Gedalio Grinberg, former chairman of Movado Group Inc. (Paramus, N.J.), died last weekend in New York. He was 77.
According to an obituary in the New York Times, Grinberg sold his first clock in his native Cuba for $18, when he was 15 years old. His father owned a jewelry shop in the Cuban town of Quivican, so Grinberg was able to secure an alarm clock for a local shoemaker. That led to a little alarm clock business. As a business student at the University of Havana, he expanded it to specialize in watches, then became a protégé of the Cuban distributor of Omega watches.
He, his wife and two children fled to Miami in 1960, shortly after the Castro revolution. When two other Cuban refugees asked him to help set up a Piaget distributorship in New York, he jumped at the chance, though their entire inventory was in one suitcase. The company, known for years as the North American Watch Co., first distributed other companies’ Swiss watches. It then acquired its own watch companies, including Movado and Concord, and later developed watches for well-known designer clothing brands like Hugo Boss.
After buying Movado in 1983, Grinberg acquired the rights to a famous modernistic watch face with a black dial, no numbers and a gold dot at 12 o’clock, designed by Nathan George Horwitt. Horwitt’s prototype is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art so Grinberg marketed it as the “museum watch,” and sold millions of them. He was also instrumental in turning other expensive wristwatches, like Piaget, into widely advertised portable status symbols with mass appeal.
Grinberg said his inspiration was the 1959 Vance Packard book, “The Status Seekers,” which told how Americans strove to communicate special status amid the general abundance of post-war America. In an interview last year with Women’s Wear Daily, Grinberg said he wanted people to believe that a watch on a wrist could be as impressive as a Cadillac in a driveway.
Grinberg donated the 18-foot clock tower, designed by the architect Philip Johnson, to Dante Park, across the street from Lincoln Center. The sculpture has four timepieces, two on one side, and one on each of the other two. The Movado name is written in small letters on each clock face.