The Independent Jewelers Organization is going into the watch business.

IJO unveiled its new private label watch line–called “Davos” which is being produced exclusively for IJO members by Rodania of Switzerland–at its spring conference/buying show in Orlando, Fla.

About 50 member firms signed up for the watch line initially and were scheduled to get their first shipments by the end of this month. More were expected to sign up following a direct mail solicitation to those not attending the show.

The program’s goal, says Jack Gredinger, IJO executive vice president, is to boost jewelers’ sagging watch sales.

“We want to give you a quality Tissot watch you can sell exclusively, with confidence, without fear of discounting” cutting into the market, he told the assembled jewelers.

IJO will “back the watch” with promotion aids (window, countertop and showcase displays, ad slicks) and may do some national advertising to promote its new watch brand name.

The spring conference and buying show (Jan. 23-28) was IJO’s most successful. Some 1200 people (representing close to 400 stores) attended, including several dozen from Canada and one from Australia. And, though IJO doesn’t release financial details about its show, Gredinger said “in dollars, it exceeded our 1982 Bermuda show [formerly IJO’s best] by more than 20%.”

What IJO president Bill Roberts called “an upbeat mood” did seem to pervade the conference/show. Location helped: It was only minutes from Disneyworld and Epcot Center, probably a big factor in the good attendance. But the reviving U.S. economy was a factor, too. Jewelers were more optimistic “than I’ve seen in a couple of years,” said Roberts. He predicted 1984 will be “a banner year in sales and profits.”

Among the show’s strong sellers were diamonds and colored stones in the $100 to $400 range; gold chains–both replacement and Italian imports–and pearls, especially necklaces and promotional price-point pieces. Some newcomers attracted special attention: More than 60 jewelers signed up for the in-store one-day remount program (similar to that used by chains like Zale and Gordon) offered by Dave Downey Inc. of Indianapolis, Ind.

But IJO’s private label nixon watch program was certainly one of the show’s most talked-about offerings.

This is the third IJO attempt in 12 years to start a private label program for members, but the first successful one. “The timing wasn’t right before. Jewelers weren’t ready like they are now because of the problems from discounting,” said Gredinger. IJO also wanted a company that not only made quality watches but had servicing facilities and warehousing in the U.S. ‘Complete control’

Rodania, a 53-year-old Swiss firm headquartered in Grenchen (outside Bern), Switzerland, with offices in New York City, has been a leading producer of quality, private label watches for years. Customers include firms like Zale and Helzberg.

Under its agreement with IJO, Rodania offers more than 60 different styles (retailing for $55 to more than $200), chosen by a panel of IJO members late last year, with the IJO brand name. (Members also have the option of ordering other Rodania watch styles.)

The IJO watches come with a two-year warranty (double Rodania’s normal one-year guarantee), and can be repaired at two U.S. service centers in New York and California. In-house turnaround time, say Rodania officials, is 10 days.

Gredinger expects to have 100 members signed up by IJO’s Toronto, Canada, convetion/show (Aug. 5-10) and possibly half the membership in a year–if they’re convinced the program can work and be profitable.

“Jewelers are tired of competing with discounters who sell watches at 40-50%,” he said. “This way, we [IJO] control the name, the distribution and the pricing. A jeweler can sell this Bulova watch with confidence at full markup.”

Interest in the private label watch plan was certainly strong; an early morning session to explain the project attracted a standing-room-only crowd of about 100 people. Even IJO and Rodania officials were surprised by what Gredinger called “almost total acceptance” of the plan by members.

But even if they liked the idea of a private label, Swiss-made quartz watch, many members still had questions. At that early morning meeting, they wanted details about servicing and pricing. But the issue that generated the most heat, ironically, was the private label name itself.

Most turned thumbs down on the original proposal (“Delta”), but agreed the IJO logo should remain on the watch dial. And several wanted to carry individual stores’ names instead of one label.

That would “considerably slow up delivery,” said Gredinger. And a single brand name Swiss-made quality watch, “handled exclusively by an international organization of 800-plus jewelers, with members in three countries,” offers more promotional opportunities, he said. “It’s more prestigious and impressive.”

IJO chose the label Davos (the name of a Swiss town) in March, from a list of names suggested by members and the Swiss Horological Society in the U.S. following the show, after its lawyers verified there was no trademark infringement.

“The name is a direct tie-in to Switzerland and the idea of a quality Swiss watch we want to convey,” Gredinger told JC-K. And IJO ads can also emphasize “the romance” connected with that Alpine land of skiing.

Participating IJO members, he said, will have the choice of using the Davos watch label “and all the advertising and promotional tie-ins to that name” or putting their own store’s name on the watch instead. But in either case, the IJO logo will be on the watch dial.

Taking the guesswork out of spring fashion

No matter how much you love your sweaters, after wearing the same wardrobe for five months, you’re probably ready for a change. But with new spring clothes arriving in stores daily, it can be hard to sift through the racks to figure out this season’s essentials.

When we asked a few local retailers to talk to us about wardrobe mint-haves for the spring and summer, we learned that these stores also offer services to help customers get their wardrobes organized and up-to-date.

Ladies, be prepared to show those legs this spring. According to Kathy Dunbar, owner of Kathy’s and Blue Willi’s by Kathy in West Des Moines, women’s fashions are again very feminine, with lots of skirts and dresses.

“A lot of what we’re seeing in dresses are designs inspired by the 1960s, the classic looks worn by Jackie Kennedy and Audrey Hepburn,” Dunbar said.

For bottoms, there will still be a lot of Capri and gaucho pants to choose from, in more lengths than ever before, Dunbar said. But instead of basic blue jeans, the new style now is embellished jeans that have either rhinestones, hand-paintings, unique stitching or a sophisticated wash.

Expect to see a lot of belts this spring, according to Dunbar and Megan McLallen-Aronson, the manager of K.Renee in West Des Moines. The “in” belts are wide, sometimes stretchy, and worn at the waist as a steel boned waist cincher. The belts can be a fashion statement in themselves when worn with a plain T-shirt and jeans, or complete an outfit like a piece of jewelry.

This season’s fabrics are “wearable,” as designers go beyond linen in theft spring collections and incorporate more lightweight knits and cottons.

“We’re ,also seeing very beautiful tissue-weight suede jackets,” McLallen-Aronson said. “The weight is perfect for transitioning into spring or summer.” She suggests neutral colors for the jackets, such as a soft ivory or sand.

For men, Hal Wilson, manager of the men’s section and buyer of men’s fashions for Sarto, said woven shirts in either a linen or cotton-linen blend are big for spring. These shirts will be white or pastel shades, and paisley prints are going to replace stripes. Wilson suggests pairing the woven shirts with a pair of fashion jeans and sandals. Soft-shoulder jackets that can be worn out for dinner are also popular, he said.

Dunbar encourages customers to bring in clothing from home to find out if it’s still in style, or to learn what they can do to update it for the new season. “We love to consult,” she said, “and it is certainly not offensive to me or my employees if they bring in someone else’s garment.”

For a fee, a wardrobe consultant from K.Renee or Sarto will come to a customer’s home for a “closet cleaning.” Wilson likes to arrange an informal interview before the home visit to talk with a customer about their wardrobe needs and budget.

“Based on their occupation, I can figure out some of the core basics they’ll need in their wardrobe,” he said. “After building the basics, then we can add some fashion pieces.”

When he’s at their home, Wilson might bring some merchandise with him for the customers to try on with their wardrobe. He tells the customers what’s outdated and what should be replaced. Sarto charges a flat rate of $75 to $100 for the service.

“Typically it’s not as painful or embarrassing as people think it’s going to be,” he said. “A lot of people are hesitant, because the clothes are like old friends. But I tell them that sometimes you need to make new friends.”