Handheld Technology

BaselWorld brass ignore the smartwatch revolution

Last week saw the launch of the Apple Watch. It was hard to miss. The week before, Pebble launched its new range of e-Paper smartwatches. Pebble has raised a shade under $19 million in a few weeks, analysts are predicting Apple’s Watch could make the company billions of dollars a quarter and transform the tech giant into the world’s first trillion-dollar company. So you’d think the watch industry would have something to say.

This week sees BaselWorld take place in Switzerland. The watch industry’s equivalent of CES or Mobile World Congress, any watch brand worth its salt is in attendance. Before the conference, Mondaine’s Ronnie Bernheim told IBTimes that smartwatches would “be the topic of Baselworld this year”, and the companies would be quizzing each other over what their future plans would be.

Understandably, press not normally interested in the world of horology have flocked to the event full of questions about what this new trend means for the watch industry. Apparently a panel at a press conference were unimpressed being asked so many questions, leading to BaselWorld MD Sylvie Ritter claiming “They're two different worlds.”

“Smart watches have been around for years,” Ritter said. “Lots have already been written about them but it will have no effect on traditional watchmaking.” Apparently the panel also “brushed aside” any comparison to the quartz revolution of the 70s.

To me this seems naïve. Hand-crafted $100,000 watches might be a world away from $300 devices mass produced in China, but no more than $50 watches from a catalogue or a Casio digital. Tag Heuer, Swatch, Fossil, Mondaine and more are all making moves into the smartwatch industry, and – whether people can afford both aside – there’s only room for one time-telling device on your wrist.

IDG Connect has been talking to a host of different watch companies – from Clerc and Eberhard & Co to Mondaine and H Moser & Cie. They all have their own opinions on what smartwatches mean for their industry. Some agree with Ritter, but only to the extent that the high-end will be unaffected; most predict the sub-$200 market to face enormous pressure in the future. Others predict an eventual change through almost the entire industry.

Smartwatches are coming, there’s no denying it. Kairos and Withings are both in attendance at the conference, and Tag Heuer is expected to announce something big and techie today. Ritter and co. might not like it, and they may be right in thinking it won’t shake the core of the watch industry. But don’t pretend like it’s not happening or get the hump when people ask about it.


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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