Byline: Wendy Hessen

BASEL, Switzerland — If retailer enthusiasm can ignite sales, this fall could be another hot season for fine jewelry and watches.
That upbeat spirit was evident at the 25th annual World Watch, Clock and Jewelry Show here, the premier show of the industry. U.S. retailers reported they found plenty of new product, line extensions and fashion-forward collections to drive business in their stores from June right through the crucial holiday period. And they were backing the talk with orders.
According to organizers, about 80,000 visitors — similar to last year’s turnout — attended the eight-day show, which ended on April 17. Exhibitors numbered roughly 2,500, about 60 percent of them from Germany, Switzerland or Italy.
Reflecting the season’s strong anticipations, Neiman Marcus plans to double its marketing commitment for fine jewelry and watches for fall, including increased exposure in its fall catalog, according to Tim Braun, buyer for the categories.
Indicating the appeal of the merchandise, Douglas Schubot, owner of the Jules R. Schubot fine jewelry store, Troy, Mich., reported about halfway through the show, “We came with no open-to-buy, but we’re already up to about half a million [in orders].”
Many store executives arrived here after a day or two shopping the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva (see story, opposite page).
After each grueling day of appointments, evenings found many buyers gathering at a seemingly endless array of vendor and magazine-hosted cocktail receptions and dinners. As the champagne flowed and hors d’oeuvres were passed, the buzz frequently focused on the June opening of Tourneau’s mega store on New York’s 57th Street and how the latest big name brands to enter the fray — Calvin Klein and Coach — will fare when their watch lines are finally launched.
By day, the spotlight was on new products. Some of the top attention-getters included:
Patek Philippe’s first complicated watch for women.
Jaeger Le Coultre’s introductions from its signature Reverso group — Duetto, with sleek day-to-diamond-accented evening looks, and Florale, a diamond-accented, sterling silver watch on one side that reverses to an engravable plate on the other.
Concord’s La Scala line of square-faced gold watches.
Bulgari’s young and casual stainless steel Solotempo watch line.
Colorful straps and faces by Audemars Piguet, Breitling and Tag Heuer.
Henry Dunay’s bold gold and tanzanite rings and gold and pearl necklaces.
Alfieri St. John’s line of white- and yellow-gold pieces punctuated by romantic messages.
Gucci’s new 600 model stainless steel bracelet watch.
Esquire’s Rally line of stainless steel sport watches with steel and rubber link straps.
Flamme Blanche, Philippe Charriol’s first white-gold jewelry collection, which features sporty gold and diamond pieces in his signature cable designs.
Neiman Marcus’s Braun noted that Chopard, Audemars Piguet, Franck Muller, Concord, Piaget and jewelry firms RCM and Picchiotti are among the brands that will most likely appear in the store’s fall book.
Trends the store will feature include stainless steel watches with colored dials or diamonds, for dressing up a casual style; ladies diamond watches like Chopard’s innovative Happy Sport; Henry Dunay’s “big girl jewels,” especially his hefty tanzanite and yellow gold pieces, and Concord’s La Scala, which he dubbed “the watch of the season.”
As for rose gold’s increasing presence, Braun said it’s a viable look that should sell well.
“It goes well with diamonds, is suitable in both watches and jewelry and when we’ve had it off and on in the last 10 years, it has sold,” he said.
The Tourneau buying team was busily cementing arrangements for the company’s New York flagship. Many vendors have planned events and exhibitions featuring their brands starting this summer and throughout the year, with the notion of broadening the consumer’s knowledge of fine watches in general and their own brands as well.
Among the looks executive vice president Anthony D’Ambrosio said would be well received by Tourneau clientele — in both the new store and its more established units — were color and white metals for both watches and jewelry.
“Even if our American customers might not be ready for colored watch straps or faces, our growing international base has already accepted the idea, since they own multiple watches,” said D’Ambrosio.
He said he expects to see white metals continue to grow, especially with more polished surfaces and mixed with diamonds as opposed to colored stones. Rose gold’s warm tones provide a way to separate oneself from the crowd as well as blend with the colors in apparel now, he added.
Responding to reports that Tourneau had pressured vendors to ante up promotional dollars and various other incentives, D’Ambrosio acknowledged that industry participation was roughly 10 percent, which he deemed reasonable.
“Compared to the cost of either trade or consumer ad pages today and the exposure that every vendor will get, this is inexpensive,” D’Ambrosio said, adding that the cost was further justified since “this isn’t a window for Tourneau’s wholesale product — we’re selling other people’s branded product.”
The new flagship will have a full-time curator and director for events and exhibits, he noted.
John Green, a principal at Hartford, Conn.-based Lux, Bond & Green, said even though there wasn’t much that was truly new, he was able to cherry-pick some strong and salable pieces.
“White metal seems to just get stronger, as does all diamond merchandise,” Green said, adding that large diamond or colored-stone pins have been making a comeback lately, and he found good examples from Italy and Hong Kong. South Sea pearls were another big look that surfaced.
“We looked high and low for great value and designs featuring black pearls or combinations of black and white. Our customers are now more international and accepting of sophisticated looks than ever before,” Green said.
In the watch category, he singled out Patek Philippe’s new complicated watches for women and “beautiful” styles at Rolex, Jaeger Le Coultre and Bulgari as key lines.
Robert Mednikow, owner of Mednikow, a jewelry retailer in Memphis and Atlanta, also cited Rolex and Patek as high points at the show, explaining that Rolex’s larger sizes and Patek’s new complicated watch will both be well accepted by his female customers.
Referring to how watches with mechanical complications often have a bulky look, he said the Patek watch “has been done with such elegance, it’s not like wearing a biscuit on your wrist.”
In general, he said, quartz movements seem to be dropping off dramatically in favor of mechanical models for women.
He, too, saw no slowdown in the demand for white metals, but did say that rose gold was beginning to increase as well. Although much of what he had seen used a single metal, he said there were some good combinations of white with yellow or rose gold or even all three shades.
As for jewelry, the overwhelming concern among his customers is for wearability from day to evening, which accounts at least in part for the popularity of white gold.
“We’ve seen less enamel this year than in years past, being replaced with more color in gemstones,” Mednikow said, explaining that soft colors like aquamarine, peridot and blue topaz have been replacing the more traditional and bolder jewel tones.
While color has been apparent in jewelry, it is a relatively new trend in watches. Mednikow said his customers are more open to considering colorful styles since they are now buying more than one watch.
“They are interested in design innovations and features, including color, and that’s what is really driving the business,” he said.
Everett McCarver, co-owner of McCarver & Moser, Sarasota, Fla., and East Hampton, N.Y., felt several watch lines offered exceptional new pieces.
“Jaeger Le Coultre’s new Global Master for men and its Duetto and Florale lines for women had some of the best prices and top quality. They will both be great for fall,” said McCarver, adding that Jaeger’s women’s gold bracelet styles with diamonds were among the most exciting things he’d seen. “The day-to-evening feature on the Duetto is so versatile and will be well received by our customers.”
Chopard’s heart-shaped Happy Sport model, despite its retail range of $70,000 to $80,000, would be attractive to his clientele because of its novel look and ability to go from the tennis court to evening, he said.
The trend for white gold was also driving jewelry sales for McCarver, but he said rose gold could emerge next.
“People are a bit bored with yellow gold, unless it’s mixed with white or rose,” he said.
He added that while there are some customers starting to invest in big, statement pieces, small-scale items still account for the majority of jewelry sales, because “our customers just want to put it on and wear it and go.”
Collections being added to the assortment at Jules R. Schubot included Bulgari’s fine jewelry collection and its new Solotempo watch line, Franck Muller watches and Concord’s new La Strada watch line, reported Douglas Schubot.
“The La Strada line is new but looks retro at the same time. Its bracelet is reminiscent of links from the Fifties and will be an especially strong line for women,” said Schubot. He said the firm has carried the Bulgari line of watches for some time and has just completed a boutique area to accommodate the full jewelry line as well.
He pointed to Chopard and La Novelle Bague as lines that have beefed up their offerings.
“Chopard has expanded tremendously from what it was 20 years ago,” he said. “Enamel, which became popular about four years ago to meet the demand for casual Friday pieces, is now being worn all the time. Lines like La Nouvelle Bague and Hildago are great self-purchase items. They may be elaborate, but are still casual.”
Jeanne Larson, executive director of The Collector, with two stores in the Los Angeles area, was focused on merchandise for a third unit scheduled for a July opening in San Diego’s new Four Seasons Hotel.
“I really have to add to my resource list this trip, because the new store will attract a different clientele than my current stores,” said Larson, who expects the new shop to cater to a diverse range of international tourists and business travelers, including a heavy percentage of Japanese. She also expects to sell more pieces at a lower price range — averaging roughly $5,000 — than her current locations, which average about $100,000.
She will continue her specialty — unusual stones and color combinations, like current hot mixes of tanzanite with pink tourmaline, or fire opal and peridot.
Among the items she was seeking to stock in the new store were necklaces, many with interchanging slides for day into evening, earrings and pins. Many of the jewelry collections she was buying were from Italian firms, which she lauded for the design sophistication and varied use of colored gold.

Trend Watch

BASEL, Switzerland — Themes attracting retailer’s interest — and order-writing — at the Geneva and Basel shows included:
The continued demand for white-hot metals, from stainless steel to white gold and platinum.
Color in watch faces and straps, from brights like red, yellow, orange and lime green to more subtle shades of white or steely blue.
The rise of rose gold to accent jewelry or watches.
Versatile jewelry and even some watches that can take their wearers from day to night as well as from casual to dressy occasions.
Complicated watches created specifically for women, rather than just scaled-down and simplified versions of men’s models.

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