[ZURICH] Apple Inc began selling its smartwatch in Switzerland Friday, luring young consumers to ditch four centuries of Swiss heritage in favor of Silicon Valley gadgets.
Shaun Mettler was one of a crowd of about 40 people who lined up outside Apple's Zurich boutique to be the first in the nation to snatch up the new device, which went on sale here Friday. The 23-year-old student said he hasn't owned a watch since his Flik Flak, a Swiss-made children's watch that Swatch Group AG introduced in the 1980s. Now he's buying an Apple Watch because, he says, most timepieces aren't useful enough.
"A normal watch just tells the time and is about prestige," Mr Mettler said. "The Apple Watch has a whole range of functions, and the design is great. It will force Swiss mechanical watchmakers to come up with something new."
The Apple Watch may aggravate the Swiss watch industry's difficulties by attracting millennials who often don't wear watches. Swiss watchmakers already have to deal with a surge in the franc against the euro that's eroding profits, plus a slump in demand from China, the biggest market for their products. The industry's exports in May declined the most since 2009.
More than half of the crowd of about 40 waiting at Apple's store on Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse on Friday appeared to be under 30 years old. Many said it will be their first timepiece.
"Young people are definitely the target audience of the Apple Watch," said Rene Weber, an analyst at Bank Vontobel AG in Zurich who was part of the throng.
"Swatch is now challenged to bring something to the market that will excite young people."
The Biel-based watchmaker, which also makes high-end Omega and Breguet timepieces, is responding to Apple with a Swatch model that will be able to make mobile payments. Other Swiss brands have also said they're introducing electronic devices, including TAG Heuer, Montblanc and Frederique Constant.
Steven Wuersten, a 23-year-old logistics worker from the town of Frick, was among a small group who camped outside the Apple store Thursday night. Sleeping on the street overnight to buy the watch was not necessary, he said.
"It's a pity, I thought there would be at least 50 people here overnight," he said, sitting on a blue fold-up chair.
The Swiss prices for Apple's new gadget run from 389 francs for a Sport model to 17,500 francs for one with a gold case. Most people in line said they had their heart set on the cheapest version. When the device first arrived in shops in New York, London and Beijing in April, crowds were scarce.
One man who stood in front of the entrance said he was just there to fix his broken iPhone screen. Told what the crowd was for, he replied, "What's the Apple Watch?"