Do Apple Wearables Spell Doom for Rolex Watches?

3:59 PM

Do Apple Wearables Spell Doom for Rolex Watches? (photo: Rolex/Alain Costa) 
A new wave of alarmist headlines pinning Apple wearable products against luxury Swiss watches from Rolex has appeared on the internet this week. This time it is the result of a report recently made available for purchase by data company RE-Analytics. The description of the report posits that there is a segment of Rolex watches that is at risk with the rise of Apple's wearable technology.

Publications have picked up the story using headlines insinuating that the rise of the smartwatch has a causal relationship with the decline of the Swiss watchmaking industry in past years. They compare it to the so-called 'Quartz Crisis' of decades past based on the rise of quartz movements from Seiko. Both Seiko and Rolex are still selling watches side by side, though, so I'm not sure that argument holds water today.

The reality is that while the rise of quartz movements put many traditional mechanical watchmakers out of business, they also made wristwatches more accessible to the masses.  It was a net positive for the wristwatch industry in the long run and companies like Rolex released their own quartz watches in the years that followed Seiko's innovation. Without quartz movements we wouldn't have decent watches priced under $100 US today from watchmakers like Timex.

Another aspect of this argument I find questionable is the idea that the more modestly priced Rolex watches would be most at risk. Based on annual reports from the top Swiss watchmakers (as a private company, Rolex is not required to report figures to the public), stainless steel watches have been outperforming precious metal configurations in recent months. So, even though sales have been stagnant for many watchmakers, the segment identified by the report seems to be doing better for them than any other.

I would be interested in browsing the report in depth to draw my own conclusions, but I can't justify spending €1,500 to indulge my curiosity on the subject. I welcome wearable technology into the world, even though I'm not personally interested in staying connected enough to buy an Apple Watch.  I use many other Apple products, though.

The only reason the media pits Apple against Rolex is because Rolex has the most name recognition of the larger Swiss watchmakers. This makes the headlines more attractive from a public relations standpoint, but it doesn't give credence to the assertions. As with everything else regarding the world of watchmaking, only time will tell what becomes of the ostensible battle between Rolex watches and wearable technology.

(I previously posted about whether Apple Watch sales would affect Rolex's bottom line here.)


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