Ralph Lauren

Continuing his 50th anniversary celebration, Ralph Lauren is launching the Polo Bear Collection, which combines Swiss watchmaking with the Polo Bear — a favorite icon in the designer’s world.

The collection represents the first time Lauren has created timepieces specifically for the Polo brand. The four bears that are featured are Flag Bear, Martini Bear, Preppy Bear, and Spectator Bear, each inspired by his personal style and retailing for $2,000 apiece.

In an interview at his Manhattan office last week, Lauren, who was dressed in an embroidered RL sweater and sat at a coffee table overflowing with memorabilia — including two stuffed Polo Bears — said the idea of the watches was just for fun. They’re not smart watches, nor are they rife with complications such as minute repeaters, chronograph, time zones or moon phase.

“It’s purely a fun project. It was not about who’s out there and what are they doing. I find that when I do things like this, with a smile on it, it works. It’s not planned to be a big thing. If it is, we’ll take it, but it’s not planned. I find for me, that’s what works,” said Lauren, chairman and chief creative officer of the $6.2 billion Ralph Lauren Corp.

Asked why he chose now to launch Polo Bear watches, Lauren said there was a lot of activity around the 50th anniversary, and it seemed like an appropriate time.

“We’ve had in the past done bears in terms of sweaters and wearing apparel. They were fantastic. All of a sudden, everyone was buying the bears, my wife.…There was such a desire and I wanted to launch my first Polo watch, and thought we’ll do teddy bears. I think it will be really fun,” said the designer, who turned 79 on Sunday.

The Polo Bear has been a constant theme at the company for over 25 years. In 1991, the Polo Bear was introduced with 200 limited-edition bears produced by Steiff, the German toy manufacturer, and dressed in miniaturized Polo Ralph Lauren apparel. Since then, the stylish bear has appeared as embroidery, prints and patches on a variety of items, from neckties to sweaters.

The Flag Bear wears the namesake sweater that originated on the runway in 1989, along with a denim jacket and jeans; Martini Bear is dressed in a tuxedo, boutonniere and embroidered velvet slippers, capturing the rakish confidence of Edwardian gentlemen and Thirties movie stars; Preppy Bear wears an Ivy League look with a repp tie, navy blazer and khaki pants, and Spectator Bear is decked out in a camel hair overcoat, sweatshirt and saddle oxfords for a day at the stadium.

Ralph Lauren

Martini Bear  George Chinsee/WWD

Lauren anticipates that these four watches will evolve into other bears, as well as other designs under the Polo banner. “This is a business. It’s a business and a nice pleasure. It’s a fun thing. I think it’s a really viable concept,” he said. The watches are unisex.

During the interview, Lauren said his favorite is the Preppy Bear, but the day before his favorite was the Spectator Bear. “I love that one. That was my favorite one until today,” he said.

The teddy bear characters are hand-printed on lacquered creamy white dials, accompanied by oxidized black Breguet-style hands.

Taking a page from the first piece Lauren designed, the necktie, each watch can be customized with interchangeable straps crafted from necktie silk twill patterns — including three tartan patterns woven in Italy and three repp stripes woven in England — as well as options in French calfskin or exotic alligator. The buckles on all the watches are a stainless-steel pink buckle, engraved with Polo.

The stainless-steel round cases are powered by a Swiss-made, caliber RL300-1 movement. The mechanical self-winding chronometer runs at a frequency of 28,000 vibrations per hour, featuring 25 jewels with an approximate 42-hour power reserve. The case includes a commemorative 50th anniversary plaque set over the rotary.

Manufactured in Switzerland in partnership with Compagnie Financière Richemont, the watches will be distributed exclusively to select Ralph Lauren stores and the Ralph Lauren web site, beginning next month.

A collection for kids could be a possibility down the road. “I’d like kids to have it. That might be next,” he said.

The Polo Bear watches are limited edition and the expectation is that they will sell out. Lauren hopes they will become a collector’s item. In fact, he discussed that when he threw out the first pitch at the Yankees game last month, the RL 50 baseball hats and jackets sold out that night. Told that his pitch was pretty good, he said, “I was disappointed [he complained that night it could have been higher], but they’re all very connected things that you love in life. Like the baseball jackets and the hats. Everyone wanted the hats and the jackets,” he said.

Last year, Lauren had Polo Bear windows during Christmas time, and his staff gave him the Ralph Lauren stuffed bears dressed in a leather jacket and a tuxedo jacket, reflecting the way he dresses, that sit on the coffee table. There’s also an embroidered Polo Bear pillow on his office couch.

Lauren said they made the decision to put the Polo Bear watches into the new Polo watch division, rather than the Ralph Lauren watch division for a specific reason. “There is a charm to Polo watches and a price difference. The Polo Bear is a younger, more sporty, fun watch, and it felt more like Polo,” he said.

The price range of Ralph Lauren Watches is from $1,500 to $99,500. Asked whether he believes the man or woman will wear the Polo Bear watch to work, or on the weekends, Lauren said, “I think they should wear it. It’s a fun watch. It’s a nice quality watch, and it’s something we decided to do to put out with our other things. We all love it. Everyone [at the office] saw it and said, ‘I want one. Can I get one?’ We didn’t do any market research,” said Lauren.

But does he feel people outside the company will be equally excited? “You know, I don’t know. I don’t want to be presumptuous. There’ll be 50 knockoffs as soon as it comes out,” he said.

Lauren said he became involved in all the aspects of designing the watch and choosing the specific bands. “I’m involved in everything that goes on like this. I’m doing it, I’m working. I have a team. We work great, and that’s how the company works,” he said.

With all the interest with Polo Bears, Lauren said he would consider doing stuffed animal bears as a category. “We might. It could be the beginning of something. You might see them on television,” said Lauren, but quickly added he has no plans to do a TV show with the Polo Bears.

Speaking of television, the conversation turned to a Lauren documentary that will appear on HBO early next year. “They’re working on it,” he said.

Lauren is the subject of a biographical documentary by director Susan Lacy, who has recently done documentaries on Jane Fonda and Steven Spielberg. “I don’t know all the people she’s interviewing, but she’s interviewing all the people she thinks are interesting,” said Lauren. He’s been interviewed a lot for it. “She’s still talking to me. We’re not finished yet,” said Lauren. Asked if there’s a title for it yet, he joked, “Calvin Klein.”

The last time Lauren — who’s got most of the apparel, accessories and home categories covered — launched a new category was when the company introduced hot dogs at the Polo Bar, he said. “I’m just putting out all the things I love,” said Lauren.

Having spent the last few months celebrating 50 years of the Ralph Lauren brand, the designer was asked what’s on deck for the next 50 years. “I think I accomplished 99 percent or more that I ever dreamt of. There are more things. I’ve always done things because I felt that I had an idea that was really good. It was always pure, and had a nice sensibility. Whether it was a restaurant, or bears, or frankfurters. They’re all there because I like the bear, I like the frankfurter. I want to get the best frankfurter, I want the best hamburger. I want the best steak. And I got it. I think they [Polo Bear watches] stand for something, and they’re fun, and the 50th anniversary collection is a unique collector’s item. I’m sure we’ll have other bears. We’ll see how the consumer reacts to it.”

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