Watches are the latest item to attract designer licensing deals. As watches become more of a fashion accessory, and consumers start buying wardrobes of watches, designers are capitalizing on the trend.

As Bill Blass sees it, “Watches have become like the concept of fragrances the consumer finds a label that suits him or her and buys it.’

Bill Blass watches are distributed by Robert Tabakow Co., a division of Jewelcor, Inc., based in Pennsylvania. Tabakow handles 10 other designer names including Givenchy, Nina Ricci, Oscar de la Renta and Pierre Cardin. A Jewelcor division, Gruen, manufactures the Blass watch line. Blass receives royalties between 5 and 10 percent, according to Earl Zimbler, vice president of marketing at Tabakow. The line wholesales from $45 to $135 and currently it is Tabakow’s biggest volume generator.

Through another licensing pact, Tabakow was recently named the exclusive distributor of Oscar de la Renta watches, manufactured by Martin Newman International. Martin Newman, owner, said the designer approves all designs for the watches, which wholesale from $60 to $125.

Tabakow will sign still another watch licensing agreement with Givenchy in June to be its executive distributor in the United States. “The watches used to be available primarily in our boutiques. We are expanding our distribution because the market for designer watches is rapidly growing,’ said an executive at Givenchy.

Steve Holtzman, vice president of sales at Tabakow, attributes the growth in the watch category to the success of Swatch watches.

“Swatch made watches a fashion accessory, and when watches became related to fashion, designers wanted to get involved,’ said Holtzman. “There is a lot of open-to-buy in the market, and good opportunities for watch manufacturers.’

Christian Dior is already an established watch name in Europe. Christian Dior-New York has licensed the Dior name to manufacture a line of watches for distribution in the U.S. by Memox Corp. Memox does private label watch lines for some major department stores. According to James DeMattei, vice president of Memox, Dior’s New York and Paris design staffs were involved in the designing of each watch in the collection, which took a year to develop. “We wanted the look of the watches to be clean and fresh, like the Dior look. The watch completes the total Dior look from head to toe,’ he said.

The collection will wholesale for $95 to $140; Dior will receive between 5 and 10 percent of sales in royalties. “We are in the fine jewelry price range and retailers are looking to develop this area, because there are so many watches at lower price points,’ said DeMattei.

Calvin Klein also recently introduced his watch collection by Emerich Meerson, which has licenseed the Klein name. The watches retail from $175 to $475, and opened in the stores in May.