Focus groups conducted in the late '80s revealed "a number of people thought there were already Swiss Army Watches," says the 52-year-old exec VP. But there weren't, until 1989.
Forschner's Swiss Army Watches sold 15,000 units that first year, but that was only prelude to a $64 million business for the company in 1994, with 1.2 million units sold.
At first, the watches were distributed only through the same channels as the knives-sporting goods stores and cutlery shops. Now Mr. Mortimer has beaten a path into department and jewelry stores.
Also important to the watches' success is their palpable connection with Swiss Army Knives. The timepieces are designed in nine models with a clean, simple appearance and readable numbers.
"We're not a fashion watch," he insists. "We want a consistency of look."
The advertising, themed "Built like our Swiss Army Knives," upholds that spirit. The $1.5 million 1994 budget was spent mostly in magazines, such as Esquire, GQ and Vogue. This year the budget is being scaled back as the dollar's value plummets.
"All our costs are denominated in Swiss francs," he notes, causing costs to rise about 25%. The watch also is sold internationally, including, of course, Switzerland.
The biggest challenge was duplicating the functionality and dependability of the flagship knife. So the watches are crafted by a half-dozen Swiss watchmakers.
"It's easier for a knife to work 365 days a year than a watch," Mr. Mortimer comments.
The success of the watches are making wanna-bes a problem. "Someone put an ad on my desk for `Swiss Military Watches,"' he says. "I guess it's a compliment."