Watch sales boom as smartwatches act as gateway drug to traditional timepieces

Apple CEO Tim Cook provides an update on sales of the Apple Watch (Photo credit: JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Apple sells more of its smartwatches than the entire Swiss watch industry combined, but far from triggering a collapse in sales of traditional watches similar to the quartz crisis of the 1970s, it appears that the tech giant is simply getting more people used to looking at their wrists to tell the time.

New research from NPD in the United States, a company similar to GfK in this country, which monitors sell-through at thousands of retail stores, shows that far more adults wear a watch today than four years ago.

A report by NPD, How Watch Consumers Tick — from Smart to Luxury, finds that 55% of US adults wear a watch today, up from 44% in 2015. The four year period coincides almost precisely with the rise in Apple Watch and other smartwatch sales.

Apple, Samsung and Fitbit are the three biggest producers of connected wristwear, and have seen sales rise year-on-year by 24% in value in the US in the first half of 2019 alone.

NPD estimates the size of the US smartwatch market for 2018 was nearly $5 billion. Compare that to the size of the market for Swiss watches. The Federation for the Swiss Watch Industry says that watches worth CHF 2.2 billion were sold to the United States in 2018. You can double that figure to get an approximation of the retail value of watches sold through to consumers, so almost neck-and-neck with smartwatches.

It appears that smartwatches and traditional watches are co-existing in a way that will give cheer to every authorised retailer of Swiss timepieces. NPD reports that for every customer owning a luxury watch, over one quarter already own or intend to buy a smartwatch.

Demand, even for the millennial generation that is the core target market for the tech companies, is holding up. Consumers aged 18-34 have a greater incidence of wearing a fine or luxury watch (NPD mentions Citizen, Movado and Omega in the category) in 2019 than they did in 2015.



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