​Watchmakers need to learn the lessons of the past

Guess CEO’s letter pays homage to Apple’s past, but that’s not the main lesson the watch industry needs to learn
Why watchmakers need to study history

When IBM entered the PC making industry in 1981 the incumbent, Apple, wrote an open letter to the company, welcoming it to the business.

The similarities – and perhaps magnitude – of the situation in the watchmaking industry today hasn’t been lost on Cindy Livingston, CEO of Guess Watches. She took the chance to parody Apple’s letter to welcome it to the watch business, and simultaneously tease Guess' own smartwatch partnership with Martian, which Wareable previously reported.

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While many of the existing watchmaking fraternity have dismissed Apple’s efforts, Livingston “welcomed the new challenge to stay relevant” picking out “young, sexy and adventurous customers” as most likely to switch allegiance to smart technology.

Livingston applauded Apple’s “innovation and attention to detail” and confirmed what most watchmakers have refused to admit so far: that Apple’s presence is causing “fear and challenge”.

Unfortunately, Livingston didn’t elaborate any more on the specifics of Guess’ partnership with Martian, other than to describe the tech company as a “true brand innovator.”

Bittersweet symphony

The presence of Apple in the watchmaking world will be bittersweet for companies like Guess.

Watches have become increasingly irrelevant to young people, but Apple has changed that already. The wrist is back on the radar. But now watchmakers have to change – in ways they didn’t anticipate and in areas they have little experience.

Having an outsider come and dictate your strategy would be a nightmare for any industry, let alone the traditional, stuffy and stolid Swiss watchmakers. So what should they do? Should they copy Apple? Should they diversify and try and redefine the smartwatch? Should they do nothing?

Many executives in the boardrooms of TAG, Rolex, Guess, Swatch and every other watch brand were only just Googling the definition of “smartwatch” as the spectre of Apple appeared at their office door – just as music execs had to do when iTunes arrived and rearranged their industry.

If there’s one thing to be learned from the other industries that Apple has targeted, conquered and redefined, you need to act fast, decisively, and throw off the shackles of the past.

The watchmaking old guard need to learn some tech lessons from history, and Apple’s open letter to IBM isn’t even the start.

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