It’s only natural that traditional, analogue watchmakers would feel threatened by the growth of wearables like the Apple Watch. A similar thing happened in the so-called “Quartz Crisis,” of the ’70s, when traditional watchmakers either had to adapt to the cheaper, easier quartz technology, or take their product upmarket into luxury territory.
And it looks like a similar thing is happening now. But this time, there’s a key difference, according to former startup founder and Google Ventures partner Kevin Rose, now CEO of the respected watch blog Hodinkee.
“I am excited and I think it’s a very positive thing that a new generation is growing up with something on their wrist,” Rose told me during a recent interview at Hodinkee’s headquarters.
Rose sees wearables and the Apple Watch as something that could potentially be very attractive to younger consumers. They’re not necessarily competing with traditional watches, mostly because younger consumers aren’t wearing anything on their wrists now anyway.
“The big fear in the watchmaking industry is that people weren’t wearing anything on their wrist, that the smartphone with time in your pocket has killed the watch,” Rose said.
Fortunately for every company that produces products for the wrist, once you start and develop a routine of wearing something there, it’s hard to stop.
“If you get used to wearing a watch, you kind of feel a little bit naked when you’re not wearing one,” Rose said. “I think that having a digital watch — and growing up with a digital watch — could eventually graduate a new generation into mechanical timepieces.”
But just like with the Quartz Crisis, what might save luxury mechanical timepieces might not apply to the rest of the pack.
“I think that if you are playing in the $500-and-under game and you’re a watch manufacturer, and your bread and butter is the $150-$250 watch, I would be very concerned,” Rose said, adding that those watches just don’t have the same “collectability” that more expensive luxury watches have.
“There’s not enough upside there versus having the utility of a digital watch,” Rose said. “If you’re competing against Apple on that front and at that price point, that’s where I think you’re going to see a lot of the [watch] industry get hurt.”