According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “gadget” is defined as “an often small mechanical or electronic device with a practical use but often thought of as a novelty”.
That is exactly what high-end mechanical watches are. In fact, like many other pursuits that are technically inclined, gadgets beget more gadgets – watches require winders, tools, straps, cases, buckles and so on.
(RELATED: On a similar note, read Apple Watch vs Classic Timepieces.)
Every year, two key trade shows in the Swiss cities of Geneva and Basel let watchmakers showcase their latest gadgets. Think of them as the horological equivalent of the famous Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Many conversations at recent watch fairs have involved wrist gadgets of another sort, the smartwatch. Pessimists fear this techno-leap will swamp the luxury watch industry like the quartz watch did in the 1970s. Though the luxury watch industry is suffering from depressed demand, this problem is one driven by other factors, like the Chinese government’s campaign against corruption and economic uncertainty globally.
A year into Apple’s launch of what is the dominant device in the smartwatch segment, these digital gadgets do not seem to have replaced the luxury wristwatch. Even the Hermes Apple Watch is still another gadget, rather than a bona fide luxury product. And, if Apple’s stock performance of late is anything to go by, the Apple Watch does not seem to have impressed investors either.
Smartwatches have probably taken sales away from makers of low-end timepieces, which is why such watchmakers have responded with their own smartwatches.
The Swatch Group, owner of affordably priced brands like Swatch, Longines and Tissot, has announced its own efforts in developing a smartwatch, while Tag Heuer already launched its Connected watch last year. Despite jitters in some quarters, high-end watchmakers remain unfazed, convinced that the gadgets they craft remain a status symbol and, as such, very desirable.
Some watch collectors have resorted to wearing a watch on each wrist – one traditional and the other, smart. That might be cumbersome, which is why some watchmakers like Montblanc and IWC have developed smart add-ons for mechanical watches.
But rather than attempt to compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung, which have an enormous competitive advantage in technology and experience, makers of mechanical watches should work to make their old-school gadgets better – and, hopefully, cheaper.
Consumers still want finely crafted products. In fact, a smartwatch might just remind them of this desire.
In some cases, smartwatches have done the opposite of what many expect. Instead of displacing nice watches, they have instead become the portal through which people who have never worn a watch suddenly find the idea appealing.
Take Marco Arment, co-founder of Tumblr and a technology writer with his own blog.In a February post titled “The Apple Watch got me hooked on mechanical watches”, he relates how his smartwatch aroused his interest in well-made wristwatches.
Without a trace of irony, he adds that the very idea of wearing a traditional watch is something he had found laughable just months earlier.
Su Jia Xian is an independent watch journalist, industry observer and collector. Read more at www.watchesbysjx.com.