Swiss watchmakers complain about Apple courting their talents

Hublot Ferrari Magic Gold (image 001)

Earlier this month, we relayed reports asserting Apple may be looking to build its rumored wearable project, dubbed iWatch, in Switzerland. The iPhone maker reportedly created a company in the country for this purpose, prompting watchers to speculate that the iWatch could potentially carry the ‘Swiss Made’ label.

Sources claimed Apple had approached some of the world’s finest watchsmiths and attempted to poach talents employed by such watchmaking groups as LVMH.

The Financial Times is now corroborating these reports in a story Friday, writing that Apple’s been courting high-level executives and craftsmen at Swiss watch brands to help build the iWatch, in one instance even attempting to recruit a horologists directly.

However, Swiss watchmakers have apparently rejected the possible iWatch project collaboration as they reportedly have no time to enter into any kind of partnership agreement with any of Silicon Valley’s technology giants…

According to FT’s story:

Traditional Swiss watch brands claim they are being courted by the likes of Apple, Samsung and Google, as Silicon Valley places increasing importance on the aesthetics and design of new hardware.

Jean-Claude Biver, the president of LVMH’s watches and jewelry division, said Apple had tried to poach staff from his Hublot brand, and from several Swiss parts manufacturers.

“Apple has contacted some of my employees – I saw the emails personally,” Mr Biver told a Swiss publication, claiming that all those who had been contacted refused the iPhone maker’s advances.

Another exec believes Apple is considering a hybrid mechanical-electronic device.

Biver, the outspoken LVMH president, is well regarded for being almost too good at creating buzz so you’re advised to take his statement with a pinch of salt. For instance, last summer he dismissed Apple’s expected incursion into watchmakers’ traditional turf:

It would be pretentious to think that this kind of watch would fail to compete with Swiss watches. But they will in any case clearly not be competing with the high-end Swiss watches, which account for most of the exports.

Swatch CEO Nick Hayek echoed the notion, according to the FT story, saying:

Never forget, to make a smartwatch work you need two hands or voice recognition, which again needs a lot of power which is difficult in a very limited space.

Hayek admitted to have been in discussions with “practically all players in smart wearables,” but underscored his company saw “no reason why we should enter into any partnership agreement.”

The quotes remind me of early dismissal of the iPhone by carriers and handset vendors. Luxury watchmakers should know better.

Thanks to Google’s recent introduction of Android Wear software for wearable devices, a number of device makers will be releasing their smartwatch products in 2014, including Asus, HTC, LG, Samsung and Motorola, which showed off its fine-looking Moto 360 device earlier in the month.

iWatch concept (Stopwatch and navigation, Gabor Balogh 001)
iWatch concept by Hungarian designer Gábor Balogh.

Increased competition will bring consumers more choices.

And as a growing number of buyers start to consider smartwatches over traditional timepieces, Swiss makers are going to feel the heat as sales will inevitably slow. Instead of embracing technological advances, these companies continue to sing the same old tune which I suspect won’t resonate as much with the general public as wearable technologies explode.

That being said, I’m puzzled as to whether the iWatch – the nickname coined by the press – will resemble traditional wristwatches and smartwatches or perhaps general purpose devices that are worn on one’s body.

Judging by the sheer number of high-profile hires Apple’s made in past months across medical industries, the device should have a strong focus on health and fitness tracking.

Healthbook (Emergency Card 001)
A mockup of a rumored Healthbook app in iOS 8.

Apple is also said to be working feverishly to open up Siri to third-party developers via a Siri API, primarily with iWatch in mind. Third-party integration won’t require one-to-one business arrangement between Apple and the external company, The Information reported recently.

We also heard that the official Siri API, which has been years in the making, will take care of intelligently selecting what to display on a device with constrained screen space. Siri, for example, would know when you’re working out and could automatically bring a fitness app to the foreground.

Pictured top of post: Hublot’s Ferrari Magic Gold wristwatch.