Skagen Designs: Becoming an International Player in Designed Watches

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Skagen Designs: Becoming an international player in designed watches

Towards the end of 2006 Charlotte and Henrik Jorst can look back at 15 hectic, but successful years. Their company was founded in an apartment in New York, from where its first marketing efforts took place. The two entrepreneurs started selling relatively expensive watches bearing a logo that American companies might use a company presents. During the Gulf Crisis it was, however, very difficult to sell watches in that price range. Therefore, in 1990 Charlotte and Henrik visited a watch fair in Basel in order to find a manufacturer who was able to produce the watched at a lower cost price. They found a Danish owned company. Comtech Watches, with headquarters in Aarchus and clock and watch factory in Hong Kong.

In 1992 Charlotte and Henrik had an annual turnover of US$800,000, primarily through an advertisement on the back page of a big mail-order catalogue for Father’s Day. Since then events followed each other in quick succession. In 1995 the chain, Bloomingdale’s, included the Skagen Design watches in its assortment and other retail chains like Macy’s, Nordstrom and Watch World have followed. In addition, the watches are sold in big gift and design shops. In 1998 Skagen Design had an annual turnover of almost US$30 million; in 2005 turnover had increased to approximately US$70 million.

Skagen designs – the story in brief

1986: Party at Carlsberg. Even though Henrik Jorst has brought his girlfriend, he manages to make Charlotte Kjolbye hie neighbor at dinner, and they fall head over heels in love. Shortly after the party Carlsberg sends Henrik to New York. From New York Henrik manages Carlsberg’s USA sales. Charlotte stays on for a year and a half in Denmark keeping in close contact with Henrik on the phone.

1988: Charlotte joins Henrik in the United States and reigns as Miss Carlsberg for the summer and fall month. After a Danish colleagues sends them a few of his sample corporate watches to sell in the United States, Charlotte and Henrik embark on their dream of starting their own business and begin working in the world of watches. Charlotte and Henrik are married in May.


1990: Henrik quits his job at Carlsberg. Charlotte walks about the streets of New York trying to sell the Danish Jacob Jensen watches to watchmakers. They have hardly any money. Charlotte gives birth to their daughter Christine.

1991: The Jorsts design a few sample corporate watches and exhibit them at the New York Premium and Incentive Show in the spring. At this fair, several retailers notice the watches and wonder why the two Danes present them as corporate watches and not branded goods. The retailers state that if the watches were available without corporate logos they would purchase them for their stores. During the summer they produce 800 copies of four different watches with the name Skagen Denmark. Few month later all watches are sold out and an additional amount was produced.

1992: Sitting at the dinner table Henrik and Charlotte design over 30 different models, all labeled ‘Skagen Denmark’. In a New York street Charlotte meets one of the managers from the mail order giant ‘The Sharper Image’. She takes a chance, and yes, he features the Skagen watches on the back page of the Father’s Day catalogue. Everything is sold out. From the apartment in New York Henrik and Charlotte have a turnover of US$800,000.

1993: There are not many states in the US where business taxes are almost equal to zero. In Florida and Nevada this is, however, the case. One day they fly to Incline Village at Lake Tahoe – one of the world’s best ski resorts. They lose their hearts and buy a house that is much too expensive, but big. The company moves into every room from kitchen cupboards to garage. They still do it all by themselves. Charlotte gives birth to their daughter Camilla.

1995: Five years after starting the company. Now, it becomes really big. Bloomingdale’s...
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