Does the Apple Watch really pose a big risk to the Swiss watch industry, asks Ken Kessler
Unsurprisingly, the Apple Watch has given pessimists and pundits a billion-dollar excuse to remind everyone what happened 40 years ago, when quartz almost destroyed the Swiss watch industry. But not only did the analogue, spring-driven watch survive that threat of a cheaper timepiece with greater accuracy than anything mechanical: it flourished. Unless, that is, you know of a quartz watch with even a trace of the joy of ownership conferred by a fine wristwatch with a traditional movement?
As of 2015, the Swiss watch industry is contracting, but not because of smart watches – which have been around for a decade-plus when you think of all the Casio G-Shocks and other clever watches that have gone before. Instead it’s due to the same global concerns that affect every industry: currency fluctuations, China’s and Russia’s economic woes, etc.
To the surprise of the Swiss, the mechanical wristwatch has developed an appeal as the ultimate portable boy’s toy. You cannot wear your Veyron into the pub, but your FP Journe Vagabondage II goes everywhere with you. An Apple watch will only dazzle the sort of geek who buys an aftermarket, turbocharged joystick for his PlayStation.
This new conflict is a test for both the mechanical watch and Apple’s offering, which – should Mad Men be revived 50 years hence – will provide a great marketing challenge for Don Draper’s grandson. Apple is, after all, a company with followers so blind and easily led that they would buy, as one pundit put it, a turd in a box if it bore an Apple logo. It will certainly sell in the hundreds of millions.
Smart watches, though, are not iPhones nor iPads, in that they bring nothing to the table. Or wrist. A smart watch, including Apple’s, accomplishes only one thing, and that is to free you from having to extract your phone from your pocket. Would you really sacrifice that gorgeous Heuer Carrera to give its wrist space to a piece of digital ca-ca? Checking your pulse, walking speed, GPS location? Old news.
Mitigating against the early examples are the need to carry a phone on one’s person, while battery life is problematic. And if anyone boasts about its other capabilities, I simply enquire, “Are you really gonna watch Game of Thrones on a screen that size?” (Which recalls a fab anecdote from the 1960s about the Japanese designer who realised that miniaturisation went a bit too far when he shrank a vibrator.)
Shinola said it brilliantly in an advert: ‘Our watch is smart enough – one glance and it tells you the time’. Rolexes and Pateks and Breguets do the same thing, only with more panache. And should you ever think about longevity, or your legacy, your great-great-grandson might cherish your 130-year-old Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso.
Long before then, your Apple Watch will be an inert, irreparable lump of obsolete circuitry.