Dear Swiss watch industry, dear Swiss brands, dear CEOs of Swiss manufactures, I love you! Yes, I do love everything the Swiss watch industry represents, everything that is behind the idea of this secular artistry – the heritage, the traditions, the craftsmanship, the attention to details, this innovative spirit linked to a strong respect for history, the devoted people who work day in, day out, on our watches… I’m not writing you this letter as the managing editor of a watch magazine but mainly as a passionate collector. For this reason, I do care about you and your industry. However, dear Swiss watch industry, you certainly heard that Apple is the second player of the watch industry, just behind Rolex. And that’s not a small detail.
Extract from September 7th, 2016 Apple Keynote, claiming that Apple is the second largest player on the watch market
Who are you, Swiss watch industry? You are an idea, a respectful tradition, something linked to a single country and that is envied by the world, something that makes people spend serious amounts of hard-earned money on an item that is 4 x 4 centimeters, and weighs approx. 100 grams. What you are, is a dream-machine for men, the manufacturers of the only essential piece of accessory for a gentleman. What you do is more than just creating an item that tells the time. You create timepieces, not a device that can be strapped on the wrist and indicate the time – or anything else that our over-connected world offers these days.
My beloved Swiss watch industry, you are one of the oldest industries, as you’ve started in the second half of the 16th century, when Jean Calvin, the French theologian and pastor, was welcoming French protestants in Geneva, right after the Protestant Reformation. Since then, you never stopped and what you mastered it in every single aspect. Because of that, you keep traditions as a motto and as a justification for the beauty of the timepieces you sell, admittedly, to quite ‘impressive’ prices sometimes. However, you know what you do and you do it well.
However, my dear Swiss watch industry, you live in a fast changing world. New opponents, probably opponents you didn’t expect, already knocked at your door several decades ago. The people behind it were coming from a country named Japan, and their weapons were quartz movements. But you managed… and like the phoenix rising from the ashes, your achieved to become even stronger. During the 2000’s, you achieved to sell more luxury and high-end watches than ever before. But beware, new opponents are coming. They are from all over the world and they know how to please young, tech-oriented, over-connected people. They have strong arguments and you, as an old lady, might think that a storm is coming.
Indeed, Swiss watch industry, since a few years, you’ve seen new opponents entering the market of wrist devices. A place only encompassed by wrist watches for decades, but that now comprises something else: smart-watches. At first you probably thought it was a joke, a hype. And then you saw it was certainly not so funny. Shortly after, you had horrible memories coming back, things that you tried to forget, things that sadly brought you back to the 1970’s… Yesterday, the annual Apple Keynote might have been difficult for you, when saw that the Cupertino-based firm (yes Apple, the guys who build computers and phones) now is the second largest producers of watches, just behind Rolex (in terms of revenues) – and if we talk volumes, you are far behind my dear.
Some attempts of the Swiss watch industry to enter the smart watches market
So, how did you react to that, with the experience of the Quartz Crisis in mind? You thought you had to respond and to be in advance this time, to enter the market of smart-watches before it killed you, like the quartz technology once almost did. You created smart-watches, and the success, sorry for my candour, my dear Swiss watch industry, was clearly lukewarm. You had ideas, good ones, like thinking that teaming up with Google or Intel was relevant – you actually accepted the fact you couldn’t do it by yourself. However, how reactive you are, my Swiss watch industry, you are still… very Swiss.
Yes, you are. You come from a superb country, with superior living standards, with a qualified and devoted labour force, with great innovations and technologies, with some of the most precious manufactures (whatever the field of action you can think of). I’m sure many brands, whatever they create, would love to have the heritage of the 260 years-old Vacheron Constantin or the aura of Rolex. But then again, you are Swiss. You are not based in South-Korea or in the Silicon Valley. The opponents have a lead of a few decades and, with a bit of opportunism, they will certainly allow you to collaborate with them and to access to some parts of their technology – in exchange of a steep amount in their bank account of course. However, they are a big machinerie and chances are slim to none that they will allow you to have a piece of the gigantic cake.
Because of that, my beloved Swiss watch industry, I beg you to keep doing what you are best at: mechanical watches. Please, continue to create these pieces of useless but oh-so desirable, collectible and enviable mechanical artistry. You can create beautiful timepieces like no other. You have such strong foundations; you have an expertise that no one else in this world could build… Do not succumb to the luring sirens of a market that you don’t identify, that you’ll never properly understand and that will certainly, in the end, hurt you. Leave the smart-watches market to those who can enter fast, produce extreme volumes and quit the market as quickly as they entered, after they generated enough profits. I love you, Swiss watch industry, sincerely. Your devoted Brice.