Small time: a look at some of the fashion watch field’s lesser known up-and-comers

Small companies in the fashion watch industry include jewelry maker Maximal Art Inc., which assembles watch components from foreign and domestic makers. Anni & Co., based in New Mexico, makes watches bearing the same designs as its silver jewelry. DeJuno Corp., which has expanded its markets from Asia to the US, sells fashion wrist watches in the $35 to $50 category.

Just about everyone in and out of the fashion industry knows the big names in fashion watches, the brands such as Timex, Fossil, Guess and Anne Klein that can be found in stores around the country and even around the world.

But beneath that layer of industry giants is a group of diverse for that may not have the advertising budgets or distribution levels of the major players but have managed to carve out comfortable niches for themselves nonetheless.

Here, a look at three such companies that are making their names known.

Maximal Art

This Philadelphia company got started in 1986 and originally specialized in Victorian-look “collage” jewelry that incorporated watch parts.

“Some of the bracelets we did actually looked like watches, but of course they weren’t,” said John Wind, designer and chief executive officer. “Finally, we got so many requests to make real workingwatches that we started to do them, and the business just took off.”

Initially, Wind noted, the watches were purchased from the Far East and then reworked into pieces that bore Maximal Art’s trademark romantic look. Now, however, the company buys the watch parts and movements from various domestic and foreign sources and assembles everything itself.

Though he still makes jewelry, Wind said watches have become the biggest part of his business. Surprisingly, the company has been able to grow steadily without doing any department store business.

“We sell mainly to boutiques, galleries, museum shops and catalogs,” Wind said. “We’ve found those types of accounts to be very loyal to our brand.”

Anni & Co.

“I actually consider myself a designer who just happens to do watches — more than a watchmaker,” said Juan Geyer, designer and owner of Anni & Co., a New Mexico-based accessories company that produces watches, jewelry and other products such as home accessories.

Geyer has always produced sterling silver jewelry but introduced a line of watches three years ago,watches that incorporated many of the same motifs used in the jewelry.

“In Japanese, the word ‘Anni’ means good feeling, and that’s what I try to work into all my designs,” he noted. The watch cases, for instance, depict smiling dogs, cats or children made of sterling silver.

Geyer sells the watches mostly to upscale specialty stores and catalogs. While his sterling silver pieces retail for around $200 each, this year he will be introducing a line of silverplated watches that will sell in the $75 to $100 range.

“The thing I like about doing watches is that the technology in the watch field has become so advanced that designers Eke myself can make them look like pieces of jewelry without worrying about the movements being bulky and ruining the look of the piece,” Geyer noted.

DeJuno Corp.

Breaking into the department store ranks is a big goal for this company, which has been operating in the Far East for many years and opened a U.S. division several years ago.

“As a company, we had been doing manufacturing for other watch firms for years, but then we decided that it would be well worth our while to develop our own brand,” said Bruce Rose, vice president of sales and marketing for the company, which has its U.S. headquarters in New York. “And since the U.S. is the biggest market in the world for fashion watches, we have decided to focus our efforts here.”

While 75 percent of DeJuno’s business is done outside the U.S., Rose said the firm is making studies here. It has already begun selling to some major department stores and is seeking to develop more.

“Our watches retail for $35 to $55, which is to our advantage because there aren’t really any other fashion watch companies filling that price niche in department stores,” he said.

In addition, the company is also rolling out its first licensed line, the Wilhwear watch brand that it will introduce at retail this spring, Rose said.

“We feel that this particular designer brand has a lot of potential in terms of appealing to a wide audience,” he noted. “With this kind of name, we think we can establish an even bigger piece of the department store pie.”

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