Morellato Feels It’s Time On Fifth Avenue

The Italian watch and jewelry brand opened its first freestanding store in the U.S. on Saturday, in New York’s landmark French Building at 551 Fifth Avenue. Designed by Milan-based SGS Architects, the 1,600-square-foot boutique houses Morellato‘s jewelry, watch, writing instrument and leather goods collections.

Morellato & Sector Group, which operates the Morellato and Sector divisions, as well as multiple watch and jewelry licenses, is a major player throughout Italy, with sales of $368 million. The Morellato brand encompasses 42 percent of the country’s fashion jewelry market share, according to the company.

In the last year, it opened several boutiques throughout the world in Shanghai; Panama; CancA*n, Mexico; London, and Berlin bringing the total freestanding store count to 57 worldwide. Marco Frison, chief executive officer of the firm’s U.S. subsidiary, Morellato & Sector USA, expects that, in the next three years, 40 percent of the company’s business outside Europe will take place in the U.S. He anticipates the new store will exceed $1 million in sales after its first year.

“Morellato wants to do things in the U.S. in the right way,” Frison said. “The distribution we have in Europe and the structure is something we cannot replicate exactly in the U.S., so we’re studying the right way to enter and the right moment to enter. This is a tough moment for the economy in general, but the Morellato concept is so strong in perceived value. We’re offering prices that are unbeatable, which puts us into a special positioning. We want to let our customers have a luxury experience and an emotional experience.”

All Morellato products range in price from $35 to $300. The new store will offer the firm’s accessibly priced jewelry and watches from its own labels Morellato, Sector and Philip Watches as well as from its licensed brands, which include Roberto Cavalli Timewear, Just Cavalli Time, Just Cavalli Jewels, Miss Sixty watches, Miss Sixty jewelry, Pirelli watches and John Galliano watches, launching next year. The company’s licensed products retail at higher prices, with Pirelli watches capping off the assortment at $14,750.

As to whether the firm is planning a larger-scale U.S. rollout, Frison said Morellato would prefer to remain a niche brand.

“We need to let Morellato enter slowly into the U.S. market,” he said. “Our strategy is not to open a lot of flagship stores. Our target mission is to let American people know more by having a few important locations. We are, however, considering an aggressive marketing campaign and examining our wholesale capabilities.”

Morellato is in talks to expand distribution into department and specialty stores. The firm’s Just Cavalli collection can be found throughout Nordstrom and Macy’s East.

Morellato dates back to 1930, when Giulio Morellato opened a watch repair shop in Bologna, Italy, before going on to specialize in leather watchbands. When he died in 1965, his closest colleague, Silvano Carraro, took over the firm. In the years following, a string of major investments were made in the company as it took on a leading role in European watchband marketing and licensing.

In 1990, Carraro turned over leadership of the company to his sons, Massiwmo and Marco, who are seeking to elevate the brand into a global player.

Watch focus: scene

A band apart

With all the fashion brands moving into watches these days, it won’t be long before watches start competing for closet space with other accessories.

The latest contender is Esprit Timewear, a collection of fashion watches licensed by Geneva Watch Corp. The line attempts a delicate three-pronged balancing act: ascribing to Esprit’s clean aesthetic while incorporating trend but avoiding the junior look.

Introduced to buyers in November, the line hit department store floors last month. Geneva bought the license from Egana Goldpfeil last fall, which still handles international distribution.

The collection, which wholesales from $26 to $35, falls into the firm’s Esprit Casual division, separate from its contemporary Esprit Collection and junior EDC brands. “There are no blinking dials or noisemakers,” Mark Piccione, vice president of sales for Esprit, was quick to offer, referring to digital technologies found in other brands.

Indeed, the styles follow a rather minimalist aesthetic with red, white, pink, black, tan and lilac as the core colors. Bestsellers for spring include a style with a pink dial and chain bracelet entwined with matching leather and a lilac style with a stainless steel mesh strap wrapped over a colored leather band.

“There’s very little basic two-tones in the line because there’s really not a need for that in the market,” Piccione said. “That’s all been covered.”

Instead, Esprit Timewear is for the growing number of consumers who are buying multiple fashionwatches to fit their style. “These are not classics,” Piccione admitted, “not the kind you wear every day or with every outfit.”

Although the line is colorful, it’s still casual. An iridescent python-embossed strap with a red dial and red crystal bezel is as glitzy as it gets.

Come fall, the collection will land in Esprit’s new 10,000-square-foot flagship at Fifth Avenue and 16th Street. Until then, it is being carried at Esprit boutiques and at major department stores such as Marshall Field’s and Robinsons-May. In November, the Hong Kong-based brand will launch a national advertising campaign in major fashion magazines. The firm declined to disclose wholesale projections.

It’s about time

Nearly 40 years after presenting its first women’s ready-to-wear collection, Cerruti is finally getting its hands on watches.

In a licensing agreement with Egana Goldpfeil Group, the century-old brand is launching men’s and women’s fashion watches for fall.

“The fashion industry has an increasing influence on the watch business,” explained Marco Sieber, brand manager for Cerruti at Egana Goldpfeil. “Watches are not seen anymore as pure timekeeping pieces, but [as] fashion accessories following the seasonal color, fashion and design trends.”

Positioned alongside Michele, Omega and Fendi watches, the new 55-piece collection follows three major directions: classic, outdoor and fashion. Key items will be a minimalist style with a white leather band and round steel case and a dressier style with a stingray strap and Swarovski crystals on the bezel. Texture is an important component of the line, said Alicia Press, brand manager at Egana Goldpfeil, and will be incorporated using material like stingray. Wholesale prices range from $195 to $395.

“You have a watch wardrobe,” Press added. “You change your watches daily.” The Cerruti line, she said, follows that sensibility.

The collection, which made its debut in Basel, Switzerland, during the Watch and Clock Fair this month and will be introduced in the United States at the JCK Jewelry show in Las Vegas next month, is the latest addition to what Sieber called the “world of Cerruti.” Other licenses include fragrances and accessories.

The firm chose to partner with Egana Goldpfeil for its extensive distribution and vertical manufacturing structure. In turn, Cerruti, which began as a textile company in 1881 and launched its first women’s collection in the late Sixties, introduces Egana Goldpfeil to a more upscale, fashion-forward customer.

The line will be carried at Cerruti boutiques, upscale department stores and top-tier retail boutiques. The firm declined to disclose wholesale projections.

In bloom

Spring has sprung, so watch companies are betting once again that ladies are going to spring for a fashion watch or two in colors best suited to a beautiful tulip garden. Just in time, P. Peugeot has come out with Croma, a group of decidedly girly, stainless steel watches with a shiny, silvery finish. Colors, applied to the case and strap alike, include baby pink, sherbety orange and green and pink, as well as a baby blue and black. Most straps are leather, although there is one kickier design with a plastic jelly strap, in pink, black or blue. Faces are embellished with decorative mother-of-pearl dials representing different time zones.

Albert Eida, president of the New York-based P. Peugeot (no relation to the car company), described the grouping as updated classics with jewelry accents. They’re aimed at the fashion-conscious 25- to 50-year-old woman.

“It’s vibrant, refreshing. Colors put everyone in a good mood,” said Eida, who added that he doesn’t see the long-standing color trend fading any time soon, especially when it comes to pink. “Pink represents a major fashion trend in garments — everything seems to be pink.”

Croma watches retail for $72 at department stores, including Macy’s, Robinsons-May and J.C. Penney.

Swiss miss

It may have a century-old heritage and a logo that’s based on a cross, but don’t confuse Zodiac with, well, that other moderately priced Swiss watch brand. The newly evolved Zodiac, recognizable by its distinctive use of color and retro flair, is a key focus for the ever-expanding Fossil, which purchased the brand in 2001 and sees it as a key means of reaching a coveted young customer.

The casual-yet-sporty collection boasts 61 styles encompassing six different color combinations. Of these, only 20 percent or so were specifically designed for women, but the company is banking on capturing the woman who typically steals her significant other’s timepiece as a new customer. Indeed, the company’s signature ad depicts a woman standing in a sleek, votive-lit hotel room, sporting nothing but a man’s Zodiac watch.

The stainless steel watches have a retro flair, particularly one style that features an Art Deco-influenced, cushion-shaped face and a brightly hued dial. Color choices for the women’s watches include an allover vibrant royal blue and a powder blue-and-burnt orange combination. A solid black-and-bright orange style with a hole-punched caoutchouc-rubber band comes closer to a jock aesthetic, however. “You can wear a Zodiac every day, but it’s not restricted that day you decide to go diving,” said Jaime Noris, Zodiac’s assistant brand manager, who pointed out that many of thewatches are pressure-proof up to 1,000 feet.

The line hits primarily Tourneau stores in the United States starting this May, with global expansion planned for Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Singapore and China. Prices range from $150 to $750, with the higher-priced watches having superior internal movements and a greater water resistance. However, the company is standing behind its commitment to offer a Swiss-quality watch at affordable price points. “We’re seeking out the active 18- to 35-year-old who’s looking for a modern watch with the quality and tradition of the Swiss make,” said Noris.

Music and movements

It’s hard to imagine a suit-and-tie-wearing businessman jamming away in a music studio, but Dennis Phillips clearly defies convention.

Few in this industry know that after hours, the current president of Taramax USA, which manufactures and distributes Fendi watches worldwide, has a knack for music. Prior to joining the watch firm in 2002, he even had a stint as executive producer on jazz artist Loston Harris’ latest CD, “Timeless.”

“Growing up, I liked rock ‘n’ roll, but I moved onto jazz very quickly,” said Phillips, who learned to play the trombone in his youth and now favors tunes by the likes of Harris, Diana Krall, Bobby Short and Ben Sidran.

Phillips, a watch veteran who has been in the business for 27 years with a resume that includes president of Ebel and Rado, met Harris in the mid-Nineties when Rado had outfitted the artist with a watch.

“From then on, it was a friendship,” he recalled.

Harris agreed: “The best thing that I like about our collaboration is the passion for music that is at the core. And we have fun.”

Phillips can’t help but swoon over the music. “It’s romantic, it appeals to women and men, and the words take you to another era,” he said.

Harris has another fascination, and not surprisingly, it’s watches. He currently only counts four in his collection, but he still considers himself a bit of a fanatic. “There are times when I put them on the piano so I can always see what time it is,” the musician said.

Harris currently has a gig at the Carlyle Hotel’s Bemelmans Bar, where he plays the piano and sings tunes made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Cole Porter every Tuesday through Saturday from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. His “Timeless” CD is available at Lostonharris.com for $12.99.