By  on October 8, 2009

With the launch of its first global watch collection this fall, Seiko is signaling its intention to pursue the fine men’s watch business in the U.S.

Best known for the affordable quartz watches it pioneered 40 years ago, Seiko is shifting gears with Ananta, a group of watches priced between $2,100 and $6,300 that make their U.S. debut this month.

“We have expertise in fine watch making and technological innovation. We want to take that message to the United States,” said Les Perry, executive vice president of Seiko USA. “This collection, if anything, is the talking piece of that strategy.”

In the U.S. market, Seiko is best known as a department store brand whose watches retail for between $300 and $500. Ananta, designed around the company’s top-of-the-line, in-house spring drive and automatic movements, marks Seiko’s intention to lift perception of the brand in the U.S.

That may not be easy in a market where luxury spending has declined and once-robust demand for fine watches has cooled. For the first eight months of this year, domestic receipts for watches priced $1,000 to $10,000 fell 25 percent to $1.08 billion, according to watch research firm LGI Networks. Watches priced below $1,000 dropped 14.4 percent to $849 million for the same period.

“No question some people will rightfully say this is not the right time to introduce this type of product,” said Perry. “But I already have jewelry stores preselling Ananta. In a tough market, we will find the right consumer.”

Perry said he’s relying on watch collectors, familiar with the brand’s international reputation as a fine watchmaker, to support Ananta, at least initially.

The company has also been slowly elevating its average price point in the U.S. for some time. Five years ago, Seiko introduced a line of elite watches priced between $500 and $1,300. Four years ago, it debuted select spring drive timepieces, which start at $3,000, to the U.S. market.

Perry said consumers have accepted the Seiko brand at higher prices. “Five years ago, my market share in the $500 and over level was nil. Now we have double digits in that market. Next is the $800 to $1,300 range. Then above $3,000. It’s a progression.”

The 10-stockkeeping unit Ananta collection consists of a spring drive chronograph, a spring drive GMT, an automatic chronograph, an automatic multihand calendar and an automatic double retrograde calendar.

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