The Business Times

Apple Watch set to be a hit, boosting local watch sector

Retailers and watch fans in Singapore don't see it competing with 'traditional' mechanical timepieces

Published Tue, Mar 10, 2015 · 09:50 PM
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WATCH collectors and retailers predict that the Apple Watch would be a hit in Singapore but say that it won't be at the expense of the larger watch market here.

"I've already placed an order for one myself and four more as gifts to my closest friends," says Michael Tay, executive director of Singapore's biggest watch retail chain, The Hour Glass.

"Apple products are highly desired in Singapore, and there's no reason why the Apple Watch should be any different," he says. "What's more, the Apple Watch is designed as an extension to the already popular iPhone. The Apple Watch will be a highly sought-after object."

Sugiharto Kusumadi, managing director of Red Army Watches, which specialises in retailing non-mainstream watch brands, is also keen to own an Apple Watch. "It's an extension of the Apple ecosystem. So, definitely, a fan would love to own it."

Adds Alvin Wong, editor of CROWN Magazine, a watch publication: "The novelty of a new Apple product will pique the interest of both Apple fans as well as watch lovers. It's natural for consumers to get excited. And for a couple of hundred bucks a pop, its entry-ticket is not exorbitant."

The price of the Apple Watch, likely to be sold mainly at Apple stores, will range from US$349 to US$10,000 - depending on size (38 or 42 mm), version (sports edition, regular stainless steel or special gold edition), and if the watch is sapphire glass-coated.

Apart from telling time, the Apple Watch tracks fitness, text, reads e-mail and makes payments. It will be launched on April 24 in nine countries, including three territories in Asia: China, Hong Kong, and Japan.

"It's a given that the Apple Watch will be a hit, especially among the high-density tech-savvy population in Singapore," says Timmy Tan, managing editor of watch magazine Timewerke. Says Irene Ang, Singapore general manager of Swiss Watch brand Oris: "This product is not just a watch; it goes with lifestyle."

Mr Tay of The Hour Glass says that the Apple Watch would be popular in Singapore because "wearable technology is gaining strong traction as fitness and wellness functions are integrated into mobile devices".

Pamela Tan, senior brand manager at Crystal Time, distributor of Swiss watch brands such as Edox, Luminox and Claude Bernard, and running sports watch Soleus, says that Singapore consumers are generally very tech-savvy - and "wearable tech" products such as GPS watches and activity trackers have a major market here.

Indicating that the Apple Watch will "definitely" have an appeal here, she adds: "I see Apple Watch operating and competing within the 'wearable tech' segment."

That is, the one selling digital watches with GPS capabilities and activity trackers.

CROWN Magazine's Mr Wong thus doesn't see the Apple Watch as a threat to "traditional" watches, especially the high-end mechanical timepieces.

"I don't think it will have as big an impact on luxury watch retailers as quartz watches did in the 1980s," he says. "Mechanical watches, especially from luxury brands, are positioned differently and customers buy both types of watches for very different reasons."

Cheap but highly precise Japanese quartz watches nearly killed the Swiss mechanical watch industry in the 1980s. The irony now is that the former is more likely to be hit by the Apple Watch, according to Timewerke's Mr Tan.

Popular watch blogger Su Jia Xian says that the Apple Watch would generally threaten watches in the low-end sub-S$1,000 segment.

Smart watches such as the Apple Watch are here to stay and will eventually encroach on the current mid-range and low-end watch market, says Ng Tjeng Jaw, another watch blogger.

"However, it is in a completely different market segment from the high-end mechanical watch market," he says. "One is an appreciation of traditional ticking machine created with care, craft and skills. The other is just the latest gadget with planned obsolescence."

From watch enthusiast David Leong's viewpoint, the issue is one of the Apple Watch's "functionality versus (the) irrationality" of the watch collector who fancies a mechanical timepiece.

The Apple Watch is functional and practical, says Mr Leong, managing director of recruiting firm Peopleworldwide Consulting. The appeal of the mechanical watch is more on the emotional level.

A mechanical timepiece is more than just a timekeeping device, Mr Kusumadi points out. "It's craftsmanship, it's history, it's emotion and more."

The mechanical watch is made to last, but not the smart watch, according to him.

Mr Tay says: "Mechanical watches will continue to forge their way into the future in a positive manner in the face of technological advancement where handcrafted objects become more rare and appreciated."

Still, a watch enthusiast will not shun the Apple Watch. "As a fan of watches, I will buy one," CROWN Magazine's Mr Wong says. "But that doesn't mean that I'm throwing my appreciation for mechanical timepieces out of the window."

Rather than regarding the Apple Watch as a threat, Mr Tay sees it as a boost to the watch business in Singapore, expanding the total market size. "After all, there's a watch for every occasion," he says.


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