Horologists fear not.
On Wednesday, consulting firm Strategy Analytics reported that Apple Watches outsold the entire Swiss Watch industry in 2019 by 10 million units. Tim Cook himself boasted about Apple’s dominance over the traditional watch market in 2018. However, the latest data (and that specific 10 million figure) prompted speculation from many about how much Apple had disrupted those most elite makers of timepieces, the Swiss.
But naturally, the story is more complicated than that — because “Swiss Watches” is a very broad term.
Apple doesn’t release its sales figures, but to determine how many smartwatches the company is slinging, Strategy Analytics used a “hybrid methodology of financial analysis and polled data from vendors.” It found that Apple Watch sales increased 36 percent between 2018 and 2019. Meanwhile, sales of all Swiss watches declined by 13 percent in the same time frame.
“There is definitely a combination of both continued robust growth for the Apple Watch, and continued declines for Swiss watches happening here,” Steven Waltzer, a senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, told Mashable.
Apple’s dominance seems like a startling truth because it means that a technology company and newcomer to the watch space is dominating over powerful legacy brands.
The complicating factor in the comparison as a whole is that “Swiss Watches” is a diverse category: it refers to playful plastic Swatches for under $100 as well as precious metal pieces of jewelry that go for tens of thousands of dollars.
As Forrester retail analyst Sucharita Kodali pointed out, data shows that there is a decline in sales of Swiss watches around or under the same price point, like the more consumer-friendly Swatch or Tag Heuer. But luxury brands like Rolex or Patek Philippe are doing just as well or better than they have been in the past. Apple Watch may be competing with some Swiss watches, but that doesn’t mean it’s taking down Rolex.
“It appears from the data above that the biggest competition is in the lower end watch statistics,” Kodali said. “I think at the high end, no one sees Rolex and Apple Watches as substitutes. But do people see Swatch and Apple Watch as a substitute? More likely yes.”
Waltzer agreed that this is most likely the case. But also said that the breadth of the category also made Apple’s impact on it more significant.
“It is true that the markets for these two very different types of timepieces are unique,” Waltzer said. “However, sales of the Apple Watch certainly do compete with and cannibalize sales of traditional wristwatches to some extent, as consumers seek to digitize and connect their wrist wear.”
Another problem with comparing sales of Apple Watches to all Swiss Watches is that of course, Apple Watches are outselling the luxury items: way more people can afford an Apple Watch than a Patek Philippe.
“It’s more like an Xbox than a Maserati,” Kodali said of the Apple Watch, in response to Mashable’s question about whether she thought it competed with fine watches as a status symbol. “[It’s]nice to have, but you don’t need to be in the 0.1% to afford one.”
Thanks to technology, Swiss watchmakers may be in trouble. But the one-percenters of that market? Same as it ever was, they’re doing just fine.