Co-inventor of Swatch Sees Apple Watch as a Threat
Will the Apple Watch be a passing fad or a serious threat to the Swiss watch industry? Opinions differ and no one will be proven right or wrong until the wearable device finally goes on sale next month, but one veteran of the watch game sees the pricey smartwatch as a definite challenger to the bottom line of some makers of fine timepieces.
As the co-inventor of the Swatch back in the 80s, Elmar Mock, knows plenty about selling watches—millions of watches. On Tuesday, Mock predicted that the Apple Watch will be a major challenger to the makers of Swiss timepieces.
“Apple will succeed quickly,” said Mock. “It will put a lot of pressure on the traditional watch industry and jobs in Switzerland.” Mock sees Apple as selling 20 to 30 million units of the smartwatch in the first few years of availability.
The savvy inventor sees one price category as especially at risk of losing sales to Apple. “Anything in the price range of 500 francs to 1,000 francs is really in danger,” stated Mock. “I do expect an Ice Age coming toward us.”
In the mid-80s the Swatch helped the Swiss watch industry rebound from its disastrous mistake of underestimating the appeal of more accurate quartz models coming out of Japan. Will the industry make such a mistake again? Mock thinks it could happen.
Unfortunately, I’m reminded too strongly of the quartz crisis. So far I see watchmakers in this country making the same mistakes as back then,” Mock said. “We’ve seen a lot of arrogance in the Swiss watch industry in the past few years, calling the smartwatch a gadget and not taking it seriously.”
Mock sees high-end Swiss watches being the least affected by the threat posed by the Apple Watch with the lower-end and mid-range brands most likely to lose sales. This makes sense because the most expensive Apple Watch, the 18K Edition, sells for “only” $17,000. That’s not much of a status symbol for the Swiss watch aficionado who has $50,000 or $100,000 to spend on a showy new timepiece.
With 18 brands on all price levels, including luxury watches that sell for more than $100,000, Swatch Group AG is not likely to suffer serious damage but is hedging its bets by planning a smartwatch for release later this year. TAG Heuer and Montblanc have also announced plans for wearable devices.
It remains to be seen whether other Swiss watchmakers will follow suit or just bury their heads in the sand and hope that the whole smartwatch fad goes away. Mock has some stern advice for those who would ignore the coming of the Apple Watch and other tech-related timepieces.
“We do have the technology, and the Swiss watch industry hasn’t lost the competition,” Mock said. “I just hope the top managements of the companies will react accordingly. Apple won’t die if the smartwatch isn’t a success. But in the next two to three years, a part of the Swiss watch market will suffer strongly.”