SIHH: A SHOW TO WATCH

Byline: G.D.

GENEVA--The Cartier watch group's alternative to the Basel Fair, Salon International de la Haute Horlorgerie, is becoming an increasingly important show for top jewelry retailers, judging by increasing attendance.
In 1991, Cartier, Baume & Mercier and Piaget, all owned by the luxury conglomerate Vendome Group, broke away from Basel to show on their own, at the same time as the Basel Fair. This year, SIHH attracted 7,500 visitors, up from 7,000 a year ago and 6,000 the year before that.
"We are now an established date on the international watch calendar," said Yves Piaget, chairman of Piaget and the SIHH's organizing committee. "Basel has become too crowded. Its image has been degraded, plus it's far cheaper here." Piaget said Russian and Chinese buyers had placed orders for the first time at SIHH.
Industry experts said Piaget, Audemar Piquet and Patek Philippe are the only Swiss luxury watch houses with vertically integrated production, turning out case, movement and bracelet in-house.
Baume & Mercier reported strong retailing response for its new line of water-resistant women's stainless steel Hampton watches priced to retail from $900 to $1,500. It generated a lot of interest with an elongated dual time zone Hampton at $1,780 that had been sold exclusively by Tiffany & Co., but will now be sold in up to 500 doors.
"Our appointments are up by 25 percent and our sales by 33 percent. Our market is very strong right now," said Jacques-Philippe Auriol, Baume & Mercier's sales and marketing director.
An Art Deco influence was apparent in Cartier's latest models, especially in some petite watches with ottoman straps, and an Art Deco tank, a watch made in a limited edition of 1,000 numbered pieces. Cartier went to considerable lengths to update its dials, responding to consumer demand for more choice. Its classic Pasha model, for instance, could be had with a pink oris dial, a manipulated gold dial or one in grooved mother of pearl. Like most of its competitors, Cartier has been forced to raise its retail prices 10 percent, due to the strength of the Swiss franc.

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