Since it debuted in the Spring of 2015, the Apple Watch remains a strong presence in the tech headlines. Before it launched, speculation revolved around its expected design and features. Once it was out, discussion focused on its projected sales. Now, everyone wants to know how the Apple Watch will affect sales of mechanical watches and the big Swiss brands.
Apple’s pretty tight-lipped about the Apple Watch’s sales numbers, but we do know it dominates the market for smart watches, even if it hasn’t quite caught up to other wearables. But as far as Swiss luxury watches are concerned, reports of its imminent demise may be a bit premature. Let’s dig in, shall we?
There are plenty of armchair skeptics out there who dismiss mechanical watches: “Why do I need a watch when my phone tell the time just fine?” It’s a fair question. And we urge you to consider this one: Why do you need to carry your phone around when the Apple Watch has a lot of the same functionality on your wrist? It all depends on what you value.
Of course, at this point, the Apple Watch is still dependent on a Bluetooth connection to get its info, which is a count against it. That and the fact that you have to charge it. But from what we’ve seen, Apple is moving towards a more active, independent use for the Apple Watch. It has the advantage, in that respect. The ability to track exercise performance is not within the realm of mechanical watches—unless you count the chronograph or the pulsometer or the addition of a device like the Chronos.
And while a mechanical watch may not be able to send a text or track your daily activity, it can do some pretty amazing things—all with no battery. A mechanical watch is built with hundreds of tiny parts working together, powered simply by moving your wrist or the winding the crown. That’s pretty impressive in its own right.
These days, you can buy an Apple Watch for as low as $269 (for an original Series 1) and go up to around $1,499 (for the ceramic Edition). When it first launched, Apple offered an 18k gold model for $17. Turns out, nobody wants to pay $10,000 for a piece of technology.
On the other hand, mechanical watches can range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending. For the purposes of this comparison, we stuck to what we know—luxury mechanical watches in the $1,000-$50,000 price range.
If anything, the Apple Watch is more a threat to middle market watch brands, but we could see a “trickle up” effect, since this is where future luxury watch buyers get their start. But who knows? The Apple Watch could take its place as a “gateway” into fine timepieces.
A brand new luxury watch begins depreciating in value as soon as it sells. But after a few years, its price and depreciation rate level out and the watch’s value remains fairly consistent.
As Apple introduces new tech, it eventually makes its current offerings obsolete. Apple Watches will be no different. Progress is the whole point of technology, and those Apple Watch early adopters will eventually see their Series 1 become redundant as Apple introduces newer iterations and upgrades its OS.
One of the biggest downsides to the Apple Watch has to be its relatively short life cycle. We all know that Apple’s product cycle cannibalizes its older product lines (like the recently-axed iPod). If you buy an Apple Watch, you buy it knowing this— eventually, it’ll stop holding a charge, it’ll run slower, and Apple will stop supporting it with OS updates.
Compare this to a luxury mechanical watch, which could run for decades (and centuries) with proper care. We have anecdotes of 50-year-old watches functioning just fine without service, so that tells you the quality of the build of fine timepieces. Of course, luxury watch brands do innovate, but at a much slower pace, and not to a degree that supersedes older models. Likewise, the introduction of new models from luxury brands doesn’t destine older watches for the trash heap.
It’s hard to compare aesthetics of the Apple Watch with the varied looks of luxury watches. They couldn’t be more different.
The Apple Watch’s modern design, square and seamless and all clean lines, is attractive for sure. You have the option to personalize your watch face with both digital and analog options, and the watchOS is easy to navigate. But when the watch is inactive, it’s just a black screen. Nothing of interest there, but that’s purely a personal opinion.
Whereas when it comes to mechanical watches, and luxury watches especially, you get a range of styles, sizes, materials to choose from. An OMEGA is not like a Rolex is not like a Patek Philippe is not like a Hublot. You customize a luxury watch by choosing a brand or style you like.
We’ll admit it: The Apple Watch is some very cool tech. But it’s not an imminent threat to the luxury watch.
To be sure, the luxury watch industry has its own issues to deal with. And certainly, it could use a dose of humble pie. But we don’t buy the claim that the Apple Watch and its growing popularity means the end of luxury watches. They appeal to different people. And, wearables and smart watches represent an opportunity for wristwear to reach a newer, younger demographic. Our conclusion? There’s room enough for both the Apple Watch and mechanical watches (just maybe not on the same wrist).
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 27, 2015. We have updated it with newer information.