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Swatches Offer Wearer a Bit of Plastic Chic

November 08, 1985|ROSE-MARIE TURK

For some, the Swatch is just a pretty watch.

For Max Imgruth, the Swiss-born president of Swatch U.S.A., the colorful, plastic, Swiss-made timepieces are "fun, seductive, affordable. You buy them the way you would buy ties or bracelets. They're fashion accessories with an advantage--they tell time."

According to at least two leading business magazines, the trendy quartz timepieces, assembled by robots and lasers, have rescued the foundering Swiss watch industry.

More Than One

Not bad for a bit of plastic chic that sells for as little as $30. The average Swatch customer, according to Fortune magazine, owns three. Teen-agers who write to Imgruth own two to four, he says. Some say they want to start fan clubs, using slogans like "Go, Swatch, Go."

And Imgruth, in Los Angeles to introduce the most expensive Swatch to date--the $100 diamond-studded Limelight--says he is toying with the club idea.

If Swatch-struck fans get their wish, it means just one more company-sponsored activity aimed at attracting the young at heart.

While Swatch (a contraction of Swiss and watch) is willing to sponsor rock groups (such as the Thompson Twins), wind-surfing events and even a world-championship break-dance contest (last year at the Roxy in Manhattan), "we would never be associated with football or baseball," Imgruth explains, "because that's done by so many people. We're always up for something different."

Going after something different also means no Swatch face is allowed to stay around long. Since 1983, when the red-and-white Tennis Swatch hit the market, the company has introduced 150 designs, always in limited production, as well as the Maxi-Swatch wall clocks and fashion accessories, such as sunglasses.

Plastic watch-strap replacements will soon be available, Imgruth says. And Swatch collectors will be heartened to learn that Lucite cases--large enough to display 12 watches--are planned.

It is imagined that collectors (whose two favorites, Jellyfish and Nautical Flags, are no longer in production) will covet new timepieces designed by New York graffiti artist Keith Haring. The first of four Haring designs will arrive in stores at the end of this month.

Imgruth, born in Switzerland, studied business at the University of Basel and art history at the University of Florence, followed by fashion design at the Technical Institute of Milan and marketing at New York University.

Design and marketing within the Swiss watch industry became his forte, and in 1983, Swatch selected him as president of Swatch U.S.A. Imgruth's strategy--marketing the colorful timepieces in upscale stores where they are regarded as fashion accessories--has increased sales from $3 million in 1983 to $105 million in 1985.

And Now Counterfeits

The shock-resistant, water-resistant Swatch is currently hot enough to warrant counterfeit copies. The FBI, Imgruth reports, recently confiscated 25,000 fakes. Ironically, a feature that bothers some Swatch owners helps separate the genuine article from the imposter.

The tick of the timepiece, which can only be described as loud, is one way to identify a true Swatch.

"But it hasn't been that big of a problem," Imgruth explains. "In many instances, it has a calming effect."

For those who don't find the tick calming in the still of the night, Imgruth suggests they do as he does. He places his Swatch--pretty face down--on the carpet before he goes to bed.

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