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By Celine Simon | 22 October 2018

It Could Save Your Life, But the Apple Watch Series 4 Won’t Kill the Luxury Watch Sector

Apple made major headlines last month with the release of their newest Apple Watch collection. With a larger screen, interface updates, and innovative features that put health and wellness first, how will the Apple Watch Series 4 affect the luxury watch sector?

Apple Watch Series 4 Design

The first big change to the newest Apple Watch is the case size. Series 4 comes with a choice of 40mm or 44mm cases compared to the 38mm and 42mm sizes of Series 3. However, despite the increase in diameter, the S4 is actually slimmer, resulting in a more comfortable fit.

The bigger surface area allows for a larger screen, emphasized by the edge-to-edge display—echoing the ones on the iPhone X. All of this results in a viewing area that’s over 30% larger. If you own previous Apple Watch models, you will be happy to learn that the new editions are compatible with older straps.

The Apple Watch’s digital crown on the right side of the case has also been redesigned and reduced in size. In addition to replacing the large red dot with a slim red circle, the winding mechanism has been reengineered with haptic feedback as you scroll through apps, providing a satisfying click-like feel.

The Apple Watch S4 runs on a 64-bit dual-core S4 processor, which is up to two times faster than the S3 processor.

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Apple Watch Series 4 as a Health & Wellness Tool

Flip your Apple Watch around and you’ll see a redesigned heart sensor on the caseback that combines the previous optical sensor with the addition of an electric sensor. When you place your finger on the digital crown, the new electrical heart sensor will allow you to take an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to share with your doctor.

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A mini ECG monitoring device worn on your wrist is not a function to be underestimated—this is an absolute game-changer in the personal health and wellness space. But, it’s important to note that the ECG app is not yet available as Apple is still working on completing the software. Furthermore, the electrocardiogram feature is exclusive to the US for now, with no word on international availability just yet.

Along with keeping tabs on your heart health, the Apple Watch S4 also boasts a fall detection feature that can automatically call emergency services if you become immobile due to the fall.

The new electrical heart sensor and fall detection features, coupled with Apple’s familiar fitness tracking apps, certainly enhances the appeal of the Apple Watch S4 as a daily companion.

What’s more, with the added features, it’s apparent that Apple is targeting a broader spectrum of age and social segments.

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The Impact of Apple Watch and other Smartwatches on the Watch Industry

Of course, a major appeal of the Apple watch still lies in its “cool factor,” particularly attractive to those who appreciate technology and innovative wearable tech. Luxury watches, on the other hand, tend to be bought by the more established than the start-up entrepreneur. Luxury watch enthusiasts typically circulate in a high net worth social world where the watch will be appreciated for its superior craftsmanship and its aesthetic appeal. And it may be one of a number in its owner’s collection.

The luxury watch sector has been around for centuries and has a carefully calibrated heritage “look and feel”. Conversely, the smartwatch market is a much more recent innovation. But it is one that is growing rapidly. In fact, Forbes recently estimated that sales of smartwatches would double in the next five years. And Apple’s collaborations with upmarket luxury brands like Hermès illustrate it has a market ambition, which it would be imprudent for established luxury watch brands to ignore.

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Photos: Hermes Apple Watch Double Tour

Apple has already established a leadership position in the smartwatch sector and an enviable trend-setting reputation, both for its design and its technical features. It’s no secret that the Apple Watch is now the best-selling watch (by revenue) on earth, even beating out Swiss watchmaking giant Rolex. And since S4 is a better device than previous Apple Watch models, it’s not a stretch to predict that the new models will continue to eat up more market share—especially since holiday season is right around the corner. However, as the smartwatch market expands, some luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Montblanc, and TAG Heuer have launched their own versions, seeking to capitalize on the increasing popularity of smartwatches.

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Photo: Louis Vuitton Smartwatch

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Photos: Montblanc Smartwatch and TAG Heuer Carrera

So what does this mean for the watch market at large? Will consumers simply stop wearing and buying mechanical watches in favor of an Apple Watch since the latter offers more functionality, and more importantly, now monitors health and wellness? For some, yes, the Apple Watch is a better option.

But for those who engage with high-end mechanical watches, traditional timepieces still present plenty of benefits over the Apple Watch and other smartwatch alternatives, regardless of functionality. For instance, while the Apple Watch does offer an impressive amount of functionality and practicality, it still doesn’t come close to the status symbol of a high-end luxury watch.

An obvious difference between the genuinely luxury watch brand and the current smartwatch offerings (even among those who’ve launched models in competition with Apple), is the price point. Even higher-end smartwatches have price tags that don’t compare with specialist ultra-luxury watch brands like A. Lange & Söhne, Patek Philippe, Bovet, and Richard Mille, who offer meticulous craft finishing, complex mechanical watch complications, and exclusively curated brand heritage. Or with avant-garde different-from-the-rest innovative watch brands like HYT and MB&F.

Those buying watches in these more rarified parts of the luxury market mostly see their luxury watch as an accessory to express their personal taste (and not necessarily a strictly functional device) and a signifier of personal success. After all, smartphones provide highly accurate timekeeping and time zone comparison features, and yet sales of wristwatches continue to rise. Indeed, at least one luxury watch brand, IWC, has quietly shelved its smartwatch—no doubt to the relief of many loyal or aspiring IWC followers.

Those who enjoy wearing expensive timepieces appreciate the craftsmanship, quality, romance, history, and design of these mini mechanical marvels. There’s a certain sense of pride when wearing a watch made by Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, and other top watchmakers, that the Apple Watch can’t rival—at least not just yet.

Plus, let’s not forget that the life cycle of an Apple Watch is about one year; two years tops. Compare that with a fine watch that can be passed down as family heirlooms from one generation to the next. And, even with an 18-hour battery life, the Apple Watch S4 still needs to be charged daily as opposed to mechanical watches that simply need to be wound-up (either automatically or manually).

Apple Watch and Smartwatches as Part of A Watch Collection

Streaming music has pushed away the CD, Netflix continues to challenge network and cable television, and Uber and Airbnb threaten conventional transport and holiday accommodation markets. Will the Apple Watch and other smartwatches have the same effect on traditional watches?

The Apple Watch Series 4 most certainly poses a threat to the traditional watch industry, but for now, it is more dangerous to a specific price segment ($1,500 and less) rather than the market as a whole.

On the flipside, Apple Watches have brought the act of wearing a watch into the spotlight for a certain demographic. Younger audiences—those who don’t remember a time when there was no Internet—did not necessarily ever see a need to wear a watch since their smartphones told them the time. So, the Apple Watch can serve as a gateway to exploring other types of watches—a benefit that the entire watch industry can take advantage of.

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In truth, the luxury watch and the smartwatch occupy different market niches. But Apple has created a dynamic and growing trend in a niche, which it can rightly claim it has created, and now leads.

Perhaps, we need to view the Apple Watch as merely another watch to add to one’s collection rather than the one that will eradicate it completely. Some may want to wear their favorite smartwatch more or less every day as a fitness tracker/email checker/wellness tool, but opt for a beautiful high-end watch when the occasion calls for dressing up. Or maybe the opposite is true, where a classic timepiece is more appropriate for the office and the Apple Watch comes out during active weekends. Or—we see this happening more and more—both types of watches can be worn at the same time on separate wrists.

Four decades ago, the Quartz Crisis threatened to topple the Swiss watch industry completely and some draw parallels to today’s smartwatch (in particular the Apple Watch) revolution. Yet, it’s important to remember that only not only did the strongest watch brands survive the Quartz Crisis, but many of them eventually grew to be bigger, better, and stronger in the following decades.

The Apple Watch will not kill off the luxury watch industry, but it is forcing traditional watch brands to be more creative and innovative. If they want to survive, traditional watch manufactures will simply have to offer better products. Ultimately, that’s a win for the end-consumer.