity. Among them have been the transparent Swatch, the Granita di Frutta Swatch (fruit-scented), Pop Swatch (oversized watches on elastic bands) and even metal-case Swatches.

The impact has been spectacular. Swatch almost single-handedly revived the fortunes of the ASUAG-SSIH group. In 1985 alone, Swatch watches accounted for most of the 12.2% increase in Swiss exports and led to the hiring of thousands of people in the Swiss watch industry.

It also spawned a variety of knockoffs and imitators, and led the movement of watch firms into nonwatch products such as clothing sporting watch logos. By the late 1980s, the firm opened Swatch boutiques in U.S. department stores and flirted briefly with Swatch merchandise (from sunglasses and towels to razors and phones), before deciding to concentrate again just on watch and watch accessories.

The innovation at SMH wasn’t limited to Swatch. Tissot, another SMH brand, brought out the RockWatch (case carved from granite), the ShellWatch and the Wood Watch. And Omega, SMH’s well-known upscale watch, streamlined its inventory and operations and made a strong comeback in the U.S. and globally in the late 1980s.

The innovation reached even the upper end of the industry. Most luxury watch manufacturers added quartz models to their lines, and some — such as Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin — started to use computer-aided-design technology to develop new citizen mens watches and movements.

Merging: Consolidation of the Swiss industry accelerated through the 1980s, especially among high-end watch firms.

For example, Audemars Piguet acquired 40% of Jaeger-LeCoultre. Top management acquired Girard-Perregaux then agreed with Italian jeweler Bulgari to set up a new firm to produce watch movements. And Mondaine Watch Ltd., best known for its mass-market M-Watch and its Gruen Swiss watch line, bought Lusa S.A, a Swiss watch-case factory.

But much of the consolidation was orchestrated by non-Swiss buyers. Sheik Yamani, former Saudi Arabian oil minister, acquired Vacheron Constantin. Cartier bought Piaget and Baume & Mercier (giving Cartier 40% of the global luxury watch market, up from 25%). Asia Commercial Co., one of Hong Kong’s biggest quartz analog manufacturers, bought Juvenia. And Stelux Holdings, one-time owner of Bulova and probably Hong Kong’s largest and best-known watchmaker and retailer, bought Universal Geneve.

The acquisitions and mergers have injected new funding into old-line firms, enabling them to improve or expand production facilities and marketing. By the end of the 1980s, it was apparent the Swiss had regained their footing in the slippery world watch market.

Bulova’s Caravelle caters to mass marketing

Bulova this Spring is launching its first clock line specifically targeted to the mass market, which the manufacturer says accounts for 30% of all clock business.

Shipment of the line begins June 1.

The Caravelle by Bulova collection features 37 wall clocks, with net costs ranging between $8-$20.

The line is being sold through reps specializing in mass merchants, rather than through Bulova’s own sales force.

“We are positioning ourselves where we feel the strength of the mass market clock sales are, and that is under $30 retail,” explained Bill Reibl, product manager for Bulova.

Needs Are Different

“Each different retail trade category has its own wants and needs, and we feel this one meets the mass merchant’s needs.”

Among those needs are self-sell-features such as packaging as well as a price point which is attractive to the mass merchant.

Clocks in the collection have varying shapes and colors, including polished brass and solid hardwood cases with warm pine finishes. The line offers a selection to enhance and complement any room.

Each unit in the Caravelle wall clock line is individually packaged in a self-sell 4-color laminated box, ready for immediate display. The box has a full color photograph of the clock with features listed prominently on the package front. The end flap includes the model number and color of the clock for quick identification, while the back panel shows how the clock could fit into various settings in the home.

Reverse Flap Feature

The package also features a reverse flap feature.

“We want to get our story across with the packaging which features self sell concepts,” Reibl explained. “We are positioning Caravelle by Bulova as a competitive product line. It is being supported by Bulova’s reputation for quality and service. Bulova has been in clocks since 1929, so we have the reputation.”

Bulova is developing Fall planogram programs for the retailers with 4- and 8-foot gondolas to display the clocks.

The Caravelle clocks feature quartz movement like cheap nixon watches, full numeral dial with color-coordinated hour, minute and sweep second hands as well as protective crystal glass lens.

Carousel cases are yellow, white, blue, almond and dark brown. Yellow and white cases come with white dials and black numerals; the white case comes with white dial and red numerals and the blue case has white dial and blue numerals. The almond and dark brown cases feature almond dial and dark brown numerals. Clocks have a 7-inch diameter and are 1-1/2-inches deep.

Bulova this Spring is also debuting a number of other clocks.

A new shape has been added to Bulova’s Dimension series of ultrathin wall clocks. Available in three SKUs, the clock is square in a picture frame design with an inner border. Another new feature is a sweep second hand. All clocks feature crystal covers and battery-operated quartz timing.

The three new Dimension SKUs are available with white case with red inner rim, white dial and contrasting red numerals and hands; dark brown case, brushed goldtone rim with gold linen dial, dark brown numerals and hands; and black case with brushed silvertone rim, black numerals and hands on a white dial. Retailing for $29.95 each, Dimension clocks are now available in 15 different shapes and colors. The clocks measure 9-3/8 inches in diameter by 13/16-inch deep.

Bulova is introducing two new clocks to its seven unit Leanline quartz clock line. The new Leanline quartz clocks, available in bold blue or red, is targeted to coordinate with bright kitchen decors. The clock has a contoured case with full numeral dial and sweep second hand covered by a glass crystal. Available in two models, Leanline has a blue case with white inner rim, white dial, blue hands and numerals; or red case and white inner rim with red hands and numerals against a white dial.

Bulova’s Century 2 LCD quartz calendar desk clock can display any calendar month from the year 1901 through 2099 on command. In daily use, it provides a constant readout of the year, month, date, precise time and current month’s full calendar. Additional features include memory alarm, selectable 12/24 hour displays, day search and speed set. The clock is in hairline brass finish amd measures 3-1/2-inches high by 4-1/2-inches wide by 2-1/4-inches deep and retails for $49.95.

The Paragon executive desk clock is styled in brushed brass case with suspended solid mahogany side panels. Additional features include applied hands and gilt hour markers on a silver-white brushed dial, raised crystal, and quartz accuracy. Retailing for $99.95, the clock measures 6-1/2-inches wide by 4-1/4-inches high by 2-inches deep.

Bulova’s Pocketeer boutique alarm clock has a fob ring top and platform base and is sculptured in brushed and polished brass, expected to receive many positive bulova reviews. Decorative black Roman numerals and arrow hands mark the time on a snow white dial. Retailing for $45.95, the Pocketeer is 4-3/8-inches high by 3-5/8-inches wide by 1-3/8-inches deep.

Revising Schoolhouse

A new version of the popular Schoolhouse clock is also being debuted by Bulova. The Julliard with Westminster chimes is crafted in solid tropical hardwood with a sugar maple finish. The cabinet features a hinged glass door, diamond-cut brass bezel, brass sweep second hand and pendulum. Suggested retail is $125.

The Dias wall clock is crafted of solid oak with a hazelnut finish. A solid oak bezel, framing the full length glass crystal, is hand applied. Highlighted is a floating, brushed brass finished chapter ring. The clock measures 24-1/2 inches high by 10-1/4 inches wide by 4 inches deep and retails for $175.

Bulova’s Stage pendulum wall clock is tailored in hard maple wood, has a brushed brass dial with high contrast black numerals and a red sweep second hand. The lower cabinet has a black panel to accent the pendulum’s glow. With a suggested retail of $125, the clock measures 18-5/8-inches high by 9-inches wide by 3-inches deep.

The Illusion wall clock is crafted in solid pine and hand rubbed to a rich maple finish with a mirrored inset in the pendulum housing that reflects the pendulum’s swing. It features rounded profile sides, a spun brass pendulum, diamond-cut brass bezel, cream dial, black Roman mumerals with minute track and red sweep second. The wall clock meaures 21-1/2-inches high by 9-1/2-inches wide by 2-inches deep and has a suggested retail of $89.95.

The Diana French carriage clock has a curved hood case in a high polished goldtone finish. It also has brushed goldtone dial, spun silver chapter ring with black Arabic numerals, the Tempus Fugit insignia and Moon Phase crescent. Retailing for $49.95, the clock measures 7-1/8-inches high by 4-1/8-inches wide by 1-7/8-inches deep.

Updated Alarms

Bulova’s Litealarm series of travel alarm clocks, retailing for $19.95 each, have been updated to offer quartz movements. Styled with polished metal frames, look-of-leather cases in blue, black and brown and matching dials that light up at the touch of a finger, the clocks measure 2-3/4-inches high by 3-inches wide by 2-1/2-inches deep.

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Watchmakers Turn to Women

As growing demand from emerging markets fuels the women’s watch arena, brands are courting female customers with increasingly sophisticated offerings.

Long limited to quartz or battery-powered watches, women’s ranges are now expanding to include mechanical pieces as technical as anything available to their male counterparts.

“There’s a whole trend of women wearing some of the styles that normally a man would wear,” said Fflur Roberts, head of global luxury goods at Euromonitor International.

Watches in general are seen as an investment as opposed to maybe a bag, which is fashionable for a season, or some very trendy piece of clothing. They’re looking to buy something that holds its value,” she added.

RenA[c] Weber, analyst at Vontobel, said that although it is hard to quantify the absolute value of watches bought by women since they also purchase timepieces designed for men, women now buy an estimated 20 percent of all mechanical watches sold worldwide, versus 15 percent five years ago.

“In Europe or the U.S., there was not a lot of interest in mechanical movements from the women’s side, but now, as Asian markets, and especially China, get more important, they also have an interest in mechanical movements,” he said.

Looking ahead, Weber expects to see strong growth in timepieces embellished with diamonds. “Again, this is also driven by Asian demand,” he said. “The women’s watches will on the one hand feature more mechanical movements, and there will also be more offerings in terms of diamonds.”

It’s no accident that when Omega unveiled its Ladymatic range, its most important launch of 2010, it picked Shanghai as the location.

Omega chief executive officer Stephen Urquhart said the line, which uses Omega’s patented Co-Axial escapement technology, reflected “a growing awareness among women that there is more to a watch than its appearance.”

The Ladymatic ranges in price from $6,400 for a model with a steel case and leather strap, to $36,800 for the version with a gold bracelet and diamond bezel.

“I think this is the first time ever, and I say this in all modesty, that a brand has brought a watch to the market that states, with great substance, that a woman can buy a watch with a movement as good, durable and reliable as the best men’s watch out there,” Urquhart said.

Patek Philippe, whose grand complications take up to 18 months to deliver, is also expanding its women’s offerings. Among the novelties it presented at the Baselworld watch fair last March was a ladies’ wristwatch with minute repeater, which retails for 350,000 Swiss francs, or $381,556 at current exchange, and a ladies’ split seconds chronograph, costing 435,000 Swiss francs, or $473,393.

“The demand is there and it will not stop,” said Patek Philippe chairman Thierry Stern. “For me, it’s logical, it was not a surprise. Why should [women] always wear a quartz movement? It’s stupid to think like that. I would say it’s old-fashioned.”

Others said that while they were taking note of the phenomenon, they did not expect growing demand for mechanical watches to reshape the women’s segment.

“It’s in the infancy stages. We are getting ready, but we think there is going to be a gradual change,” said Philippe Leopold-Metzger, ceo of Piaget. “We are convinced that women will continue to be interested in the concept of jewelry watches, and in decorative pieces over performance.”

With its large selection of diamond-pavA[c]d pieces, Piaget appears ideally positioned to capture new business in Asia. It is also developing new products specifically tailored to that region, such as its upcoming Dragon & Phoenix collection of jewelry and watches celebrating the Year of the Dragon in 2012.

The Chinese market for women’s luxury timepieces is set to grow by an average of 12.1 percent a year between 2010 and 2015, according to a forecast by Euromonitor International. This compares with forecast average annual growth of just 1.1 percent in the U.S. over the same period.

Indeed, Leopold-Metzger said he was concerned about mature markets like Europe and the U.S., where Piaget is facing competition from fashion brands such as Chanel and Christian Dior, which are heavily advertising their more accessibly priced ceramic watches.

“We will probably lose a little bit of market share, but we are not planning to change our strategy. Our philosophy is based on exclusivity, and we are not going to start producing steel watches set with diamonds in order to compete in that price range,” he commented.

Competition for the female dollar is certainly heating up in slower-growth regions like North America, where the overall retail outlook remains fragile as stock market swings play havoc with consumer confidence.

Johnny Wizman, president and ceo of Luxury Montres LLC, the exclusive North American distributor for Bedat, said overall U.S. demand for watches has been softer than expected since Baselworld, with sales year-to-date broadly flat versus 2010, versus earlier forecasts of a 10 to 15 percent increase.

Nonetheless, he believes that updated versions of Bedat’s best-known designs are addressing a gap in the market, especially with bigger brands such as Chopard and Cartier streamlining their North American retail distribution. This has allowed Bedat to open up smaller markets such as Calgary, Canada, or Napa Valley, Calif.

“Most of the best-selling women’s watches out there are really in a sense men’s watches shrunk down, diamonds put on, colored straps, and those are some of the best-selling watches,” said Wizman. “We have zero focus on men’s products. There is a huge void which we are filling.”

James Seuss, ceo of U.S. multibrand watch retailer Tourneau, is among those specifically targeting female consumers this year.

“The watch world has concentrated in the past so much on men’s pieces,” Seuss said. “We’re really looking to see, whether it’s Patek Philippe or Rolex or Dior or Chopard, what are those great women’s stories and how can we communicate it and get women really involved and interested in the watch world?”

He cited Hublot, one of the sponsors of New York Fashion Week, as another brand that has introduced compelling options for women with its oversize Tutti Frutti models, which come in a rainbow of shades.

Hublot ceo Jean-Claude Biver said the line was “practically unsellable” in China, where consumers have more conservative tastes, but was flying off shelves in South America and the Middle East.

“Nobody else is doing anything like it. We’re in a sort of unique selling proposition that women like,” said Biver, who believes that women buy more timepieces than men and also influence their partner’s choice of watch. To wit: Biver relies on his wife’s advice when it comes to picking new colors for the Tutti Frutti range.

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.

Nothing’s like the real thing, except a fake

True thinks her $30 gold-faced Rolex knockoff is about as classy as the real thing, which averages $7,000. “I can’t afford the real thing so I go for the fakes.”

After buying the knockoff from a friend, Ms True (a fake name but a real person) started to sell replica Rolexes to people in the Markham, Ont., office where she works as an executive secretary. The bogus watches go for $30 to $50 each, although street vendors sometimes sell them for $100 and more.

Ms True carries a few samples in her purse and passes them around to colleagues. Then she picks up her orders from her friend, who sells the imitations at the Pickering flea market every Sunday.

Ms True earns from $5 to $20 a watch – generally not a big moneymaker, but she enjoys it. And she feels no guilt about the manufacturers of the genuine goods who have been scrambling for a number of years to stamp out the phoney dealers.

Indeed, the makers and distributors of a whole host of goods – everything from T-shirts to jewelry to handbags – are spending millions of dollars to try to stem the flow of forgeries of their items.

Is all this corporate money being spent in Canada on the legal battle against fakes really worth the trouble?

The fact is, having people parading around in sweatshirts or hats emblazoned with Polo, Labatt’s Blue or Madonna is simply free advertising – whether the merchandise is real or not. Some businesses would pay a small fortune for such promotions.

Reproduction watches, while not boosting a brand as blatantly, may spur some consumers to save up for the legitimate item.

All marketing has a price. Sure, a lot of the bogus goods aren’t up to the standards of the authentic articles. Certainly the watches are nowhere near the quality of the real thing.

But people who sell knockoff watches don’t purport to sell the real thing. Customers buying these imitations at such low prices can’t expect as much.

This week in Toronto, a group of licencing agents, manufacturers and distributors – the likes of Walt Disney, Columbia Pictures and Hugo Boss, to name a few – held a press conference to publicize their latest efforts in the fight against fake merchandise.

As other businesses have done in the past, the group had obtained a Federal Court of Canada order in the summer banning dealers from selling the imitation goods. Subsequently, law enforcement officers seized 30,000 unlicenced articles worth more than $500,000 retail.

But the problem persists. Sad as it is, people want to be seen wearing a Chanel T-shirt or Vuarnet sunglasses. The market is alive and well.

And copying popular originals – a way of life in the fashion industry – can’t be nipped in the bud with a court injunction.

Some high-end retailers, Holt Renfrew among them, openly tout their own knockoffs of the expensive designers. One Canadian clothes designer recalls creating a unique cape-like effect on a dress; but a competitor promptly made a copy of the style and beat the original designer in getting the dress into stores – and at a cheaper price, too.

There’s something to be said about the flattery of being copied.

Notes Peter Kunz, whose company distributes Piaget, Concorde and Movado watches, among others: “If I would see that they’re producing fake Cartiers and fake Rolexes and not copying ourwatches, I would say, ‘What are we doing wrong? Why are they not doing this with our watch?.’ It’s a bit of a backhanded compliment, maybe.”

Mr. Kunz’s firm, North American Watch of Canada Ltd., doesn’t bother to go after the counterfeit culprits. The pursuit is too expensive and the place to attack the problem is at the source, usually manufacturers in Asia where the watches are produced.

It is questionable whether the trade in bogus watches is stealing away sales from the genuine dealer. After all, as Ms True says, most people buying the fakes just can’t afford the authentic.

Mr. Kunz adds: “A person who is going to buy a knockoff isn’t going to spend $20,000 for our watch.”

The Piaget starts at about $5,500. The most expensive ever sold in Canada, studded with diamonds and rubies, was bought for $275,000 by a Kuwaiti prince in Vancouver 2 years ago. That prince undoubtedly wouldn’t comtemplate a counterfeit.