aBlogtoWatch recently offered an editorial entitled What Will be Responsible for the Next Watch Industry Boom? Ariel Adams’ predictions offer insight into the wishful thinking gripping the traditional watch industry as it faces the twin threats of the smartwatch crisis and Coronageddon. Here’s Mr. Adams’ opening salvo, recommending a new generation of “tool watches” . . .
“A Return To Purpose-Built Tools”
The watch industry has perfected the watch meant to be underwater, the watch for outer space, and the watch for the freezing cold. What about the fire-resistant watch (complete with fire-resistant strap)? Watches like that could have immediate sales appeal aside from collectors but, at the same time, give collectors something to be interested in all over again in the future.
The founder of aBlogtoWatch is both completely wrong and completely right. Watches designed for specific tasks are a coming trend. And the number one tool people need to do their job is . . . information. Lots of continually updated information.
A traditional watch can’t match the practical utility of a smartwatch. And really, that’s the hobby horse Mr. Adams is riding: trying to identify The Next Big Thing for the traditional watch industry. Its Hail Mary. A runaway success like the Swatch that saved the Swiss watchmakers during the quartz crisis.
Meanwhile, we’re already seeing smartwatches aimed at specific tasks, most notably in the fitness arena (e.g., TAG Heuer’s Golf Edition Connected watch). That trend will continue. But the real money is where it is now: in a generalized smartwatch with a wide range of practical apps.
Mr. Adams believes that a traditional watch aimed at the medical community that can be easily disassembled and sanitized would find favor. Sinn already makes one: the Sinn EZM 12 (reviewed by aBlogtoWatch here). It’s not exactly flying off the shelves. A fire retardant watch has even less of a chance of success.
“Adding More High-End Electronics To Luxury Timepieces”
The time for high-end electronic watches may be coming soon. The proliferation of smartwatches will, in my opinion, create a new nostalgia and demand for “electronic machine watches” that are less about being connected to screens and more about celebrating our lost history-making electronic machines.
Mr. Adams is suggesting that high end horological nostalgia is about to evolve, from a passion for vintage mechanical pieces to a passion for watches that evoke the dawn of the electronic age – that weren’t made during that time. That’s quite a stretch.
He bases his prediction on the $20k belt-driven Devon Tread and restricts his prediction to high horology. The Electricianz (above) limited success at the bottom of the market with a similar aesthetic notwithstanding.
aBlogtoWatch is right: the Tread is a remarkable timepiece that signals a new kind of watchmaking – watches as kinetic art. But it’s hard to see wealthy clients abandoning their taste for “real” nostalgia: designs with a direct connection to watchmaking’s long, noble and actual history.
“Using Timepieces To Communicate One’s Values”
When a watch brand has a strong association with a cause or personality, that watch typically has market success —only most of the time it happens, it is an accident.
Brands today should start earlier in the development of their company or new products and ask themselves how they can connect with things consumers care about, statuses consumers want to be associated with, and achievements consumers actually hope to receive.
This is less of a prediction than Mr. Adams’ usual unsolicited marketing advice to the companies that pay aBlogtoWatch’s bills. The Editor is arguing that more effective (i.e., obvious) political correctness is the watch industry’s Next Big Thing.
God knows there’s been a lot of greenwashing and LGBTQ+ virtue signaling in the traditional watch industry over the last few years, appealing directly to environmentally conscious and woke watch buyers. A winning strategy? A study released last January says it ain’t necessarily so.
The survey of 1,000 U.S. customers found that companies can prove their commitment to putting people over profits by showing how they treat employees, and that companies should stay neutral, not cater to the far left or right. Having a centrist image is key to maintaining or developing a positive image among customers.
Watchmakers promoting themselves as a force for good may be the right thing, but this study and the limited success of limited edition PC watches – despite being championed by aBlogtoWatch – indicates they’re not The Next Big Thing.
“Meaningful, Mainstream Product Personalization”
The trick is to offer consumers meaningful levels of product differentiation. Being able to select from a few customization options such as colors and materials might seem like a solution, but the results often feel less individualized than the brands might have intended.
The goal of any personalized product is to produce something that the consumer feels was made just for them, and that ideally represents them. Therefore, personalized watches require an authentic level of originality to be truly sticky with consumers.
Mr. Adams himself points out the flaw in his argument: personalized watches aren’t welcome on the secondary market. As a pocket watch collector, I can tell you that a watch with a personalized engraving is worth 50 percent less than an unmarked example.
Do the vast majority of watch buyers contemplate future resale value when purchasing? Maybe not consciously. But the secondary market goes a long way towards justifying the price of a new watch. Imagine what would happen to Rolex values if no two Rolex were exactly alike.
And then there’s the 80/20 rule of potato chip sales. Eighty percent of potato chip buyers buy plain old potato chips, 20 percent buy funky flavors. Watches, potato chips, same difference. Add in the dangers of overchoice and it takes quite a leap of imagination to contemplate a watch world fuelled by mass customization.
Besides, smartwatches are instantly customizable. Done.
“Taking Advantage Of Smartwatch Software Marketplaces”
Eventually, the smartwatch industry and the traditional watch industry are going to intersect more completely. Already the two now different industries will attempt to intersect time and time again with only a few of the intersections making practical sense.
Having said that, as smartwatches slowly but surely creep toward market dominance, the future is one where smartwatches are just “watches,” and today’s non-connected watches may have to settle with the title of “traditional” or “classic” watches.
Quick aside: “as smartwatches slowly but surely creep toward market dominance”? Mr. Adams, welcome back from cryogenic suspension! Apple sold more smartwatches in the first quarter of this year (30m units) than the entire Swiss watch industry produced last year. That ship has sailed.
When traditional watches are officially no longer king, what are some ways they can market themselves to people who are currently wearing smartwatches? Or better yet, how can they make money by people having smartwatches on their wrists?
Technology companies are often bad at creating emotionally compelling product designs, which is where the traditional watch industry succeeds. How then can the traditional watch industry lend what it does best to the smartwatch consumers? Perhaps by designing and selling smartwatch dials.
I couldn’t agree more. Smartwatch dials suck. I’d pay good money to have a “proper” dial on my Apple Watch 6. I bet a LOT of smartwatch buyers would too – especially if it [literally] projected a brand name they could flex to friends. Mr. aBlogtoWatch is right: beautiful watch faces could be The Next Big Thing. That said . . .
Even if Longines (for example) sold dial designs to millions of smartwatch wearers, would that generate enough cash for them to stay in business? It would not. In fact, The Next Big Thing in the traditional watch industry is the disappearance of dozens of brands. An analysis aBlogtoWatch and the traditional industry will do anything, think anything to avoid facing.