Why Switzerland is afraid of Apple?

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What if every watch user would change its Baume et Mercier, its Tissot, Swatch, Breitling and even its Rolex for a iWatch? Sounds crazy right? But think how good your mom is with her iPad, or how great grandaddy is with the GPS and even how your young brother does not bother anymore having a watch as he can see the time on his iPod touch? Scary.

young generation ipod
Well the future is already here and the only thing that the connected watches market is waiting for is a true watch and not a geeky plastic gadget with a usb on it. And apparently Apple is willing to supply it. By willing to have a Swiss Made electronic watch, Apple points the arrow of success directly straight to the heart of Switzerland chasse-gardée. If the Californian company would have search for a taiwan-made watch, probably it would be just another gadget. By positioning the iWatch intention in a Swiss-made base, this reminds alot the revolution made by Swatch in 1983 with its Quartz Swiss-made watches.

Switzerland and Watch-making. Pure Swiss ingenuity

Swiss Watch-making does not really has a starting date. We know that several farmers during winter times would dedicate their free time on the building of clocks and time measurement mechanisms. Swiss ingenuity is part of the spirit of the country. But it is true that the 16th century market a bigger milestone. In 1541, Jean Calvin brought the reforms and the wear of jewels were forbidden. So several goldsmith in Geneva needed to find a different solution to keep running their business and watch-making was the solution. It became then a true activity.

History of Watch-making
In the 17th century, Geneva was over-crowded with Watchmakers and some of them decided to move to another place and elected the nice region of Jura mountains. Like Daniel Jeanrichard who was the first to intruduce a labour division in watch-making. By that time Switzerland was already exporting more than 60’000 watches every year.
Swiss historyswiss watchmaking
Until the 19th century hundreds of inventions and patents were discovered. It was a rich time in terms of creativity. And then the industrial revolution arrived. And we cannot really say that Switzerland was ready for it. So by the end of the 19th century, Switzerland was one of the poorest country in Europe, which might sound incredible to believe. But it was true and that was the time in which several Swiss people decided to move abroad looking for a better future. Nobody would blame them. For those who decided to stay, they started better organizing themselves. The use of watches started being more and more popular. All the different watch-makers started to define the different industrial processes and a horizontal organization among hundreds of tiny artisans companies was put in place. Everybody would work together in a wise understanding and even solidarity. Watchmakers like Frédéric Ingold and Georges Léchot marked their time with gold letters as being the leaders of a new era.

The Quartz watch almost killed an entire industry.

Until the 70’s, the Swiss watchmaking industry was pretty much up and running. In such a small country you could consider around 90’000 people working for the watch industry by the end of the 70’s out of only 6.1 million inhabitants.
The 70’s brought a tremendous revolution that almost killed the Swiss horlogers. It was the ascension of the Quartz watch. In deed with the economic first crisis period since Second world war and the new exciting Quartz innovation, the Swiss traditional watch-makers felt from their gold chair.
The Quartz technology also brought more competition from the USA and Asia. The Swiss industry would be seen as an old dying elephant. Several companies would shut down their businesses and the number of the industry employees went down from 90’000 to 30’000 in 1984. And since then this figure remained pretty much stable as in 2004 we would count 40’000 people.
And then Nicolas Hayek and Swatch arrived. And with the launch of the first Swatch watch in 1983 saved an entire industry from bankruptcy.
Nicolas Hayek Swatch
Of course today the watch-making industry is healthy but we realize that by having missed the electronic revolution and being in the middle of economic 1970’s crisis, it almost stop the machine. Does this ring you a bell? Of course it does.
Today we are probably reaching the same horizon: new electronic breakthrough and economic crisis. Definitely all Swiss watch-makers are scared because they did not invested in electronic watches, at least the way they tend to be today. Innovation lays on Apple, Samsung, LG, Huawei ‘s table. And these companies do not work (yet) with Swiss companies.

The Apple iWatch, Damocles sword?

Smartphones were probably one of the biggest inventions of the century. It changed completely the way people would communicate in all developed countries. The idea of internet everywhere and especially “being connected” everywhere is modifying even how people behave.
The electronic or connected watch concept is not new. You can read the full story of it by clicking here.
Recently Samsung made a big move by launching the Galaxy gear watch. Enjoying the popularity of the Galaxy range (smartphone and tablet) among a young audience they tried to recruit on the watch side.
Samsung Galaxy gear
Motorola just revealed its Moto 360 which looks more qualitative than most of the electronic watches. It is also the case of the Androidgear. But all of these are made in Asia. By being made in Asia, it remains at the level of gadget. It would compete with Casio and other IceWatches.
Moto 360
Androidgear
Those who seek the quality, the reliability and the accuracy of a Swiss made watch would not replace their Swiss watch for an Asian gadget.
Somehow, the true revolution could and will come from Apple. By searching the best partner in Switzerland to build the iWatch, Apple understood the entry door for a longlasting business. The entire reputation of the company in terms of technology and “coooooliness” could be the game changer that Swiss watchmakers fear. When we see how deeply Apple changed the music, phone and computer industry for good, if they have the right product, then we will start a new era in watch making.

Technology gap only happens at the right moment

Why Apple’s project seems so obvious for today’s reality? There are different points that make a certain conversion into the relevancy of an iWatch. First of all, the internet of things is a reality.
Internet of things
More and more objects of our daily lives are connected to the internet. Our phones, cars, fridges, teddy bears, televisions and even our fire alarms. The inter-connectivity is something that we got use to. With your phone you can trigger your car, your tablet commands your smartTV. Our phones by becoming Smart, allows us to connect to internet everywhere and above all to be reachable anytime and by several channels. Social media and email is just something you use even before getting up from bed. Young generations are less educated and less attached to traditional watch makers. They have any way already merged their ipod, paper calendar and diary into a smartphone. Because the phone gives you also the time, the next step would be the watch. So yes the developed world is ready for the iWatch now.

What is happening in Switzerland now?

What we know is that Jean Claude Biever has tried very hard to get the Apple business. Hublot factory in Nyon, Switzerland, is doubling its surface and many people say that it is to host the Apple business partnership.
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Hublot was firstly approached because of the Sapphire glass, now are we talking about watch cases or even a complete solution? Hublot being one of the most innovative and dynamic watch-makers in Switzerland, a possible collaboration could be relevant. We also know that several Swiss specialists got interesting job offers to work for Apple. Somehow the buzz is getting so intense that probably the iWatch can be launched without any media plan.
The Swatch group was also consulted. Of course there is a success story in the heritage of Swatch that could fit the project but perhaps Apple has greater ambitions? The iWatch from Apple is completely overwhelming the media. Other companies launches seem in comparison useless.
What is going to happen with the Swiss watch industry? We know that all Brands positioned between 300 to 3000 dollars will suffer strongly from the iWatch.
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And depending how far Apple will go, and also depending on social evolution of the watch customers, high level brands might be reached too. The most interesting part of the story is still to go. So watch out!
LA

Info sourced at wikipedia, Le Temps, Le Matin, Mac4ever, New York times. All content is copyrighted with no reproduction rights available< \em>

Sebastien Eich

Sebastien Eich is passionate about Swiss watch-making and throughout the years he gathered a tremendous amount of knowledge about the beautiful art of creating a watch. Based in Switzerland, the mother land of watch-making, he has exclusive access to Brands and events. He shares all of it here for the great pleasure of sharing.