By  on April 16, 2007

MILAN — Few Italian brands have a catchphrase that has become an idiom.

"Take anything, but not my Breil" and the "Don't touch my Breil" have helped turn the Breil Milano watch brand into a household name here. In the Nineties, Breil's aggressive ad campaigns featuring tough-looking women left a mark on the collective consciousness.

Marcello Binda, co-chief executive officer of Gruppo Binda, which owns the Wyler Genève business and the Breil watch and jewelry brand, credits his experience working with Andy Warhol for finding new ways to communicate.

"Warhol was able to create an emotion from any situation," Binda said in an interview at the company's headquarters here. "He could enter a room and catch something unique from a group of people simply sitting around eating."

Binda has never penny-pinched on communication, earmarking as much as 25 percent of company sales in annual advertising. While Binda continues to believe in product marketing, he feels the need to take the brand to the next level through retailing outside Italy.

"This will allow us to directly talk to our customers and understand their needs," Binda said.

The first step is opening stores in Macao in June, Berlin in September and in New York's SoHo neighborhood in the fall. To pave the way, the company opened a temporary store in New York in March and launched an online project allowing customers to become DJs.

"More than 600 people applied in 22 days," said Binda, who wants to add an element of technology in the stores, with interactive and multisensorial devices and three-dimensional projected images.

The company already lists 26 stores in the world, with 19 in Italy. The first signature store opened in Milan in 2002.

Binda's goal is to reach a total of 60 stores in Italy and abroad by 2009, and 100 by 2010. There are 5,000 points of sale that carry the brand in Italy and 4,500 outside the country.

Binda also sees potential growth through licensing agreements, in addition to the current distribution of watches and costume jewelry for Dolce & Gabbana's D&G line. The executive is also negotiating a line of eyewear, but declined to provide more details.Binda, a third-generation member of the family that owns the 101-year-old company, took the reins with his brother, Simone, in 1993, and transformed it from a distributor of the Breil, Wyler and Longines brands into the company it is today, taking control of Breil and Wyler.

Breil, the name of a Swiss village, was began in 1942. Binda's initial move was to launch Breil's first quartz chronograph watches targeting women.

"We felt that watches were generally aimed at men, with a macho undercurrent that eluded any communication with women, and we saw an opening there," said Binda, who rooted for unisex watches that could appeal to both sexes.

While this message helped advertise the brand, now Binda is taking a different approach to the ads and to a more design-driven product. In 2000, Binda added the custom jewelry division, which rings up 50 percent of sales.

"When we realized jewels accounted for as much as watches, we thought it was time to explore the retail channel with the first store in Milan in 2002," he said.

Watches retail at around $350, and jewelry sells for about $130. Revenues grew from 75 million euros in 2000, or $100.2 million, to 150 million euros, or $200.5 million, four years later. At the time, the brand was only available in Italy. Through the D&G watch license signed in 1999, followed by the agreement to distribute the brand's costume jewelry in 2005, Binda started approaching foreign markets, setting up a branch in Miami in 2004, for example.

Last year, the company registered revenues of 253 million euros, or $338.2 million, of which 98 million, or $131 million, was outside of Italy. Binda estimated total sales of 280 million euros, or $374.3 million, in 2007. The executive said he wants exports to account for 65 percent of sales in five years. In the U.S., the company reported sales of $15 million last year.

"There are not that many competitors in the U.S. that offer this kind of design product at this price," said Binda. "I believe American consumers have yet to appreciate steel jewelry."

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