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What Apple's dominance means for the watch industry

Words by Nathan Irvine

Is time up for the luxury watch industry? Not quite.

Apple Watch outsold the entire Swiss watch industry - combined - in 2019. 31 million units of the wearable tech flew off the shelves as opposed to 21 million from the Swiss sector. That's quite the feat.

Apple has even dipped its toe into the luxury watch sector. Partnerships with the likes of clothing icons Hermès shows that it has its eye on the more fashion-conscious consumer as well as those tech and fitness fanatics.

A lot of headlines suggested the luxury watch industry was done for. How could they compete with a firm that crushed the mobile phone industry with such efficiency? Is this the beginning of the end? Each clickbait headline was as doomsaying as the last.

So we asked a watch industry expert for their take on the situation.

Watchbox There will always be a market for classic timepieces.

Dual wielding

Specifically, we asked Frederic Watrelot, Sotheby’s Senior Watch Specialist for his thoughts on the recent news.

"These are two distinct markets and no doubt there is a place for both," Watrelot says. "Buying an Apple watch won’t prevent a watch connoisseur from buying ten mechanical watches."

The reason is fairly straightforward. "I know some collectors who wear a great complication on one wrist, and an Apple watch on the other, and personally, I enjoy the functionality of an Apple watch when I exercise." Watrelot confirms. "You wouldn’t use a Ferrari to go through the desert, you’d use a Jeep. I guess it’s the same in this instance."

"2019 has been an historic year for Sotheby’s Watch sales which totalled an unprecedented USD 109 million" Waterlot confirms.

He continues "These record results are reflective of the ever-growing fascination with watches which has now spread to a much larger, global and transgenerational audience. For most collectors, watches transcend the pure function of timekeeping."

So while Apple has taken a bite out of the market, the effect on the market at large is overblown. It seems a take on the classic Mark Twain line is apt: reports of the death of the luxury watch industry have been greatly exaggerated.

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