Meyers out to make noise in watches

Meyers is hoping to build a business on a blend of jewelry and watches.

The collection of watches, launched in the U.S. earlier this year, combines jewelry and watchmaking with an unusual design feature. Like a sunburst, the watch bezel is adorned with dangling diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and rubies that make a rattling noise when shaken.

It’s a perfect union between the Swiss watch world and the couture high-end jewelry world,” Doron Basha, president and owner of San Diego-based Meyers USA, said. “The watch business has gotten to a point where the consumer became very open to a much more creative and aggressive design, utilizing colored gems and high-end jewels.”

The company was started by Basha, who was the vice president of sales and marketing for Alor International, the distributor for Philippe Charriol, and Paris-based Jean Christoph Niarquin and Cyril Waskoll.

“We were introduced by a good friend of ours who is a retailer, and we really clicked and decided to launch this company,” recalled Basha.

Niarquin comes with a strong background in watches, having been the Paris distributor for several upscale watchmakers, including Audemars Piguet, Breitling and TechnoMarine, while Waskoll is a jewelry maker in his own right and produces a namesake line.

The result of this collaboration is a watch collection that is rooted in jewelry without forsaking the timepiece element.

Case in point: The Lady diamond Samba is inspired by the colors and moods of the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, and its round or square case is set with 20 dangling rubies, sapphires and diamonds, with matching-color crocodile straps. Also in the line is the Ladydiamond Mouna — inspired by Paris socialite Mouna Ayoub — which is set with 120 diamonds and adorned with dangling briolette sapphires. The piece de resistance is arguably the Ladydiamond After Eight, with a pave diamond chronograph face and multicolored sapphires both on and dangling from the bezel.

“The tassel element of sapphires, rubies, emeralds and diamonds makes this line recognizable,” said Basha. “Hanging tassels are becoming a popular look in jewelry. They give the watch an element of playfulness, joyfulness and happiness.”

Retail price points are between $3,500 for the Ladydiamond Samba with a plain dial to $37,000 for the diamond and sapphire Ladydiamond After Eight.

The collection has already been picked up by upscale independent jewelry stores and jewelry departments in specialty stores including Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, Mayor’s Jewelers and London Jewelers.

Basha said he targets a distribution of 150 to 200 doors in the U.S. Wholesale volume projections are between $35 million and $50 million.

“About 95 percent [of the watches] purchased so far have been bought by women for themselves,” Basha said. “The average price point is between $10,000 and $11,000. It is interesting that women are ready to spend that kind of money on a product that speaks to them. Men don’t necessarily understand this product, but it speaks to a woman’s heart because it comes from jewelry. You have an emotional reaction.”

IWC: The time has come to focus on U.S.

What do Carl Jung, Miles Davis, Sean Connery, King Juan Carlos of Spain and Michael Jordan have in common?

They all wear an IWC watch.

After 125 years, the Swiss watch firm is starting to break out of its position as a brand best known among a small, elite crowd of timepiece aficionados. They looked to IWC for its upper-tier watches with highly technical, complex features — or complications, as they are referred to in the fine watch trade.

The U.S. is a prime focus of growth for the firm. Previously, the region has accounted for only about 8 percent of IWC’s total turnover, according to Marc Bernhardt, vice president and chief marketing officer of U.S. operations, who joined the firm in April.

He said that figure is projected to rise to close to 15 percent by the end of 1999. He would not give figures on the firm’s overall volume.

“In 1997, we sold about 2,000 units [in the U.S.],” Bernhardt said. “We’re expecting to sell about 2,500 units this year and just over 3,000 in 1999.”

He said only some of those units would replace sales in Asia, which has accounted for roughly 20 percent of IWC’s worldwide turnover. He said the Asian market’s performance has varied by model and that some areas, like Taiwan, continue to perform well.

Currently, IWC produces roughly 30,000 watches per year.

“The U.S. has been underrepresented,” said Bernhardt. “We deserve a fair share of the aspirational customer.”

Bernhardt said IWC should appeal to a customer who may have already purchased his or her first fine watch and is now ready to upgrade.

“If someone bought a Rolex and now wants to trade up, where do they go?” asked Bernhardt.

“Real watch connoisseurs know us, but the average person doesn’t yet. But several years ago, Americans didn’t know about premium cigars, either.”

Devoid of gemstones or the colored faces and straps currently in fashion, IWC watches reflect a look that is at once traditional and modern, with crisp, almost minimalist features.

Earlier this year, the company launched a sport collection called GST, an acronym meaning “Gold, Steel, Titanium.” The line retails for $3,200 to $4,200, and some pieces, like the Aquatimer diving watch, is water-resistant to 2,000 meters and features a uni-directional bezel and exclusive bracelet design.

IWC watches start at $1,500 for an ultraslim, classic Portofino model and reach $350,000 for complicated pieces. Most of the line ranges from $10,000 to $20,000.

Beyond new products, the firm’s strategy is to increase sales in the company’s current roster of about 50 accounts in the U.S. through promotional events planned for November, increased advertising and a new emphasis on public relations.

IWC watches are sold through independent jewelers such as Cellini, Tourneau, Wempe and Joseph Edwards here; Shreve & Co. in San Francisco; Fox’s in Seattle, and selected Bailey Banks & Biddle and Neiman Marcus units across the country.

The fall IWC ad campaign is appearing in the New York Times magazine, the New York Observer, Town & Country, Arts & Antiques, Forbes, Esquire and W.

IWC is a family affair, at least in the U.S. Bernhardt’s sister, Marcia Mazzocchi, who worked with Tag Heuer here before joining IWC, runs the firm’s West Coast sales offices in Santa Monica, Calif.

Bernhardt works out of the company’s U.S. headquarters in Winchester, Va.

The IWC brand — along with two other Swiss watch firms, Jaeger le Coultre and Lange Und Sohne — is owned primarily by LMH, a holding company for VDO, a large Swiss conglomerate that manufactures an assortment of mechanical parts.