Watch seller Wempe signs lease at Rolex building on Fifth Avenue

From left: Lansco EVP’s Robin Abrams and Alan Victor and Wempe’s future home

Luxury watch and jewelry retailer Wempe signed a long-term lease at 665 Fifth Avenue last month, public records filed yesterday show, just two blocks south of another location it has had for decades at the Peninsula New York.

Wempe, the German manufacturer and retailer of jewelry and watches, inked the 15-year deal at the 12-story building at the corner of 53rd Street, owned by watch wholesaler Rolex, on Sept. 16, the public records show. The lease includes seven months of free rent until payments begin May 2012, the document filed with the city, known as a memorandum of lease, says.

Wempe will occupy 1,600 square feet on the ground floor and 1,277 square feet on the lower level, in space formerly occupied by flashy retailer Just Cavalli. The asking rent for the space began at $2,200 per foot and rose to $2,400 per foot, sources familiar with the deal said. The store is expected to open in time for holiday shopping, sources said. The actual rent was not disclosed.

Robin Abrams and Alan Victor, executive vice presidents at Lansco, along with co-broker Frank Gallo of Core Plus Partners, represented the landlord, Rolex. They declined to comment. No tenant has been identified for the other portion of the former Just Cavalli space, comprised of 1,250 square feet on the ground floor. Sources said Wempe represented itself. Wempe referred requests for comment to the president of American Wempe, but he was not available.

The Asking Rent Was Just Above The Average Asking Rent For Fifth Avenue between 49th and 59th streets, which a report this month from commercial firm CBRE shows to be $2,318 per square foot in the third quarter.

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The lease follows a string of deals on that portion of Fifth Avenue, the world’s most expensive retail stretch. Earlier this month, Jeff Sutton, SL Green Realty and Stonehenge Partners signed a contract to purchase a package of properties including 724 Fifth Avenue, and in July Dolce & Gabbana signed a lease at 717 Fifth Avenue. In addition, Zara is expected to vacate 691 Fifth Avenue and be replaced by another brand owned by the same Spanish apparel giant Inditex, as Zara moves into 666 Fifth Avenue in the former NBA Store at the corner of 52nd Street.  

One retail broker who asked not to be identified speculated that Wempe took the second Fifth Avenue store to counter watch retailer Tourneau, which opened a new, large store at 510 Madison Avenue in June. 

Broker Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of retail sales and leasing at Prudential Douglas Elliman, gave another reason. She said Wempe, which sells a significant amount of Rolex merchandise, has been at the Peninsula Hotel, at 700 Fifth Avenue, for decades and wanted to expand but has not been able to.

At the same time, Rolex has wanted to have its own retail presence in the city, but never opened a store, she said.

“Now that this [space] has become available, they could make a deal with Rolex,” Consolo said. “It is like a marriage made in heaven. They already have a relationship, they’ve been working together for 50 or 60 years.”

Just Cavalli, a more affordable version of the flashy Roberto Cavelli line, opened at the Fifth Avenue location in 2007 and closed in recent months. CBRE first put the space on the market as a sublease in 2010, but instead the landlord, Rolex, recaptured the lease, insiders said. Roberto Cavalli remains open at 771 Madison Avenue, at 63rd Street.

Another public document indicates Rolex paid Just Cavalli’s former American affiliate, IT USA, $1.226 million in May 2011 as part of a lease termination, but the companies did not respond to a request for comment, or declined to comment.