AMSTERDAM: Looking for the perfect watch? The internet has a wealth of resources to find just the right accessory for your wrist - new, gently used, antique, or custom-made.
With the variety and vintages of watches available and the intense interest shown by watch collectors and enthusiasts, finding an ideal timepiece on the Web has never been easier at well-known sites like Amazon.com or eBay.
But smaller watchmakers are tapping into the Web with a novel proposition for buyers: a custom-designed watch, built-to-order and delivered in 10 days.
Operating without retail outlets in a town on the outskirts of the Swiss watch making city of Geneva, 121TIME has built an online store - www.121time.com - offering customized and personalized certified Swiss watches.
"We are special," said Daniel Morf, one of 121TIME's co-founders. "Technology now enables the consumer to create his or her own watch."
In the Netherlands, although it is not as well known for watches as Switzerland, a watchmaker called Blancier also invites Web users to design their own watches at www.blancier.nl, with a choice of 7 different movements, an equal number of bezels and 9 dials.
Building your own products is not new to the web. Shoe maker Nike Inc. allows buyers to customize and order shoes and apparel through its NIKEiD website nikeid.nike.com.
But in watch making, like with other jewelry, most people want to be able to hold the product in their hands to see how it feels, so Web-based watch design has only recently taken root.
In terms of sales, 121TIME's are minuscule compared to the 13.7 billion Swiss francs ($US11.36 billion) worth of watches exported last year by iconic Swiss watchmakers such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Panerai, Omega, Vacheron Constantin and Swatch.
Morf and 121TIME co-founder Frederic Polli say they have sold about 10,000 watches since 2001.
With prices in the range of roughly $US300 to $US1,000, it doesn't translate into much, but the two say their Web platform allows them to expand the business and sell to a global market, avoiding distribution deals that inflate watch prices.
Jean-Claude Roustant, secretary-general of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, a Swiss fine timepiece organization, says that an increasing number of customers are looking for exclusivity in watch design.
"If we speak of fine watch making, that is the case more and more," Roustant said. "More people want to express themselves differently."
Roustant was speaking of the more conventional - and expensive ways of getting that coveted "perfect" watch.
In December, Vacheron Constantin, owned by Richemont, began inviting well-to-do customers to customize their own watches. The price: $US1 million and up.
Another Geneva watchmaker, Romaine Jerome, is using steel and coal salvaged from the Titanic shipwreck to create a limited number of "Titanic-DNA" luxury wristwatches.
Romaine Jerome will make 2,012 watches, priced $US7,800 to $US173,100, to mark the centenary anniversary of the legendary ocean liner's sinking in 2012.
For the truly manic - those who build as well as repair their own watches - parts such as dials, bezels, crowns, cases and straps are available on eBay in addition to used and vintage watches.
"The internet is big competition," said Toesja de Vries, who together with her husband runs a watch shop just around the corner from one of Amsterdam's canals.
De Vries says, however, that people still want to feel the heft of a watch and often come to Amsterdam Watch Company to find a rare vintage model just as exclusive as a brand-new timepiece.
"With vintage watches they want something that no one else has."