Swiss watch companies earn approximately two-thirds of the revenue driven by global watch sales. They managed to outstay the Quartz crisis of the 1970s, and many argue they will equally outstay the tech boom. They are, ironically, seen as timeless. Even high fashion brands have noticed the perennial appeal of the luxury watch, and have been quick to jump on board and release their own varieties. Hermes, Dior, and most recently Armani, have all sought to earn a place on your wrist with one of their gilded offerings.
Way back in 2012, Pebble’s pitch for an electronic watch that synced to your smartphone broke Kickstarter records. From here on, it seemed apparent that watches were the natural inheritor of the smart device crown. In April 2015, Apple, the towering giant of the portable tech field, released their very own Apple Watch. It seemed as though this would surely be the final death knoll of the six hundred year old watch industry as we knew it. Indeed, in the final quarter of 2015 smartwatches outsold Swiss watches for the first time, causing shockwaves through the traditionalists’ workshops.
Is the Future Android?
Right now, it looks as though the Apple Watch cannot sustain its meteoric ascent. Despite still selling well and continuing to be the smartwatch market leader, the figures are not a patch on what was once predicted. Recent projections estimate the sale of smartwatches to rise by 18% this year, but this upward curve is based on improving Android sales.
Back in February, the details for Google’s new attack on the market were released. The Android Wear 2.0 update signalled big things: compatibility for iOS as well as Android, plenty of space for brand customization, a dedicated Play Store for apps to be downloaded directly onto the watch without use of a phone, and much more. With no Apple updates on the horizon to compete, it certainly looks as though moving forward the ball is in Google’s court.
To Modernise and Mechanise
Amidst this divided landscape, some brands are trying to carve a middle way for themselves. TAG Heuer, amongst others, have recently begun releasing hybrid-style watches. Using the classic charm and appeal of their traditional models, the traditional Swiss luxury brand have been pursuing new ways to fuse smart elements into their watches with the ‘Connected’ range.
The recently released TAG Connected Modular 45 is a perfect example of how companies are trying to gauge the future of the watch market. Officially designated as ‘Swiss made’, this model is enormously customisable with over thirty difference faces to choose from and up to 4,000 unique configurations. The most interesting aspect perhaps is that this model allows you to move between an electronic and mechanical mode easily, with both types of modules able to attach to the watch’s lugs.
Perhaps TAG’s approach seems like they are hedging their bets, but it is at least covering them from the latest accusation being thrown at digital models: the threat of obsolescence. It is too early to say for certain whether this theory has ground, but it is true that the technology of smartwatches has not yet been proven to endure any particular lifespan. The issue of whether technological and security updates can equally move across to the watch without affecting performance is still another key source of contention.
The View from Here
Depending on who you ask, people will tell you with absolute conviction that traditional Swiss watchmakers are on the way out, or that smartwatches will be the latest wearable tech fad to die a slow death in the upcoming years. At this point, it certainly seems too difficult to call. It is certain, however, that both sides are aware that they will have to bring something new to their business models in order to compete.