Is this the end of the traditional luxury watch?

With the increasing production of smartwatches, luxury Swiss brands appear to be jumping on the tech bandwagon.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 26 Mar 2018

The times they are a changin' - well how you tell the time might be at least.

Just as those in financial services, retail and fashion have seen their industry transformed or disrupted by the tech revolution, it appears that traditional Swiss watchmakers appear to be next.

The luxury Swiss brand Hublot used the Baselworld exhibition - and a host of big name football stars -  to showcase its first smartwatch, the new Big Bang Referee 2018 World Cup Edition Russia. Before you ask about that name, it coincides with the watchmaker’s sponsorship deal with the summer’s World Cup.

Other manufacturers including the Mondaine Watch and The Frederique Constant group used the same platform to announce their own ‘hybrid designs’ which mix some old school gear with connective tech.

Okay so Hublot’s latest edition, which will be worn by referees at the World Cup, may be more gimmick than grandeur - it comes equipped with Google’s Wear OS, vibrating goal notifications and has viewable in match statistics - but it paves the way for a very different type of future.

Smart business

Smartwatches being produced by luxury manufacturers is nothing new, but generally the industry has been sluggish to adopt the smart model.

But looking at the data, it's not surprising traditional makers are starting to coming around; after all smartwatches look like smart business. According to stats gathered by Statista, it is forcast that smartwatches will represent up to 52% of total wearable tech sales by the end of 2018.

It is also worth noting that perennial market crashers Apple outsold the entire Swiss watch industry during 2017 and traditional watch sales among younger, tech-focused generations has been falling.

(See here for a more... skeptical view on smart watches.)

Is time ticking for traditional watches?

Tag Hauer chief Jean-Claude Biver certainly isn't worried and in his speech at Baselworld he urged traditionalists that the smartwatch can only boost the industry.

'Apple and Samsung are promoters of the watch because they teach people to wear something on their wrist. Imagine a generation who did not wear any watch. It would be much more difficult for us to sell them something.'

He might have a point afterall. The explosion of smartwatches has not affected the luxury sector negatively. Exports grew 2.7% over 2017 and the industry is now worth a mere 19 billion Swiss Fancs according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

Smartwatches appear to have opened up a new and very lucrative market, but there will always be a passion for the class and heritage. Nevertheless, it is a sign that the landscape of traditional watchmaking, just like seemingly every other industry, is adapting with the times.

Image Credit: Nor Gal/Shutterstock



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