Byline: W.H.

GENEVA — Luxury with a capital “L” was the order of the day at the seventh-annual Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie here.
The seven-day event, which ran through April 12 at the Palais des Expositions, is regarded as a particularly elegant first stop for many retailers on their way to the World Watch, Clock and Fine Jewelry show in Basel.
Cartier, Piaget, Baume & Mercier, Vacheron Constantin, Montblanc and Alfred Dunhill — all part of the Vendome Group luxury conglomerate — as well as Franck Muller and Yves Saint Laurent — whose master license for accessories is held by Cartier — showed their latest fine watch and jewelry collections.
Newcomers Dunhill, Montblanc and YSL, all of whom offered additional product categories in accessories besides jewelry and watches, were housed in a space called Espace Luxe.
With an invited audience, the show caters to top-tier stores from around the world. Roughly 7,000 retailers from 100 countries attended the event, according to show management.
On the product side, highlights included:
Cartier’s Trinity watch collection inspired by its famed tri-gold, rolling ring.
Baume & Mercier’s sleek, ultramodern metal Catwalk watch, being exclusively launched in Europe this year.
Piaget’s heart motif jewelry collection in white, yellow and rose gold.
Montblanc’s first watch line.
In a press conference, Alain Dominique Perrin, president of Cartier International, said, “Overall, I am very optimistic about business this year. Many of the world’s major markets, including the U.S., have solved their employment problems.”
Contributing to the industry’s generally healthy state, he said, is the fact that more women are purchasing expensive watches and fine jewelry for themselves.
“For companies with the right positioning, price and styling, consumers — many of whom are female — are buying without hesitation,” Perrin continued.
As an example of the right approach, he cited Cartier’s launch last year of its Tank Francais watch.
“It is the most successful watch we’ve ever had,” Perrin said. “Its success is based on the fact that it simultaneously looks new and as if it has been around forever.”
However, he noted, several markets, primarily in Europe, “remain difficult.”
“Tourism has been down for several years in Switzerland, and Germany is culturally not a strong luxury goods market. France has serious employment problems now,” he said.
John Green, a principal at Lux, Bond & Green of Hartford, Conn., was among the retailers pleased with what they saw from Cartier and other exhibitors.
“Cartier continued to build on its great designs. Their diamond work is beautiful and very chic,” said Green, pointing to the company’s new Trinity line. “We’re also excited that Baume & Mercier continues to come up with great new products. They are really the leaders in that mid-price range, and for us it represents a very salable line.”
Green said the Montblanc watch is basic, “but it will sell because of the strength of the brand.”
“The pens are a great gift for men and some of the watches and jewelry could be nice gifts and were actually quite handsome. We just wished [the jewelry] was made in sterling silver instead of silver plate,” Green said.
Tim Braun, fine jewelry and watch buyer for Neiman Marcus, said he believes the luxury watch companies are taking a more flexible and fashionable approach.
“They are recognizing that consumers are looking at fine watches as fashion accessories,” Braun said, adding that Franck Muller is “the future of luxury timepieces.”
“We market him as a designer like any other,” said Braun. “His styling is right on, and his watches are easy to wear and noticeable as a quick fashion statement.”
Everett McCarver, co-owner of McCarver & Moser in Sarasota, Fla., and East Hampton, N.Y., was also pleased with Cartier’s offerings.
“We were happy to see that Cartier had slimmed its lines down to the real meat,” McCarver noted. “We tend to sell the more elaborate pieces. Our customer already has all the Cartier basics and is looking for something different.”
As did several other American retailers, McCarver said he liked Baume & Mercier’s new Catwalk watch and bemoaned the fact that it won’t be available in the U.S. until next year.
The enthusiasm for the Catwalk watch was part of the generally strong reaction to Baume & Mercier. Steven Kaiser, president and chief executive officer, noted, “Opening day here was our biggest selling day ever, in either Basel or here. It represents a complete rejuvenation of the Baume & Mercier brand.”
Kaiser said that since 1993, the company has pared its number of U.S. doors by 20 percent and watched sales increase 65 percent. He attributed the growth to having enough new product in 18-karat gold in the $5,000-to-$10,000 range. Its highly successful Hampton line was up 45 percent last year alone.
Baume & Mercier is investing over $750,000 this year to unify the U.S. displays with those of the more modern and upscale-looking international division. The plan includes posters, light boxes and special window display units which will be in place in over 70 percent of company accounts.
While there were a flurry of cocktail parties and dinners in conjunction with the show, the Montblanc celebration for its first watch line was by far the most unusual.
The adventure began with cocktails in a hangar-type space across the street from the exhibition hall. Accompanied by a space-age musical score and a beam of light, the guests saw a series of gauzy drapes open to reveal a performance art/operatic “journey through time.” The message, conveyed by actors in either futuristic or romantic garb, represented the struggle to create a balance between “high tech and high touch,” to control the accelerating pace of the world and to realize the need to “de-accelerate.”
The “play” was followed by a concert by the Montblanc Philharmonia of the Nations, an international youth orchestra that is sponsored by Montblanc.

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