Tech Or Timepiece: How Will Apple Compete With Rolex?

Wearable technology is a super-hot trend right now, but I’m curious if the concept of the iWatch will run into a challenge by going toe–to-toe with expensive watches as a traditional signs of affluence and aspiration. Almost every men’s magazine clearly states that one of the sartorial requirements for a professional man is a nice timepiece: Rolex, Panerai, Omega, Breitling, are all aspirational brands. Does Apple -- or Samsung for that matter -- think they can overcome that aspiration and replace a Rolex with an iWatch?

The Apple brand is valuable, but it’s not as “valued” as these signs of affluence, and I wonder how the company will tackle that challenge?  This may feel like a silly topic to discuss, but if you dive into the business model for Apple, you’ll find it definitely targets those with discretionary income with its prices for the iPhone, iPad, Macbook Air, etc.  Are these people going to replace one aspiration with another? Are they going to work an iWatch into the rotation with their Cartier or IWC?

Or maybe the affluent, techie audience will start wearing a watch on both arms?  This sounds preposterous  -- like something GQ  will immediately nix -- but there will likely be a portion of the audience who views the iWatch simply as tech, and not timepiece. I would never wear two watches, but more often than not I do have my FitBit on one arm and my watch on the other.  From that perspective, it’s not as a far a stretch as one might imagine.

Another consideration: Are we going to buy a new watch every year, or every other year, when the updated model comes out?   Apple lovers are known for standing in line to acquire the latest model, but will that same brand loyalty apply to a watch?  If it’s a watch of some value, will people really replace it every year?  What about women?  Are women the target audience for a techie-type watch, or will Apple cater to fashionistas with different, more fashion-conscious models?

The concept of wearable tech requires more sense of fashion than industrial design.  The iPhone arrived in a beautiful form factor, immediately eclipsing everything else in the category and inspiring imitation from day one.  A watch is a well-established piece of fashion, one that runs the gamut from trendy fad to timeless (pun intended) classic.  Planning for an entrant in this highly anticipated category is no small feat -- certainly why we have seen more rumors than action for such a long period of time. 

Don’t get me wrong -- I think Apple will sell millions of these things when they launch, because I’m certain there is a portion of the audience that will want one, and achieving that dream will be well within their grasp.  The younger audience will likely hop on this trend quickly, and some more established segments will be interested as well.  I am simply curious about how Apple will tackle the age-old challenge of being a premium brand in a category that is considered far more premium than where it currently resides.  Everyone has a cell phone these days, but not everyone has a luxury watch. What about those higher-end targets?  Will Apple partner with Rolex to develop the iRolex?  Will they get in bed with Louis Vuitton for the iLouis? 

This issue will certainly makes for some interesting brand alignments, won’t it?

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3 comments about "Tech Or Timepiece: How Will Apple Compete With Rolex?".
  1. Steve Lundin from BIGfrontier , July 2, 2014 at 2:28 p.m.
    Nice observation Cory - and you do beg a question that has been answered - in part - with a few examples from the marriage of Smartphones and high end brands. Look at the sales of the Vertu or the Blackberry Porsche Design phone. I'm not sure that either of these offerings have gone through the roof - and there are probably more models to review. As someone who has worked in the watch industry for 20 years I can tell you that collectors - who rotate their watches on a daily basis - don't typically trade in their pieces every time a new model appears. However - who wants to be seen with a three year old Smartphone?! The only "smart" watch in my personal collection is a Suunto - that pairs with my diving gear - and has a nice form factor and a utility. But it doesn't ring and I can't answer it underwater. Which is where the "Patek Philippe Smartwatch" concept may permanently reside.
  2. Dan Ciccone from MEDIAFICIONADO , July 2, 2014 at 2:48 p.m.
    A Rolex or a Panerai will set you back $8k+ and is used/positioned in a completely different way than a wearable digital device. It's like asking if tablets will replace a 60 inch TV. They both have their place. One other thing about "wearable technology." Outside of Google Glass, techie watches have been around for years. The majority of interest has been in fitness and all research and behavior points to the fact that the majority of people do not want to monitor their every move. Downloads and acquisition of these apps are fast and furious, but so is the drop-off rate. Much like there is a limited market for a Rolex or Panerai watch - there is a limited market for people who want to be constantly connected to a device to monitor their every move. BTW, there are "high end" watches out there like Breitling and Tissot that already combine analog and digital offerings and as mentioned above, it is for that limited market that seeks out such combinations. So IMO, it's not about Apple "competing" with Rolex. Apple is not trying to replace anyone's Rolex.
  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 2, 2014 at 5:36 p.m.
    Grandma, what big eyes you have ! The better to see you with, my dear. Yeah ? Well, go phablet yourselfie....Do the wristband computers come with a magnifying glass ?