The great watch debate, in which we will be asking industry leaders for their take on the impact of the smartwatch, starts today. How are the traditional Swiss watch brands reacting to the storm? Does disposable technology signal the demise of the mechanical watch? Are hybrid solutions the answer? And which segment of the watch industry will be most affected?
Edouard Meylan is the young and dynamic CEO of H. Moser & Cie., a family-run business that oversees the manufacture of just 1,000 exquisite high-end mechanical timepieces a year. Meylan’s decision to present the Swiss Alp Watch in 2016 - a timepiece with a rounded rectangular case similar to that of the Apple Watch, but equipped with a traditional mechanical heart - was intrepidly refreshing. For a company of just 50 employees, without the advertising juice of some of the big brands, the buzz generated worked its magic. Crafted in white gold with a gorgeous fumé dial, the price tag of £17,000 was certainly not a deterrent, and the 50 timepieces were sold in a matter of hours.
In the video released on YouTube, Meylan reverts to the jargon of the smartwatch to introduce us to the Swiss Alp Watch in a great tongue-in-cheek performance. “The result of over 200 years of research and development,” says Meylan in the video, “the Swiss Alp Watch will not only allow you to reconnect with people, it might simply change the world... The watch has state-of-the-art ergonomics, a simple interface, and features the most essential application for your most valuable commodity: the time. With no phone, no messaging, no sketches or heart beats to send, the Swiss Alp Watch will change your life. It will let you reconnect with people by getting out there... So get a life, upgrade to a mechanical watch.”
TJE: How do you position yourself in the smartwatch debate?
Meylan: I think smartwatches and mechanical watches are two separate products; they are totally different and have nothing to do with one another. So we should stop trying to compare them. Both products will succeed individually: there is a great future for smartwatches and a great future for mechanical watches. However, one threat to the mechanical market is posed by companies that seize opportunistic ways to combine mechanical watches with digital technology. This is what annoys me the most. It’s absolutely pointless to combine a mechanical watch designed to last generations with soon-to-be-obsolete technology. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like smartwatches, because I do. It’s just that coupling them with mechanical movements is like mixing oil and water.
Read more about mechanical watches with digital technology
TJE: Which segment of the watch industry will be most affected by the smartwatch?
Meylan: Entry-level watches, without a doubt. And it’s happening already, right under our noses. l think that Japanese brands with quartz movements are the most exposed, followed by Swiss brands. Be prepared to see entry-level brands from the biggest producer of Swiss watches hit hard.
TJE: Can you think of an historical parallel to describe the advent of smartwatches in the watch industry?
Meylan: It’s a lot like the destiny of Kodak and Nokia - technological giants that went from being the leaders of the pack to finding themselves out of date and obsolete. They didn’t keep up. The strength of Apple is its ability to develop applications and create dependence. Apple has an army of people developing apps and each model will be better than the last.
TJE: Defend the mechanical watch.
Meylan: The intrinsic value of a mechanical watch is not its ability to tell time. You don’t buy a watch to tell the time. Watches are about emotion, craftsmanship, uniqueness, exclusivity and the history behind it, and an object to hand down through the generations.