I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the Apple Watch and what it means for the Swiss watch industry – and the watch industry as a whole. While I have written, and will write more, about the topic on TechCrunch, I thought I’d drop a few lines here.

I think, in short, that this is an iPod moment for the watch industry, something that will drastically change the way the average consumer looks at watches and, more importantly, become the catalyst for a massive shake-out. I base this on discussions I’ve had with watch people and manufacturers who are, in short, frightened. Here are my predictions:

  • The Apple Watch will be an runaway success. We will see these watches on more wrists in more places than any watch before it. General watch wearing will rise stratospherically. The Apple Watch hits a number of interesting markets. First, non-watch wearers will wear it because of the features made available. Casual watch wearers will switch. Watch nerds like us will shake our heads sadly as…
  • Many brands will go under. There will be no reason for a teenager or college-age watch buyer to desire a Fossil or CK or some other department store brand watch. There will still be a market for luxury brands, especially jewelry watches and die-hards like Rolex and Omega, but they will take a ding in profits. Kids will be actively disappointed if they get a ticking quartz watch for Christmas instead of an Apple Watch.
  • Dedicated watch shops will either carry the fancier Apple Watches or go under. The old methods of watch retail will also take a hit as customers compare the old “Go into a shop, get reamed on price by a salesman, go home ashamed” model with “Click to Buy” on the Apple Store.
  • All other smart watches will be also-rans. As much as I loved, for example, the Moto 360 and the Pebble, except for a certain sub-group of Anrdoid fans and hold-outs, the Apple Watch will be the watch to have.
  • Watch brands will have to stay smart and observant to survive – but the popularity of the Apple Watch will buoy the watch market in general. If there is any silver lining to this dinosaur-destroying watch meteorite it’s that people will be wearing watches again. It’s just not the watches that Switzerland wants them to wear.

To paraphrase Travis Bickle, “Someday a real rain will come and wash the smirks of the Swiss watch industry’s faces as they realize that their entire market has turned away from them and are instead focusing on a goofy-looking smart watch from California.” While I love the industry and hope it survives this cataclysm, I know that this thing will change the face of watchmaking as we know it. If it doesn’t, I’ll personally buy Jean-Claude Biver and any Swiss watchmaker that asks a Lillet martini.

ByJohn Biggs

John lives in Brooklyn and has loved watches since he got his first Swatch Irony automatic in 1998. He is the editor of WristWatchReview.

4 thoughts on “SMRTWTCH”
  1. Interesting thoughts.. Though I notice you are a TechCrunch contributor – so wouldn’t your opinions be slightly coloured in favour of wearables / technology early adoption? Most people might be a lot more conservative…

    Anyway..I’m not sure. I’ve tried to engage a lot of people I know who don’t wear watches, and asked them “is there a reason you don’t usually wear watches?” – not trying to sell them on a watch, or imply they’re being somehow wrong, but just straight-up asking why.
    And the response almost always is “Dunno, it doesn’t feel comfortable”. The very act of wearing a “bracelet with a weight”, for lack of better term, is what puts them off – it’s not about the design, or the concept, or setting a time (well, okay, individually some of these may pop up in addition to the comfort issue, but rarely and not as prominent).
    Because of that, I somewhat doubt that the smartwatch – even by apple – will catch on that much with people who don’t wear watches; the smartwatch doesn’t really solve their number-one problem (having to *wear* it). As for the number-two problem (“Why would I wear a watch? My phone can tell time/[insert any smartwatch function here] better and I have it with me always anyway”) – again, a smartwatch does not solve it in any way.

    Now… Would the smartwatch (okay, specifically AppleWatch) take over “serious” watch wearers – the kind of people who not only just get a mall watch, but get specific designs/looks/features? No. I’m fairly sure that that’s a solid ‘no’. The WIS community has been fairly cold about smartwatches, and it doesn’t seem likely to change much.

    So what’s left… the fashionistas? The people who usually do wear a Fossil/Invicta/CK, as you mentioned? Hmm. Yeah, I could see that. The thing is, I don’t know if they are a large-enough demographic to make the AppleWatch as much of an industry-breaking success as you say. I’m definitely not seeing the AppleWatch popping up in luxury watch stores. Mall-type watch stores that stock fashion watches? Sure. But all the ADs, and high-end stores – even if the iWatch gets on the same price-level, I still don’t see it stocked; the business-model Apple enforces goes pretty much against the way these dealers operate (as you mentioned), and the people walking into that kind of store very, very likely wouldn’t be interested in an apple watch anyway…

    Either way… Will be interesting to see how things develop in 2015/2016. I guess the best thing about our non-smart-watches is that even if the industry crashes and burns, we still have our timepieces, and will have them for decades still ^^

    1. You cannot compete with luxury brands with a product based on obsolescence as is the Apple Watch – or anything that comes out of Cupertino anyway. So in the grand scheme of things, the Swiss luxury watch industry has _very_ little to worry about.

  2. 1. In order to have the Apple Watch run properly one would need an iPhone. That, in itself, is a barrier for entry as not everyone has an iPhone. Sure there are millions out there with an iPhone but what about the other millions that have Android or Windows? This is a big difference between a smart watch that is handcuffed to another device and a Fossil/CK/Tag/Omega/Rolex watch that has no such limitations.
    2. To say that brands will go under because of the Apple Watch is a bit shortsighted and pretentious. Your usage of the iPod as an example took down the CD Warehouses the Sam Goody’s and other music stores because that industry didn’t keep up with the times and did not cater to the consumer demands. It’s an apples to oranges comparison that truly has little merit in an industry that consistently churns out product that ranges from the cheap quartz to the expensive tourbillion pieces. In other words, there is a product for all types of budgets. Last I checked, the music industry only started to pull it’s wall down because it was losing money.
    3. Apple Watch needs the watch industry and vice versa. Your last point that the watch industry needs to stay smart and observant to drive is something Captain Obvious would say. I’d say the watch industry had, has, and will continue to stay “smart and observant”. Swatch came out with the Sistem51 watch that clearly shows steps towards advancements in the industry. Just because you don’t have a touch screen on your wrist or you can’t track your heart rate on these non-smart watches doesn’t mean there hasn’t been advancement in technology within the watch industry.
    4. Cost. Do you think a $35 Timex Weekender will cease to exist because the Apple Watch will be available? There are people that can’t afford a $300 smart watch that can only be used with a specific phone and sometimes, as crazy as it may sound, a person only needs to buy/wear a watch to tell time. Just like there are people who can’t spend $3000 on a Speedmaster there are other options made available to them. Speaking of which….
    5. Watches to the true buyers and collectors is a piece of machinery that is also a piece of art. There’s a reason why a lot of watches nowadays comes with a see-through case back–because there is a true beauty in the movement. One of the reasons why the iPod was triumphant was because it replaced things that had no beauty or lasting aesthetic appeal..whether it was a Sony Discman or an Archos MP3 player. The Apple Watch can’t replace the beauty of a bauhaus watch like the Max Bill Chronoscope nor can it feel like a true craftsmanship piece like a Patek.

    If I, a relative novice to horology, had to point these things out to you then you might need to reconsider the long term strategy of your blog as, based on your own assumptions, it might be obsolete like the Fossil stores you had mentioned.

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