Despite the benefit of hindsight by proxy, learning the lessons of film and music executives, luxury Swiss watchmakers have opted for an ill-advised 'stamp it out' approach to their pirated designs turning up as custom Android Wear smartwatch faces on the likes of the Moto 360 and LG G Watch R smartwatches.
It's another example of a traditional industry picking a fight with the internet, something that history reveals to be completely futile.
So what should they be doing? Why, embracing the trade, of course; giving it a big old smacker on the lips and saying, “Thanks for making us relevant in the digital world and doing our marketing for us.”
Let’s lay down the facts. Omega watches start at around £2,000. If you’re the kind of person who has the funds for a four-figure fashion accessory, you’re probably not going to be farting rounding with a Moto 360 and, if you are, it’s unlikely that your Android Wear device is your only watch. You’d have your luxury, Bond-worn chronometer as well.
To say that pirate Android watchfaces are taking a cut of industry profits is laughable. In fact, we go so far as to say that they’re boosting them if anything; perhaps not immediately but certainly in the future.
Smartwatch-wearing teens and twentysomethings might know your brand. They’ve probably heard of Rolex, Cartier and Tag but Mondaine, Breitling, Alfred Dunhill; not so much. These designs are all available for Android Wear in the not too shady backwaters of the internet and, you know what, it might turn out that these youngsters rather like them, and now they have something to aspire to.
Should they get to a point in their lives where they can afford a real luxury watch - which many of them will - then that advertising has already been done a long time ago. The same might be true for older technology and gadget fans who’d never really considered that kind of jewellery before until they tried them out on their smartwatch.
What’s more, given that people downloading IP-protected watchfaces and those buying the luxury devices themselves are an entirely different market, why not take the opportunity to not only quality control this new and fascinating digital side of classic horology but also make some cash on the side? Charge a couple of quid for each download and those 24 million predicted Apple Watches sold in 2015, plus many millions more from other brands, are going to turn in quite a decent chunk of cheese.
With all the digital watchface sales data coming back, there’ll be some interesting hints as to what each age group is looking for in watch style as well as opportunities to connect with an audience that the luxury companies never knew they had. It’s brand association without spoiling the exclusivity of the top-end product plus even a way of reviving older models from the annals of history. And, of course, should any of these companies ever decide to make an official luxury smartwatch of their own, which they will, then there’s a whole load of market research already done.
To be fair, it’s easy to see why the watch industry has had this most knee jerk of reactions. Closing down the counterfeits is a war they’ve been fighting for centuries and smartwatches are just the latest battleground. You can pick up a fake Rolex on the internet or in any city of the world at the tiniest of fractions of what the genuine article would cost. According to the Swiss Custom Service, there are around 30 or 40 million fake watches in circulation at any moment and it estimates the cost to the industry is around $1bn per year. Before you go shedding any tears though, that’s only 6 per cent of the market lost to forgeries.
It’s also important to remember that, unlike with film and music piracy, what’s downloaded onto Android Wear devices and what’s sold by Cartier & co. are not the same product. One is a piece of jewellery complete with precious metal strap and a face of stones rarer still, and the other is an LCD screen gadget. The threat to profits is minimal.
There are 3 million luxury watch buyers on the planet. That leaves space for 6.97 billion to embrace. So, how about showing some love to this world of wouldbes. Watchmakers were the gadget geeks of yesteryear, it's time and meet the tech fiends of today.