New watch lines off and running

In the watch market, it pays to be new. Retailers report that the watch category remains strong, especially for new entries.

“We have found that in general, it’s the new items in watches that are selling the best,” said Steve Shonebarger, vice president and general merchandise manager for Mayor’s Jewelers, which operates 20 fine jewelry and watch stores throughout Florida. “If it’s new and unique at a great price, it’s going to sell.”

Shonebarger said watch sales are up slightly — less than 5 percent — over last year.

Watch business at Fortunoff’s is up 10 to 15 percent from last year, according to Helen Fortunoff, a principal of the Westbury, N.Y.-based retailer.

A watch is a practical and yet glamorous gift, and in these times, that element of practicality is important,” she pointed out. “The high-tech, very macho looks are selling, and Swatch chronographs are still blowing out.”

Among the new entries is Franchi-Menotti, a Milan-based watch firm that has done about $350,000 in its first three months of selling to the U.S. Sales are projected to hit $1 million in the first year, according to Boaz Hirshberg, president of Empire Watches, here, the North American distributor. The line was introduced in Italy almost two years ago.

The watches wholesale from $160 to $825, and some styles are chronographs and have a compass.

One of the reasons we brought in the Franchi-Menotti line was because of our Italian promotion, but we also liked the styling of it,” said Richard Caniglia, vice president and director of fine jewelry at Bloomingdale’s, here. “The story behind the watches — that this firm used to make watches for the Italian military — is a great selling point, and the bulky look is definitely what people are attracted to.”

Fortunoff said Modern English, a line of watches with colorful textured fabric bands, is among her top performing new lines.

“Modern English is fun. It’s being bought as a second or third watch for casual living or given as a gift to someone young in spirit,” said Fortunoff.

Modern English has sold more than 30,000 watches at $22.50 wholesale in its first four months in business and expects to sell between 350,000 to 400,000 in its first year, according to Jon Rashotsky, president of the Wellesley, Mass.-based firm.

The watches are manufactured in Hong Kong by Penta Star and are sold through Modern English, a division of Gem Time. The line is being shown at Maryesta Carr, an accessories sales representative firm here.

Fortunoff cited Rado’s new La Coupole Ceramique watch as a particularly strong seller.

“The Ceramique line does well because nobody has anything like it,” said Shonebarger of Mayor’s. “The Rado name is also very recognizable, which is important now.”

The collection, the latest in Rado Watch Co.’s line of ceramic watches, will eventually make up 30 percent of the firm’s volume, according to John Hubacher, president of the firm, a division of SMH U.S. Inc., here. The line wholesales from $475 to $550.

Hamilton Watch, The Lancaster, Pa.-based division of SMH U.S., has had initial success with a line of watches based on designs the firm created for the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II.

Ron Jackson, executive vice president and brand manager, said, “Based on the reaction to the line so far, we expect it to make up 10 to 15 percent of our total volume by the end of its first year.”

The line of watches commemorating the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage manufactured by Swiss America Watch Corp. here, has taken in $450,000 in orders in its first two weeks, according to Bernard Sonnenschein, vice president.

Sonnenschein said the line, which is just being shipped to stores now, is expected to generate $10 million in volume over the next year, and $18 million in total by the end of 1993. The watches carry the name Nobel, which is Swiss America’s trademark, and run the gamut from $20 wholesale for a goldtone stainless steel watch to $3,000 for a limited edition watch featuring an 18-karat gold medallion face.

Bulova’s new Accutron line, introduced in stores in October, has exceeded the firm’s sales expectations by 20 percent, according to Phil Shaw, vice president of marketing. The line wholesales from $198 to $548.

Timegear International, Inc., a Los Angeles-based watch firm, has booked 120,000 units of a new item consisting of a watch face sold with three interchangeable bands — a leather band, a goldtone chain band and a faux pearl band — at $28 wholesale. The firm expects to sell more than 240,000 units in its first year.