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NEW YORK — Fine fashion watches are the hottest trend in the watch industry these days, and new players are joining the party.

This story first appeared in the March 3, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Leonard, the French fashion house, is the latest entrant into the sector. The company recently launched a unisex watch line here full of stylish, retro-inspired timepieces with big faces and bright-colored straps. The brand has two collections: Screen, which has a wide, horizontal dial shape with a retro feel, while Sphere has round dials and a domed sapphire crystal. There are both automatic and quartz styles, and bracelets come in rubber, leather or sateen. Models are also available with diamond bezels.

Leonard has set up a separate division in Switzerland to oversee watch operations and that is where all the timepieces are produced. Suggested retail prices for the collection range from about $800 to $2,300. First-year sales are estimated at about $2.5 million, according to Beatrice de Quervain, who heads up U.S. sales and marketing for Leonard.

Leonard already sells its watches in Europe and Asia, but this is its first venture on these shores.

“Watches have become a fashion accessory and there is room for more entrants,” said de Quervain. “People pay $2,000 for their handbag and they will pay that much for their watch.”

With its pricing and trendy styling, Leonard goes head-to-head with other fashion brands such as TechnoMarine, Locman and Michele, which have shaken up the watch industry in recent years. Prior to the introduction of these brands, most watches were either high-end traditional or low-priced fashion brands, and there was little middle ground. These newer brands have pushed the limits of design by offering trendy, big-faced styles in bold colors, often with diamonds, but without the hefty price tags of brands such as Rolex and Cartier.

Leonard has already been picked up in Saks Fifth Avenue and is eyeing other specialty stores for distribution here, de Quervain said.

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