A REVOLUTION IN TIMEKEEPING

In 1969, the watch industry entered the Space Age.

It didn’t happen on the moon, where U.S. astronauts used and wore sophisticated mechanical timepieces. It happened on earth–in Swiss and Japanese laboratories, in busy Tokyo stores and in a venerable U.S. watch factory in Pennsylvania’s Amish country.

Watchmakers in all three lands lighted a fuse to an explosion that shook the global watch industry in 1969 and reverberates to this day. The explosion was the introduction of the electronic watch; the fuse was something tinier than a baby’s fingernail–a sliver of synthetic quartz crystal that provides precise timekeeping by vibrating at very high frequencies when activated by electrical impulses.

The development of electronic watches not only changed the way watches are made. “It fundamentally altered the way time products are marketed and promoted,” says Wilhelm Alpsteg, senior watchmaking instructor at the prestigious Swiss Watch Federation Institute.

Before quartz: Electronic watches and quartz timekeeping didn’t spring full-born from some designer’s brow in 1969. Indeed, electric watches were predicted in an 1879 issue of Jewelers’ Circular. (That prediction, however, involved a cumbersome device requiring two vest pockets–one for the pocket watch and one for an electric generator, both cased in hard rubber and connected by an insulated chain!)

The first quartz “clock” (the size of an average room) was developed in the U.S. in 1929. Precise atomic clocks with quartz oscillators, used by scientists and governments, followed in the 1940s. Hamilton Watch Co. of Lancaster, Pa., marketed the first commercial electric watch in 1957. And three years later, Bulova startled the industry with Accutron, a wristwatch with an electronic tuning fork oscillator, eliminating the need for escapement and balance, with accuracy to within a minute per month.

But it was the quartz oscillator, powered by a button-size battery, that shaved electronic watches’ accuracy to within seconds annually. More importantly, the easily produced synthetic quartz crystal allowed the mass production of inexpensive electronic watches.

History in the making: Several firms worked on quartz technology in the late 1960s. But it was Hattori Seiko in Tokyo and Longines-Wittnauer in Switzerland that first went public in 1969.

Longines displayed a prototype at the 1969 watch trade fair in Basel, Switzerland, but didn’t bring out its first commercial model until 1970. Seiko started to sell its electronic quartz watch in Japan in 1969 and introduced it to the U.S. in 1970 (at $1,250 retail). But before the bulky watch even reached the hands of U.S. jewelers, Seiko in October 1970 debuted a second-generation, smaller version at half the price ($650). Company officials considered it, and the U.S. market, so important, that the firm’s rarely seen president hosted a press luncheon in New York to announce the breakthrough in miniaturization.

Just four days later, Longines-Wittnauer’s own quartz analog went on sale at Macy’s in New York (for $575). The curtain had officially gone up on the competitive quartz watch market in the U.S.

Digital debuts: Hamilton Watch Co. and Electro/Data Inc., a Garland, Tex.,

electronics firm, worked together in 1969 on another breakthrough: a solid-state watch (using integrated, encapsulated circuitry instead of moving parts) that told time with figures on a display screen.

In May 1970, Hamilton unveiled the prototype, which JC-K at the time called “the world’s first truly electronic portable timepiece” and the “most dramatic step forward in tissot t race watches since [the invention of] the hairspring in 1675.” In keeping with the scientific euphoria of those moon-walk days, Hamilton dubbed the watch Pulsar, borrowing the name from the recently discovered distant stars that emitted regular radio pulses.

The watch, which went on sale in 1972 at $2,100 retail, had no moving parts. It consisted of a computer module that calculated time, an advanced quartz crystal and a specially designed 4.5-volt rechargeable battery. To see the time, the wearer pressed a button on the watch face for a digital readout (in red) on the light-emitting diode (LED) display.

Global success: Digital watches with their trendy, Space Age look captivated consumers and took the market by storm. They grew even more popular as their prices dropped. According to conservative estimates at the time, the U.S. market alone almost quadrupled in volume (from 200,000 in 1973 to more than 750,000 in 1974). Sales reached $188 million in 1974.

But the LED watch soon lost favor, accounting for less than 4% of jewelers’ digital sales by 1978. Consumers complained LEDs were hard to read in bright sunlight, and many disliked pushing a button to tell time. LEDs were supplanted by liquid crystal display (LCD) watches, which show time continuously and are easier to read. LCDs remain the leading type of digital.

No denying it–quartz digitals were hot. In 1974, more than 100 models debuted at the spring watchshow in Basel. By that summer, they were a major jewelry-store item. A JC-K poll found 40% of all $150 + watches sold by jewelers were digitals. Demand was so great that many manufacturers couldn’t keep pace. And the popularity kept building. By decade’s end, one of every four watches sold worldwide was digital.

Such demand caused the watch industry’s version of a gold rush. By 1976, dozens of U.S. firms made or marketed digital watches–established watchmakers and newcomers alike. Among the newcomers were electronics and semiconductor firms such as Texas Instruments, as well as Hughes Aircraft, Motorola and General Tire & Rubber. It was boom-and-bust business: for every digital firm that went into business, another folded because of marketing or financial woes.

Overseas, the advent and global popularity of electronic watches virtually created the modern Hong Kong watch industry. In 1969, Hong Kong had a handful of firms making 3 million cheap mechanicalwatches and components. By 1978, it was home to literally hundreds of watch firms, exporting 49.4 million watches (most of them digital). It even surpassed Japan to become the world’s largest watchexporter (in units).

Busted boom: HMW Industries, which had been spun off from Hamilton to sell Pulsar, first laughed at suggestions that cheap Hong Kong watches could affect the market. But such overconfidence proved dangerous. In 1976, HMW reported a “sharp reversal” in earnings and a 20% drop in U.S. and foreign sales. A year later, digital sales had “virtually disappeared from all but the very lowest price levels,” said HMW. It sold Pulsar–lock, stock and logo–to a Philadelphia firm that later sold it to Seiko.

The problems that overwhelmed HMW affected much of the industry. Too many firms, especially in electronics, operated on high volume and low prices. That pushed digitals out of jewelry stores and into mass-merchandising markets.

Many small manufacturers and marketers went out of business because they were undercapitalized or lacked adequate distribution arrangements. And many foundering firms simply dumped their merchandise on the market.

Getting out: By the early 1980s, the digital boom had collapsed under a world glut of cheap digitals and cut-price competition. It hit Hong Kong’s fledgling industry especially hard. Many watchmakers there, including some of the biggest, went bankrupt or simply closed their doors.

Digitals didn’t disappear, of course. They settled into the under-$50 end of the watch market, where multifunctional digitals were popular. In the late 1980s, digital and analog quartz watches literally came together. Several firms introduced “anadigi” watches: timepieces with analog dials and digital readouts on the same watch face. Digital timekeeping also found its way to such items as pens, stick-on plastic clocks and ruler-calculator watches.

During this time, much production of solid-state watches and time products moved to labor-intensive, low-wage countries, primarily in Southeast Asia. China, already a major producer of watches for home consumption, became an important source of digitals. Manufacturers from Hong Kong and Japan set up production facilities in China to capitalize on the country’s abundant low-cost labor. In 1988, China displaced Japan as the second largest exporter of digitals to the U.S. It shipped 41.8 million digitals here that year, up 248% from 1987 and 3,383% from 1986.

Quartz analogs: Quartz analogs (with traditional watch dials and hands) quickly filled the gap that digitals left in jewelry stores. They increased from 3% of total world production in 1975 to 54% in 1988. Even Swiss luxury watchmakers such as Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin and Baume & Mercier added quartz models to their painstakingly handmade lines.

In the U.S., the 1980s became the decade of the quartz analog. A major factor was Swatch, the inexpensive ($35) plastic-case watch developed by Swiss watchmaking giant ASUAG. Swatch, launched worldwide in 1983, took the market by storm. Within five years, more than 50 million Swatches had been sold worldwide.

Swatch itself was a technological breakthrough, manufactured by automation in a sharp departure from Swiss hand assembly. But the key to its success was an aggressive, avant-garde media campaign aimed at young people. The campaign promoted a new concept in watch marketing: thewatch as a trendy fashion accessory first and timepiece second. Like clothing fashions, Swatch offered new styles for every season and type of activity, and was sold primarily in department stores.

Swatch’s concept of watches as fashion accessories has dominated watch styling and marketing through 1989.

Breakthroughs: The electronic watch revolution opened the door to other technological advances. One short-lived trend was solar watches (electronic timepieces equipped with solar microgenerators that converted light to electrical energy).

Others have been more long-lasting. Continuing advances in miniaturization of electronic components, for example, enabled manufacturers to produce constantly thinner watches and break new ground in styling. From 1978-1980, watch thicknesses shrank from 4.1mm to 1.48mm. In 1989, Hattori Seiko produced the thinnest-yet to mark its 20th anniversary of quartz watch production. The limited-edition, handmade, gold-encased watch is just 0.85mm thick and cost 1 million yen (about $7,000).

Other advances include a watch that speaks the time at the press of a button, watches with a radio or TV, watches made with Space Age metals such as titanium, watches that show several time zones simultaneously, stuhrling watches that receive stuhrling watch reviews and watches that can be linked to a personal computer.

In 1988, almost 20 years after the introduction of the battery-powered quartz watch, Hattori Seiko and Jean d’Eve of Switzerland each premiered battery-less quartz watches. The watches generate their own electrical power, converted from the motion of the wearer’s wrist. In 1989, Nepro of Switzerland introduced the world’s first clock operated by ultrasonic technology (without moving parts) and the world’s first watch without a winding crown.

Meanwhile, the public also has grown fascinated with complicated, multifunction watches. Among the most popular types are chronographs and sport watches and watches with moon phases, rim or perpetual calendars, day/date windows and subdials.

Mechanicals’ comeback: By 1988, the dominance of the quartz watch was complete. Five out of every six timepieces produced worldwide were quartz. But while the quartz watch captured consumers’ dollars, the mechanical watch may hold their hearts.

A new Swiss watch industry report about akribos watches reviews says mechanicals are experiencing a revival after a dramatic drop in the 1980s. And Swiss watchmakers speak of a revival of high-quality mechanicals, including automatics (self-winding mechanicals), skeletons (open to view front and back) and open case-backs.

Watchmakers attribute the popularity to the growing demand for chronographs (many of which are mechanical) and consumers’ renewed interest in the craftsmanship of mechanical watches. Neither does it hurt that watchmakers themselves are cultivating the high-quality mechanical watch market, where they face no competition from mass producers in the Far East.

One example of the interest in mechanicals is Patek Philippe’s Calibre 89. Billed as the world’s most complicated portable timepiece, it drew much attention and brought $2.74 million at auction in April 1989. Also, several Swiss and Asian watchmakers recently introduced skeleton watches in the midprice range.

But perhaps the best example comes from Swatch. This creator of the world’s most successful quartz watch added mechanicals to its line in 1989.

Bulova: state of the art

Bulova‘s Accutron watch has retained its popularity since its introduction in Nov 1960. The design of the watch was based on a timing device Bulova created for NASA satellites which eliminated the need for winding and ensured accuracy within one minute a month. Since then, the Accutron line has been expanded to include a variety of new designs including the Versailles Collection for women and the sporty Nantucket collection.

The story of Accutron by Bulova begins with America’s space race, during the 1950s and ’60s, when its revolutionary design caused a sensation in the market, and culminates with an exciting product collection that’s as popular today as when it was first introduced.

Accutron, unveiled in November, 1960, truly represented one of the great advances in the history of timekeeping. The invention was based on a timing device Bulova first developed for use in NASA satellites: a movement without springs or escapement was operated by an electronically activated tuning fork. Not only did this movement never need winding, but it carried an unprecedented guarantee of accuracy to within one minute a month.

Accutron itself reached the moon on July 12, 1969, when an Accutron timer was placed in the Sea of Tranquility to control vital data transmissions. It also made the trip into space a number of times, aboard Telstars I and II in 1962 and 1963, in the command pit of the first two-man Gemini spacecraft in 1965, on four succeeding Gemini launches, two Lunar Orbiters and finally, the Apollo spacecraft.

Since its introduction, Accutron has shifted from tuning forks to quartz, the next great advance of precision timekeeping. According to bulova automatic watch review, today’s Accutron watches are so superior technically that the company is able to extend a 25-year warranty.

Accutron is designed in America, using the finest Swiss quartz movements like citizens watch and handcrafted stainless steel cases. Watches use sapphire and hardened mineral crystals for scratch resistance, solid link, stainless-steel bracelets and bands of the finest leather.

Overseeing design and production of this line is Jack Davis, former president of Longines, and a 40-year watch industry veteran, who began his career as Bulova’s competitor and joined the company to head up the Accutron division a few years ago. He’s passionate about the product’s design and describes it as a ‘clean, uncluttered dial that flows effortlessly into the bracelet.’

Accutron has evolved to suit a wider audience, with many new styles, such as the elegant Versailles Collection, aimed at women. True to its adventurous roots, however, the Accutron retains its ruggedly sporty look, exemplified by the new Nantucket collection.

Reinforcing the Accutron image is a sharply focused advertising and marketing campaign, featuring ads in high-profile publications that identify the product with its signature tuning fork logo.

To further strengthen the brand’s appeal, prices have been adjusted for maximum impact in the $500-and-over range, allowing consumers the opportunity to own a timepiece of Accutron’s quality at an exceptional value.

Invicta watches review – A vital secret to make a long lasting stylish impression

Invicta watches will help you to stay outstanding in every way. You can see some of the best possible designs in the world of modern watch making. There are plenty of qualities which make these watches stand ahead of other watches in the field. Below are listed with some of the components which describe about the dream qualities that have changed these designs into attractive ones.

Stands unique with other designs

The invicta watches review will help you to stand ahead of the crowd. These watches feature a stark color contrast and also bold bio-hazard designs. The black color dual layer dial is one of the best ways to disguise the little sub-dials of the watch along with greater durability to the watches.

Another design in invicta is S1 racer along with decorative screws which surrounds the bezel. The brilliant colored stones which pop up against the black case which make your head turn up wherever you go.

Classic and timeless design piece

You can add finishing touch to your outfit with these classic designs. Almost all the designs are updated with latest fashion trends. The designs of these watches are sleek and elegant. Moreover of all those, the ocean ghost design is quite appealing option for any sort of occasion from official event to night out parties with friends. The durability of this watch blends with the convenience of the watchmakers and also provides a chic look to the wrist. Though it looks contemporary, but still it looks classic. Invicta watch is an exceptional timepiece.

A quality time piece

With the advancement in the technology, most people search internet to get their required things. Internet is flooded with great number of invicta watches review, based on which you can decide whether the watch is of good quality or not. They fall apart once they touch any hard surface.

In this regard, Invicta’s pro drivers get the best ratings and even they are study enough when it comes to the matter of trekking, running, diving or any kind of outdoor surfaces. When it comes to the quality matter, invicta watches are sure to take the first place. Almost all the invicta watches have excellent quality designs along with their diver watches being the best among all the watches.

Design of invicta watches

No one prefers to buy a watch without having good designs. In this regard, where does invicta watch stand when it comes to the matter of design. In the past, invicta watches were criticized for taking hints and suggestions from other watch designs. Some of these watch have same features like that of any luxury brands.

Invicta 8926 watches are worth piece for selling. They always follow their own style which other brands don’t have. The design of these watches is perhaps the best feature in the Invicta watch company. Since, Invicta has a great number of watch collections; there is a wide range of selection of styles to choose. Before choosing, it’s better suggested to go through invicta watches review.

Good times roll on: luxury watch sales reach record heights

There’s never been a better time for luxury watches.

Executives at last week’s Swiss watch fairs – Basel World Watch & Jewelry Show in Basel and the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva – cited robust demand for their most expensive timepieces, strong momentum in emerging markets and increased attention from women as elements that are pumping more power into their already formidable engines.

Most executives described market conditions as no less than amazing, saying that the global wealth-creation machine is propelling their most expensive products to unprecedented levels of success.

“If you haven’t made money in the last couple of years, it’s time to quit,” said Corum owner Severin Wunderman. “It’s literally insanity. In my 40 years in the business, it’s never been like this.”

Such declarations resounded from most leading brands, from Rolex and Omega to Patek Philippe and Cartier, all of which introduced models that retailers said are sure to drive more gains in the market.

Officials from those firms, as well as Tag Heuer, Hublot, Audemars Piguet, Zenith, Ebel, Van Cleef & Arpels, Jaeger LeCoultre, Baume & Mercier, Chopard, de Grisogono, Bulgari, Chanel, Harry Winston, David Yurman and Montblanc, all said they anticipate strong double-digit growth in 2007.

Exports of watches increased 22.7 percent in February, the most recent month reported, boosted primarily by gains in the most expensive timepieces, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

Watches costing more than $100,000 were plentiful at the fairs and timepieces in excess of $1 million emerged as the new benchmark for the extraordinary, largely because of demand from Asia, Russia, the Middle East and the U.S.

The bullish mood reflected the findings of a Goldman Sachs report released this month before the start of the Swiss fairs that concluded consumer demand for luxury watches is likely to accelerate in the next six months, especially for pricey and sporty styles. Results of the annual survey, which is based on responses from 89 international retail groups, representing more than 600 stores, were the most positive since the investment house began the polling in 2003.

The very upper end is really driving the market,” said Candy Udell, president of London Jewelers.

Franois-Henry Bennahmias, chief executive officer of Audemars Piguet North America, said, “Four years ago, to sell a $100,000 watch was an event. Today, it’s just another sale. We sold about 80watches above $100,000 last year in the United States alone.”

Thierry Nataf, ceo, president and creative director of Zenith, owned by LVMH Mot Hennessy Louis Vuitton, said: “The top of the pyramid has opened. There is no resistance in terms of price any more.”

Several executives recounted anecdotes of customers who decided to buy million-dollar timepieces in five minutes or less and all spoke about the difficulty of meeting demand for the most expensive and complicated items.

After all, most high-end Swiss manufacturers produce limited numbers. Even Patek Philippe, one of the industry’s most venerable names, only produced 38,000 watches last year. A niche brand like Parmigiani, with an average ticket price of $30,000, only makes 3,500 watches a year. In contrast, a brand like Rolex is estimated to produce more than 300,000 pieces annually.

More significantly, the fairs pointed to the emergence of the superlative category of luxury: hyper-luxury.

“People don’t know what to buy anymore,” Bennahmias said. “They have the yacht, the jet, the houses, the art.”

Jean-Claude Biver, president of Hublot, said, “We are still in the Stone Age in terms of the development of luxury watches. Momentum is building because more people are becoming aware ofwatches.”

The boom reflects similar growth in high jewelry – extraordinary bijoux costing more than $250,000 – from houses such as Cartier, Boucheron or Van Cleef & Arpels.

Bernard Fornas, president of Cartier International, said the brand’s biggest single jewelry sale last year topped $11 million.

“There is very strong demand for very expensive creations,” Fornas said. “Our biggest problem is supply. People are fighting over pieces. A million-dollar sale happens at least every month. It’s common.”

At Montblanc, managing director Wolff Heinrichsdorff said a one-of-a-kind, $772,000 pen it co-designed with Van Cleef & Arpels sold in New York this year after only four days in the shop.

“A collector flew from Europe just to buy it,” he said. “There’s no reason not to believe that with that type of appetite for luxury, 2007 will not be another year of strong double-digit growth.”

Even in the less rarified segment of watches starting at $1,000 and up, prices have climbed, with average price points escalating across the board 15 to 40 percent.

Tag Heuer president and ceo Jean-Christophe Babin said the LVMH-owned company’s average watch price is up from $1,500 to almost $2,100.

Even companies like Gucci are upping the ante. The company launched the Signoria watch at Baselworld, which was designed by creative director Frida Giannini.

“The preliminary customer reactions and press comments were very positive,” Gucci ceo Mark Lee told WWD. “We were able to deliver a strong design identity through our two new iconic timepieces, the Signoria and the Pantheon. The Signoria has been extremely well received and enthusiastically appreciated for its strong femininity and the Pantheon has been praised for its outstanding quality and strong personality. Both pieces successfully reinforce the watchmaking heritage of the brand.”

Designs are becoming more intricate, with mechanical watches tricked out with chronographs, moon phases, tourbillons and, of course, diamonds. At Tag, for instance, 60 percent of its women’s watch shimmer with diamonds now.

Diamonds on the face of a watch at the fairs – for women and men – were a must-have. Other ubiquities included mother-of-pearl faces and chronographs for women. Overall, the trend for mechanical watches for women continued to build momentum, even if quartz jewelry watches for women remain the bread and butter for most brands.

Many executives said women continue to buy men’s watches. Some brands said they are no longer marketing pieces under a men’s or women’s classification, but in terms of sizes small, medium and large, reflecting the trend for women to buy men’s timepieces.

Nonetheless, the small cocktail watch is hardly dead and several firms made notable introductions in petite sizes, including Cartier’s Love watch.

“It will boomerang back to a smaller size one day,” predicted Fornas of Cartier. “But even when it does, at the end of the day, the smallest size will still be bigger than it used to be.”

Other notable trends included the prevalent use of rose gold, chocolate-colored dials, rubber straps and larger sizes, noted retailers.

“Everyone has a 45-ml. [case] and up,” said Andrew Block, vice president of Tourneau, who added that he sees no obstacles to another year of strong double-digit growth.

Block pointed to “great” introductions this year from IWC, Cartier, Rolex, Patek Philippe, Corum, Zenith and Breguet.

London Jeweler’s Udell praised Rolex’s new Milgaus and Yacht-Master II watches, Hublot’s pink gold Big Bang, Herms’ more complicated watches born of the Paris luxury firm’s recent acquisition of a stake in Swiss manufacturer Vaucher, Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpel’s “exceptional” jewelrywatches for women, as well as pieces from Audemars Piguet and Chopard.

Michael Pollak, ceo of Hyde Park Jewelers, also saluted Rolex’s watches, as well as creations by Jaeger LeCoultre, Panerai and Girard-Perregaux.

“There’s a lot of styling in ladies’ watches and they have larger cases, with more complications for women,” said Pollak.

Retro touches were another trend. Perhaps the most notable introduction in this direction was Cartier’s Ballon Bleu wristwatch that retailers praised as a sure-fire hit and a strong follow-up to the brand’s La Doa watch of last year.

“It is a very salable and very beautiful retro watch,” said Udell of the Ballon Bleu, with a raised curved crystal and retro numerals.

Watch executives said one of the characteristics of the current market was that all geographical zones – from Asia, Europe and America – are whirring full-cylinder, with Japan the only trouble zone.

“Every market is equally strong,” said Philippe Stern, president of Patek Philippe. “Demand really is growing because there are many new customers. People are interested in watches because they are still made by human hands. People want something that lasts.”

They also, apparently, want something rare. Limited edition products, which have performed so well with collectors, are becoming more common. Executives said the ploy remains an effective selling tool.

“Limited edition is one of our fastest-growing categories,” said Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, vice president of Chopard.

“Limited editions are still going great,” said Wunderman of Corum. “But it’s true that it’s gotten to the point that it’s almost ridiculous. There are limited edition Tissots.”

Celebrity tie-ins are another continuing phenomenon. Christian Dior, for example, has signed Sharon Stone to appear in advertising for its timepieces. The stunning Russian soprano Anna Netrebko is the new face of Chopard.

Jewelry was another important component at the shows, though most American retailers said it waswatches that bring them to Switzerland.

Retailers said rose gold, large chain links, cameos, ancient coins and a return to “beautiful classic things” were the main themes.

Standout collections came from Roberto Coin, David Yurman, Mikimoto and de Grisogono, which presented a multimillion dollar 45-carat ruby ring.

David Yurman reported a strong start to the year, saying he expected 2007 to yield double-digit gains again. Among the house’s novelties were watches designed by Yurman’s son, Evan. Yurman showcased pieces with mineral stones, such as malachite, adding color to his collection.

Roberto Coin said “business is very good” thanks to sales in Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. Coin used gemstones like citrine to give his rose and yellow gold mesh pieces a touch of verve.

Limitless Luxury: Top Trends From Baselworld and SIHH Fairs

Gemstone-drenched evening cuff watches made an appearance at brands such as Harry Winston and Breguet, taking the place of dainty styles.

Diamond-encrusted bezels, markers and cases shown by the likes of Tag Heuer and Bulgari.

Rose gold is going strong at the likes of Corum, Omega and A. Lange Sohne, often complemented with a chocolate-brown dial.

Unisex watches are important, and several companies offer timepieces in small, medium and large as opposed to men’s and women’s styles.

Minute repeaters, tourbillon chronograph and other complications are being offered on women’swatches and, notably, on some evening styles.

Maximal Art back in watches

Maximal Art, a Philadelphia-based costume jewelry firm, is moving back into the watch market after a two-year absence.

At the August market week, the firm is launching watches designed in the same feeling as Maximal Art’s new nature jewelry theme, introduced in March.

The collection includes sterling silver and 18-karat gold plated white metal, shaped like pebbles, artifacts and twigs. “We thought the nature-inspired cast-metal shapes from our new jewelry collection would translate well into watches,” said John Wind, an owner. “We also saw room in the market for artistic watches at moderate price points.”

He projected first-year sales of $550,000 for the watches. The watches wholesale for $75 with a suede strap, and $110 with a chain bracelet strap.

The watch collection has different combinations of three faces, four cases and five bands. “They can be ordered in all combinations,” said Wind.

In August 1986, Maximal Art introduced what Wind calls multiple watches, each of which was a bracelet made of four retro-style watch faces. “Those multiple watches did very well, but they were knocked off so much, they were no longer special,” Wind explained, saying the firm stopped making them toward the end of 1987.

The bold and the beautiful men’s watches are getting a facelift to attract the female shopper

I remember Donna Karan used to wear this big Rolex,” began Brad Beach, vice president of watch production and development for licensed brands at Fossil. “It wasn’t that big of a watch, but it was clearly a man’s watch and she pulled it off.”

Some women have been wearing oversized men’s watches for years, but a majority of them just can’t commit. To help female consumers make the leap, fashion watch designers are tweaking men’s watches by adding color or pattern. The result? The modern woman’s watch.

While everyone agrees the trend toward bigger watches has hit, there’s dissent when it comes to the psychology behind it.

Some say it coincides with women getting more buying power, and that as they buy men’s wear styles, they are also buying up.

Women want a high-quality watch that evokes power, said Naomi Lyum, sales and marketing director for Visage. But, she added, in terms of style, it’s about “not letting go of femininity, of what you want to keep. [The power watch is about] claiming all the things that men have had and making them our own.”

Visage’s bestseller for spring, Catnip, is larger in scale than a typical man’s watch and sold especially well in tone-on-tone strap and dial combinations.

Other companies contend that the trend boils down to basic geography. “Women have been wearing men’s watches in Europe forever,” noted Mark Odenheimer, senior vice president of the Sutton division of E. Gluck, which holds licenses for Nine West and Anne Klein New York. Perhaps that familiar lag between what’s hot in Europe and what’s hot in the States accounts for why Americans are just now catching on to the trend.

When I see fashionable women in New York, I often see them wearing a big man’s watch with no tweaking at all,” said Odenheimer. “But when we look at the Midwest market, particularly theirwatches, if they’re larger, they definitely have to be feminine.”

To do that, Anne Klein New York has created men’s styles in colors like yellow and teal for the women’s market. The strap, dial and case are identical to something they would design for a man. “You can take the most masculine case in the world,” Odenheimer explained, “put a pink dial and strap on it and it’s a really great ladies’ watch.”

Pink, of course, could turn even combat boots feminine and the same works here. Trailing pink in popularity are shades of light blue, green and orange.

Another reason men’s watches are becoming popular is the simple fact that women love to borrow from men. “I think it comes from that feeling of wearing a boyfriend’s button-down shirt but with a T-shirt underneath or denim jacket over it,” hypothesized Fossil’s Beach, echoing Lyum’s assessment about women taking the masculine and turning it into something uniquely feminine.

For the last few seasons, Fossil has been successful with its wide leather cuff styles, a trend that appealed to both men and women. For men, styles included a large square case on a wide brown leather cuff. But paint some purple flowers on the leather strap and it becomes distinctly feminine.

Firms noted that the trend toward larger watches is unique to leather straps. Metal bracelets with large cases, they point out, are too heavy and bulky for the female customer, not to mention that it’s more difficult to add pretty colors and designs to metal straps.

The larger cases on men’s styles do, however, allow for creativity with fonts and design.

“What a better way to show color,” said Floy Wakuya, Guess watches‘ vice president of U.S. marketing and product development. “[The big cases] are a great surface for all of us, because normally we have these little bitsy areas to work with.”

Though the brand has styles like Canteen, a cotton cuff strap with grommets done in black for men and pink for women, it has others in its Guess Collection where the differences are more subtle.

“We have some watches that both men and women wear,” Wakuya said. “They’re the exact same case and the exact same bracelet. But the dial that men gravitate to has much bolder numbers, and the female ones are slightly more refined.”

Fossil net leaps 86.6%

Buoyed by robust demand for watches, Fossil Inc. reported fourth-quarter earnings vaulted 86.6 percent on a 27.3 percent sales gain.

In the quarter ended Jan. 2, earnings rose to $12.7 million, or 58 cents a share diluted, from $6.8 million, or 32 cents, a year ago. Sales ran up to $101.1 million from $79.4 million.

John Talbot, vice president of marketing, said Fossil continued to benefit from strong demand for watches, noting department stores were allocating more space to the category, and new specialty concepts such as Watch World and Watch Station were expanding.

If you look at malls, there’s just a lot more space dedicated to watches than there was five years ago. It’s not just market share gains that we’re seeing, but gains in an expanding marketplace,” Talbot said.

In the U.S., watch sales grew 34.9 percent in the quarter to $46.3 million, reflecting significant volume increases in the Fossil brand as well as the continued roll out of the licensed Emporio Armani watch line. Other products, primarily sunglasses and leather goods, nudged up 7.3 percent to $16.5 million.

Store sales gained 31.1 percent to $9.7 million from $7.4 million. Randy Kercho, chief financial officer, said same-store sales advanced 19 percent at Fossil’s mall stores and climbed 9 percent at its outlet stores.

Fossil now has nine mall stores and 28 outlet stores. It added three mall stores and one outlet last year.

In Europe, sales jumped 50.3 percent in the quarter to $21.8 million, but sales to other international regions slid 12.1 percent to $7.2 million, reflecting weakness in Asia.

Gross margins improved to 49.4 percent from 48 percent, reflecting strength in the U.S. dollar against the Japanese yen and an increase in Fossil’s sales mix of watches and products sold at its own stores. Selling, general and administrative expenses were reduced to 22.3 percent from 23.7 percent, reflecting increased leverage against sales increases.

In the year, earnings rose 69.8 percent to $32.2 million, or $1.48 a share, from $18.9 million, or 91 cents, a year ago. Sales climbed 24.5 percent to $304.7 million from $244.8 million.

In the U.S., sales of watches jumped 35.3 percent to $137 million, other products gained 9.2 percent to $52 million and stores’s sales increased 30.5 percent to $26.1 million. Internationally, European sales advanced 38.7 percent to $62.7 million, but sales in other regions slumped 12.7 percent to $26.9 million.