Old school watch makers don’t get Apple Watch

“What does Switzerland’s fabled watch industry make of the Apple Watch?” John Revill reports for The Wall Street Journal. “‘It looks a little cold, and lacks, for my taste, a bit of personality,’ said Jean-Claude Biver, a legendary figure among Swiss watchmakers who led the revival of Switzerland’s Blancpain brand in the 1980s before stints at Omega and Hublot. ‘It looks perfect, but perfection sometimes has a lack of sexiness.'”

“Mr. Biver, who now serves as president of French luxury group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s watch business, delivered a succinct verdict on Apple’s entrant: ‘This won’t create another crisis for the Swiss watch industry,'” Revill reports. “Still, the Apple Watch, which has been forecast to sell up to 30 million units in its first year of availability, has promised the biggest upheaval the Swiss industry has faced since competition from cheaper Japanese quartz watches brought it to its knees in the 1970s… Apple’s powerful brand, tech know-how and size make it a formidable competitor, and the company is attempting to appeal to customers’ sense of style with an array of colors and materials including 18-karat gold. The device has spawned a great deal of online fawning.”

“‘From the design point of view you cannot say it’s a watch—more an iPhone for the wrist,’ said Alain Spinedi, chief executive of privately owned Montres Louis Erard SA, referring to Apple’s popular mobile phone. ‘People may travel with it, but it won’t replace the watch you wear to a party,'” Revill reports. “Nick Hayek, chief executive of Biel-based Swatch Group, the world’s biggest watchmaker by revenue, said smartwatches like Apple’s are an opportunity. ‘Everything that makes millions of people more open to putting something on their wrist will boost the opportunities to sell more watches,’ said Mr. Hayek.”

MacDailyNews Take: Just like Palm, Motorola, Nokia, and BlackBerry sales went through the roof with the debut of iPhone.

Oh, wait.

Revill reports, “‘People want special workmanship, lovely dials, all handcrafted, they want something that is unique to them,’ said Paul Herzog, who manages the Van Cleef & Arpels boutique on Zurich’s exclusive Bahnhofstrasse, which sells watches that cost between 6,000 and 250,000 Swiss francs. Apple’s new entrant, therefore, won’t bring any big change to one of Switzerland’s mainstay industries, said Mr. Herzog.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Just getting these guys on record. And now for some quotes, new and old:

• “When you actually do the calculations, it’s millions and millions,” – Jony Ive, discussing Apple Watch’s unique design possibilities, September 9, 2014

• “There are different materials for the actual case, there’s two different sizes, you can choose one of six different straps or bands,” – Jony Ive, noting the myriad watch faces that can be chosen within Apple’s all-new, Digital Crown-controlled user interface, September 9, 2014

• “The iPhone’s willful disregard of the global handset market will come back to haunt Apple.” – Tero Kuittinen, RealMoney.com, January 18, 2007

• “The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks. In terms of its impact on the industry, the iPhone is less relevant… Apple is unlikely to make much of an impact on this market… Apple will sell a few to its fans, but the iPhone won’t make a long-term mark on the industry.” – Matthew Lynn, Bloomberg, January 15, 2007

• “We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.” – Ed Colligan, Palm CEO, November 16, 2006

Related article:
Apple Watch, the world’s first real smartwatch, will be a massive hit – September 9, 2014
Apple iWatch designer Jony Ive: Switzerland is in deep shit – September 4, 2014

56 Comments

    1. I agree with the article. As an avid runner, I plan to purchase the apple watch for its abilities to show me real time heart rate (without having to pause and push a button) and music control.
      I will wear my apple watch when on a run.
      I will, however, wear my analog watches as a carry on during the day.
      As it is, I have a collection of watches that I wear depending on the occasion. The apple watch will be an addition to that collection.

      1. “As it is, I have a collection of watches that I wear depending on the occasion. The apple watch will be an addition to that collection.”

        Right up until you find you can’t live without some amazing and convenient Apple Watch function. And they you’ll have a choice… You can wear the Apple Watch on the other wrist, at the same time as your Swiss automatic. Or, more likely, you’ll devote that precious real estate to the device that provides you with the greater functionality.

        Yes, a watch is jewellery. But it’s also a tool.
        And the better tool will win in the end.

        1. Well said it is very niave to decide before you buy a product exactly how you are going to use it. Plan as much as you like a device like this will either annoy the few or draw in the majority who suddenly find whole new ways to fit it into their lives. If you want to predict that effect beforehand probably best not to buy it in the first place.

        2. Well, history has shown that frequently the better tool doesn’t win in the end. For many males, a fine watch is the only jewellery deemed acceptable. Expensive watches are usually an emotional purchase, made with the heart, not the head. Many males are also attracted to the concept of an incredibly engineered mechanical watch on their wrist over even the finest electronic version. Yes, Apple watch will sell well and we all hope it’s a resounding success. But it will sell to a different market to the fine mechanical watch market. I for one, will use it for certain occasions, much as I already do with specialist sport watches. But when I want to feel good about myself, it will be the fine mechanical Swiss watch sitting on my wrist. Analogy: a Honda does virtually everything a Ferrari can do, and some things better, all at a fraction of the Ferrari’s price. But if I could afford it I would have the Ferrari sitting in my garage every time.

  1. More executives seemingly calm before the storm that will soon see them standing in long Swiss bread lines. Cold? Lacking in personality? The face can be anything you want it to be and goes beyond just telling time. To criticize your regular watch – Only a single date and time function? Only a single face design? No health function? No transaction technology? Etc., etc., etc.

    1. The “old school watch makers” don’t get it, because Apple Watch is NOT a “watch.” It’s an extension of the iPhone user experience. It lets iPhone do things it could not do before, with a secondary screen, interface point, and multi-sensor on the user’s wrist. It happens to tell the time, but it’s not really a “watch.” Just as iPhone makes phone calls, but it’s not really a “phone”; it’s a computer that fits in your pocket.

      1. Yes and if you think about it calling it just a watch seems to underserve the device, pointing out only one function – date & time – when it is capable of so much more. But I guess people have to relate to nomenclature they know as a starting point.

  2. The Watch may not replace someone’s “party watch” initially, but as people begin to wear it daily they may find it’s something they learn to love and feel they cannot live within without … and becomes their party watch of choice.

      1. I’m not sure about that. Gold watches smell of old folk and retirement. (Nothing against old folk either as I’m getting dangerously close to being one of them). Additionally, the all gold watch has for some time smacked of poor taste, something that the Kardashians or similar people would choose. I suspect that Apple’s 18K gold watch is not the real deal either, but just gold plated. Now that really is in poor taste.

        1. No, you suspect wrong. It is 18 Karat solid gold. No plating. You don’t know what good taste is if you think that gold “smacks” of old folk and retirement, or poor taste. You are just talking as someone who cannot afford gold. That is pure envy speaking. One gram of 18K gold at today’s price is just under $30. That a weight about what a paperclip weighs. The WATCH will weigh quite a bit more than that. . . the Motorola weighs in at about 36 grams. . . and say the case of the WATCH in gold is about the same. That means the raw material for the case is almost $1100 before you talk about casting it.

          1. Swordmaker, I stand corrected then on the solid gold versus plated for the Apple watch. However without any evidence you jump to conclusions about about what I may or may not be able to afford. I have several discrete Rolex watches, but I would not be seen dead with a solid gold version. It’s not that I can’t afford solid gold, but good taste precludes buying one of them. Go ahead, look for yourself – it’s about taste and decorum. Wealth of itself does not mean that person has good taste. In fact many of the nouveau riche display vulgar taste as they labour to show everyone around them their new found wealth. You are like many on internet forums who immediately put someone down as “not being able to afford it” when they express criticism that you don’t agree with. Grow up.

            1. No, you grow up. I too can afford to wear whatever i like. But your blanket condemnation of solid gold reeks of snobbishness. . . as did your condemnation of plated gold. Let’s agree that tastes differ.

    1. BTW – I have owned and still own various Rolex watches starting in 1965. I intend to buy at least one Apple Watch. I think this watch, working with the iPhone, is as big of an announcement as the first iPhone announcement. Time will be the best analysts. Your wrist has been the best place to view information for decades as regular watches will attest.

  3. Various people in management positions react in different ways to a threat from a new competing entrant into their territory.

    We have legendary statements by Ballmer (“$500 fully subsidised, without a keyboard??!!”) or Balsillie (“The most exciting mobile trend is full Qwerty keyboards”), or Lazaridis (“Amateur hour is over!”)…

    CEOs of companies that overnight just became major incumbents challenged by Apple on their own turf are required to respond. Very few actually do this correctly. I don’t pretend to be smarter than those CEOs, but to me, much more intelligent and reasonable answer would be something like: “Apple is a formidable company with a remarkable track record of disrupting existing markets, and we are very carefully examining their offering. We are confident, though that our experience in this market will allow us to adapt to this, or any other threats that come to us from new entrants”. By flat-out dismissing a competitor, you are setting yourself up for a heap of humble pie down the road. Especially when you know that the competitor has consistently and profoundly changed every market it has entered in the last decade and a half.

    1. Very incitful.

      Sweeping statements often come back to bite the source. Plenty of examples in the tech world.
      The one I remember the best was a US govt finance official who said around 1999 that the economic boom was here to stay indefinitely. A voice at the back of my mind told me that there was something wrong about that statement. In the next 12 months we say Apple stock being hit followed by everyone else as the dot com bubble burst.
      I have a feeling that the official knew the end was nigh but was trying to put on a brave face to prevent panic. It didn’t help and only served to encourage people to invest in stocks that were already heavily inflated.

      1. You’ve incited me to ask: Did you really mean “incitful” (if so, you’ve just coined a new word, but I suggest “inciteful” instead) or did you mean “insightful?”

    2. I hope Predrag’s point of view is shared by watch executives, but only in private. In public statements, they don’t want to do anything to boost Apple’s chances in what was their playground.

  4. I don’t always wear a watch, but when I do, I want functionality, not a show-off piece letting people know I can afford some Swiss bauble. I can’t imagine more functionality than the Apple Watch.

  5. Why wouldn’t you wear this to a party? It seems totally appropriate as then you can be less anti social by not pulling your phone out every so often to check it. Instead you can get only your most important notifications pushed right to your wrist without disrupting others.

  6. One of the best features of the Apple Watch is the way the straps connect to the body. Very easy to remove but secure at the same time.
    It is that type of innovation that floors me with Apple. They look at a product with open eyes and no preconception so that they can reinvent without bias.
    I don’t often buy a 1st gen Apple product but in this case probably will. ApplePay, exercise and health monitoring makes this hard to turn down.

  7. I’m not so sure the Swiss watches are as doomed as RIM and many others.

    The advent of moderate sized, attractive, economy cars has not destroyed the market for urban trucks that have never carried anything more than a bit of shopping and who have never gone off road. And I’m sure you’ve seen those people driving a Lexus or a Jaguar who can barely drive at all. I.e. they are not being bought for actual function — and more than a $100,000 watch is bought for function now. They are bought for image.

    Similarly, the existence of $600 suits has not destroyed the market for $10,000 suits.

    And so on.

    I think there will remain a strong market for expensive suits and expensive exclusive watches.

      1. Innovation has transformed the watch industry before. Sometimes it just got a new generation to wear them: like digital watches, calculator watches and watches that could also serve as a universal IR remote control.

        But innovation has changed the watch industry almost universally before too. Both through tech advances and through the idea of a wristband, the watch moved from the pocket to the wrist. Pocket watches still exist, but as a small minority of the market. Apple Watch may have a deep effect on the market as well.

        I for one am not sure whether I’ll get one, but throughout the day I pull my phone (which also performs myriad other functions) out to check time.

        Granted I could purchase a cheap watch to do that, but it might be advantageous to spend a little more and have a device that not only gives me the time, but can alleviate the need to reach for my phone for other tasks as well, like checking my schedule and reading and composing messages.

        And of course checking the phase of the moon.

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