In a bid to stay relevant, luxury watch maker Tag Heuer has revealed plans to take on Apple and others with its own smartwatch investments, which will include deals with partners and potential acquisitions. But the brand wasn’t so keen on the smartwatch concept just a few months ago, criticizing the Apple Watch as lacking the timelessness and prestige of luxury goods.
“Smartwatches represent a challenge to the Swiss watch industry that is comparable to the appearance of quartz technology,” Guy Semon, general manager of LVMH (the luxury conglomerate whose portfolio includes Tag Heuer), told Reuters. “We cannot ignore this tsunami that is coming closer.”
Rewind back to September, and the company had a very different take. Shortly after the Apple Watch’s reveal, Jean-Claude Biver, head of LVMH’s watch division, found a number of faults, saying it lacked sex appeal, was “too feminine,” and looked like “it was designed by a student in their first trimester.”
This rash judgment harks back to how early smartphone makers underestimated Apple when it first showed off the iPhone. “We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone,” Palm CEO Ed Colligan famously said back in 2006. “PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.” But that’s exactly what happened. Apple’s iPhone turned the smartphone industry upside down, and Palm—slow to reinvent itself—is now gone.
Of course, it’s still very early in the smartwatch era. It’s entirely possible that the Apple Watch won’t take off. It’s not known whether high-end watch makers will either be totally fine or eventually destroyed by more capable wrist computers. Apple, meanwhile, is used to being underestimated.
One question, then, is how Apple and existing watch makers will—or won’t—work together on accessories. Would a company like Tag Heuer risk its watch business to sell, say, expensive bands for the Apple Watch? Would Apple allow such a thing? Or would pride or competitiveness prevent either party from engaging?