The latest novelties: from Bugs Bunny to Barney to Superman, novelty manufacturers are having the last laugh

Novelty watches are a growing segment for watch manufacturers, which continue to come out with new products to keep up with the times. Sutton Time offers novelty watches for $9.95-$24 wholesale, and its hottest item is the Barney watch for children. Callanen International reports that 22% of its Guess watch sales are in the novelty area. Its Indiglo group of Guess watches glow in the dark and are priced at $27.50-$35 wholesale. Swatch is offering a M C Escher watch for $20 wholesale.

Several watch companies see the novelty area as an opportunity for growth, and that’s the direction they’re headed for May market.

Mark Odenheimer, vice president of Sutton Time, which produces Barney, Snoopy, Garfield, Looney Tunes and Crayola watches, in addition to Anne Klein and Anne Klein II, said that he sees a greater emphasis on novelty.

“It’s an escape,” he explained. “The Barney watch is for children, but our other novelty styles are as much for adults as for children. Years ago, Mickey Mouse watches were just for kids. Now you see men in business suits wearing them. People have a sense of humor and want to laugh.”

Odenheimer said that the company expects to see gains during May market, in large part because of the new licensed Barney watch line. Wholesale prices for Sutton’s novelty offerings range from $9.95 to $25.

Fossil Inc. is coming out with three limited-edition Superman watches under a licensing agreement with DC Comics. The first, which has a black leather band and gunmetal face with a relief of the Superman “S” logo, began shipping in late March and wholesales for $35. Packaged in a black molded plastic box shaped like the logo, it commemorates the death of Superman and comes with a metal tack pin commemorating Superman’s birth in 1938 and death in 1992. Production is limited to 10,000 pieces. The company is also introducing a Roy Rogers watch which wholesales for $35, through a licensing agreement with Guide White.

Merk Harbour, marketing representative for Fossil, said that novelty is a growing area in the watch market. “I think it has a lot to do with the fact that people have a lot of interests and hobbies that are somehow related to novelty themes,” he notes. “Novelty is a way for us to capture that audience. People want something that’s new and different.

“People are looking for something new, and we are changing our product all of the time,” said Mickey Callanen, president of Callanen International, which holds the license for Guess watches. He estimates that novelty represents 22 percent of Guess’s total business.

Callanen is optimistic about May market, pointing out that, only a few months into 1993, the company is already 31 percent ahead of last year.

New on the Guess novelty scene is the “Indiglo” group, a glow-in-the-dark style, available in seven styles and wholesaling from $27.50 to $35. New styles with the Guess logo on the strap and face will be shown, including silver printed logos on a leather strap and a silver face with checks or a mirror shard with a logo.

And novelty, of course, has always been what has defined Swatch.

New additions to Swatch for fall include a design by Jean Claude Castelbajac in primary colors on a white ground and one inspired by the artist M.C. Escher, featuring a three-dimensional design in shades of black and gray. Both wholesale for $20. A limited-edition platinum Swatch will be also available in September, retailing at $1,800.