Coronavirus Watch 22: Which Watch Industry Brands Will Die?

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Watch Industry Braces For Historic Downturn HoDinkee proclaims. That’s like saying a car crash victim lying by the side of the road is bracing for impact. Dude, the downturn is here. Last month, Swiss watch exports fell by a staggering 81 percent. There’s no sign of a “revenge shopping” recovery. The real economy is in the tank. Ho’ writer Joe Thompson offers us a piercing glimpse into the obvious, then shares the following eye-opening prediction . . .

The steep downturn will take a toll on the Swiss watch industry. Oliver Müller of LuxeConsult expects 30 to 60 brands to go out of business.  

This is not the first time we’ve heard that estimate. watchpro.com teased with Swiss watchmakers file for bankruptcy as Coronavirus impact bites – without telling us which watchmakers bit the dust.

Nor did Mr. Corder hazard a guess which watch brands will bite the dust. So here’s some no-holds-barred speculation on the post-Coronageddon watch industry landscape . . .

Apple Watch Series 5 Amazon listing

The key factor here – that none of the watch industry media cheerleaders are mentioning: the rise of the Apple Watch.

appleinsider.com reports that Apple shipped 30.7 million units worldwide in 2019, up 36 percent from 22.5 million in 2018, outselling the entire Swiss watch industry. Worse still for Swiss (and Japanese) watchmakers: 75 percent of those customers were first-timers.

Worse still for Swiss (and Japanese) watchmakers, businessinsider.com reports that “Apple shipped 7.6 million smartwatches worldwide in the first quarter of 2020, according to recent data from Strategy Analytics, an increase of 23% compared to 6.2 million in the first quarter of 2019.”

Bulgari - Geneva watch dealers closed (courtesy thewatches.tv)

This while the Swiss watch industry went into a Coronacoma.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the rise and rise of the Apple Watch and its ilk (Garmin, Fitbit, Galaxy, etc.) doom all but a handful of low end traditional watch brands. Switzerland makes nothing like the Apple Watch at any price – and certainly not at an average price of around $350.

If you’re a traditional watchmaker operating under $1k you’re staring into the abyss: a fundamental change in consumer tastes in a rapidly contracting market that the COVID-19 pandemic did nothing to reverse, and everything to accelerate.

Raymond Weil - watch industry downturn target

Who’s for the chop? I reckon brands like Tissot, Movado, Hamilton, Mondaine, Victorinox, Swatch, Timex, Shinola, Invicta, Nixon and Bulova, Braun, Mido, Raymond Weil, Baume & Mercier all face extinction.

Watch industry fatalities to be

Brands at the bottom of this food chain – Nixon, MVMT, Invicta, designer-branded Chinese crap – are also looking at lights out. Seiko, Citizen, Casio and Timex could well be the last brands standing.

Could one of them fail? Mass extinction in the watch industry basement may leave enough resources for all of those competitors. It may not. Which is why Seiko’s moving upmarket and Citizen’s about to launch a smartwatch.

BOLDR Amazon listing

Micro-brand and boutique watch brands using off-the-shelf movements – brands like Farer, Autodromo, anOrdain, Baltic, Gorilla, Brew, Magrette, Monta, BOLDR and Undone – are also in a fight to the death. A horological cage match that will have far more losers than winners. If any.

Bell & Ross Burning Skull

Luxury Swiss watch brands operating at the $2k – $10k end of the market – OMEGA, TAG Heuer, NOMOS, IWC, Grand Seiko, Ball, Oris, entry-level Rolex , Breitlings, Bell & Ross and suchlike – are being hit with a double-whammy: the current economic downturn and the not-immediately-apparent-to-them smartwatch crisis.

These brands’ guardians labor under the illusion that newbie smartwatch wearers will “graduate” to mechanical timepieces. There is zero evidence for this. Today’s Yuppie smartwatch wearer might eventually pick up a luxury watch for style points, but not more than a couple of pieces. If that.

Patek Philippe Pilot's Watch

Over the last few years, Swiss high horology has enjoyed enormous success. The pandemic hit pause. The resulting worldwide recession will hurt sales in the short term. The question is: will there be 62k Patek Philippe, 40k Audemars Piguet and 20k Vacheron Constantin buyers worldwide per year when retail recovers?

Sure! The planet’s home to plenty of extremely wealthy people who covet high horology. Depending on their financial discipline, chi-chi brands like A. Lange & Söhne, Glashütte, Grönefeld, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Piaget, Bulgari, and God help us Richard Mille will take a licking and keep on ticking.

Rolex Datejust in case

Rolex? Rolex is a world unto itself. Before Coronageddon, the watchmaker cranked out one million pieces per year. Going forward, will there be that many buyers for the world’s most recognizable status symbol/watch brand? While deep-pocketed Rolex will recover, I bet we’re close to – if not past – peak Rolex.

At the end of Coronageddon, we will see a significantly smaller market for traditional watches. And a lot less brands competing for that business. High horology will be with us forevermore. For the rest of the playas  it’s the end of the [watch] world as we know it.

God willing, The Truth About Watches will still be here, doing what we do. God willing, so will you. Rest assured we’ll keep you abreast of watch industry developments are they occur. One thing’s for sure: it won’t be boring.

5 thoughts on “Coronavirus Watch 22: Which Watch Industry Brands Will Die?”

  1. There are various reports that the Apple watch is not currently selling as well. And since they do have to keep investors happy …rumor is they plan to NOT include a pair of earbuds with the next generation of phones so that you’ll be “encouraged” to purchase a pair of the newest generation of Air Pods, which they made a killing on.

    And yes, the Hodster is a pimp. All that’s missing is the Fedora hat (w/peacock feather) and cane.

    1. Sales would have to decline precipitously to stop the Apple Watch’s steamroller effect on traditional watches.

  2. Is Timex deliberately on both the endangered list and the last standing list? I guess they are not mutually exclusive fields. I look forward to being the type of passe holdout that I consider the mechanical wristclock aficionados to be as quartz timepieces obsolesce to the Dick Tracy watches.

    1. Yes, Timex is both a possible survivor and a potential casualty. Its market WILL shrink.

  3. The Casio GWFA1000 looks interesting. The odd thing about Swiss watches is that when ETA reinvents Casio’s “tough movement,” a decade later, all the wristwatch web sites describe it as if it were something new.

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