Swiss watches and the Apple Watch: It’s not about time

WHEN cheap, accurate quartz watches started pouring out of Asia in the 1970s, many Swiss watchmakers went bust. But the survivors recovered their sangfroid and went on to prosper as crafters of stylish timepieces that proclaim the wearer’s taste and status better than any electronic gizmo could.Do Apple’s new smartwatch and devices like it portend another quartz catastrophe? Some think they might. Wrists are “prime real estate”, points out Richard Seymour, a design consultant. Many people park expensive watches there—especially men, since that is the main sort of jewellery that convention allows them. So if smartwatches catch on, they could evict the Swiss baubles.That seems to be Apple’s ambition. It has been poaching talent from fashion houses (Angela Ahrendts from Burberry and Paul Deneve from Yves Saint Laurent). Its new watches aim to be more than gadgets: some have 18-carat gold cases. Sir Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design chief, has reportedly boasted to colleagues that the Swiss are in trouble.They are not trembling yet. Smartwatches are a mere “information tool” that say “nothing special” about the wearer, says Jean-Claude Biver, chairman of Hublot, a Swiss brand owned by LVMH, a big luxury group. They become obsolete as soon as the technology advances. Swiss watchmakers, on the other hand, are selling “eternity in a box.”Cheaper and less eternal Swiss-watch brands,…

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