Comparisons have been made to the Quartz Crisis by notable industry figures such as Nicolas Hayek (CEO of the Swatch Group), mostly to renounce scaremongers – the common consensus is that the 1960-70s were the worst time for the Swiss Watch industry, with this period merely being a temporary dip without anywhere near the long-term impact of that earlier disaster for mechanical watches.
Recently, however, there has been an increasing trend in the miniaturization of computers and mobile phones, to the extent that computers are fitting into mobile phones, and now LG has produced a mobile phone the size and shape of a wristwatch, complete with straps. There has been some talk about this particular phone, not least its rather inaccessible price of £1,000 – for a trend-driven gadget, that’s pretty high, especially since the features list is considerably smaller than Apple’s iPhone, which costs less too.
There have been tracks made in the opposite direction too, with watch manufacturers making luxury mobile phones – think Tag Heuer’s Meridiist, and Ulysse Nardin’s limited edition chairman phone, powered by an adapted watch movement.
But for the moment at least, these minor nods at each other seem about as close as the two industries will get to competing. The Meridiist and the Chairman Phone are both high-end commodities, and the ordinary consumer market won’t be purchasing many of them -certainly not enough for the watch industry to take more than a passing glance at the idea.
Similarly, the LG ‘watch phone’ looks to have a healthy dose of ‘gimmick’. As pointed out by many gadget fans, putting an internet browser in a phone that small would have the disadvantage of making it almost impossible to see – adding a music feature would be plausible, but headphones would pose another complication. Texting and dialing numbers on so small an object will also be fiddly tasks, making the idea of a phone on your wrist better than the final result.
Although technophiles might rejoice at the thought of an all-in-one watch, phone and computer, the reality is a long way off. While technologically at least it is certainly possible – as LG have proved – the price is one handicap, and the inaccessibility of any impressive gadgets is another. In reality, before watch-phones begin to gain popularity, the technology behind them has some serious work to do.
There’s no doubt that, if a hybrid watch-phone could be made that got around these difficulties, the watch industry would be hit. Another innovation in terms of what people expect from a watch always poses a challenge, and the digital, computerized nature of the coming trends is one that mechanical watches will find hard to replicate. The watch industry has learned from the past though. Nobody buys a Rolex simply because they want to tell the time. They buy a Rolex because they want the luxury, quality and reliability that Rolex produce. If there is a threat on the horizon, there is little doubt that this time the watch industry will rise to meet it.