In the fourth quarter of 2017 – essentially during the last holiday season – the market research company Canalys found that more people were buying Apple watches than Swiss watches. Two million more, to be exact. Brian Heater has more data but this news is quite problematic for people who eat the scallops on the slopes of the Jura.
Figures are estimates based on market data, but they always indicate a trend. In the first quarter of 2016, Apple shipped 1.5 million watches to Switzerland 5.9 million. The interim quarters were about the same until the launch of the Apple Watch 3 in September 2017, just in time for holiday shopping. The boost of a new phone and a new watch at the same time meant a perfect storm for the upgraders, driving the total number of Apple watches sold beyond the sales numbers Swiss watch.
This change does not mean that Apple will maintain this lead – they have a product while Switzerland has thousands – but compare the production of a single company to that of An entire industry is revealing.
The wearing of watches is, as we all know, past.
"I check the time on my phone", we said for almost a decade that phones have become more ubiquitous. Meanwhile, watch manufacturers have abandoned the low-end and have begun selling to the high-end consumer, the connoisseur.
Take a look at this map:
Sales of low and mid-range watches – and a mid-range watch can range from $ 500 to $ 3,000 (and I would even bundle many $ 10,000 watches in the intermediate category) – stagnated while the real Cows, expensive watches for the ultra-rich, slowly dropped from a peak in 2014. This coincides with falls in purchases in China because what amounted to sumptuary laws has reduced the number expensive gifts given to corrupt officials. Sales are up in December 2017, but do not expect the current slider to be well above the current level.
As a lover of everything mechanical – I've ruined a few years of my life by writing a book on a watch – I look at these trends with dismay and a bit of schadenfreude. As I have said many times, the Swiss watch industry has done everything possible. While they claim a lot and a great success year after year, small manufacturers feed each other while almost all major watch brands are looking for outside buyers. There is no money to launch mechanical watches to an increasingly unselfish public.
As time progresses, things will change. Swiss houses, once powerful, will sink under the weight of their laurels resting and Apple will turn to integrated brain implants and leave watches behind. The result, after a battle that has raged for more than four decades, will be a dead Swiss industry looking for a world that has evolved.