Back in the 70s and early 80s, the Swiss watch industry went from near domination of the worldwide timepiece market to one in severe crisis, as the emergence of a new technology called quartz - or electronic movement - came to market.
At the time, many of the Swiss watchmakers were slow to embrace quartz while the Japanese and American watchmakers were eager to embrace the new technology which they saw as a way to gain a foothold in a market controlled by the Swiss.
The reluctance of the Swiss watch industry to move to quartz resulted in a period called the Quartz Crisis, when employment in the Swiss watch industry dropped from 90 thousand at its height in the seventies to 28 thousand.
Eventually the Swiss recovered, and nowadays the timepiece industry in Switzerland is once again a huge center of economic vitality. The emergence of Swatch in the 80s and the recognition of high-fashion quality watches from the likes of Rolex and other Swiss brands the world over have fueled steady growth.
However, is it possible that the specter of a new technology could once again put the watch industry in Switzerland in peril? Possibly, and this time the new technology is that what is commonly called smartwatch technology.
According to Arny Kapshitzer, the creator of the first Swiss smartwatch, he approached numerous large watch companies in Switzerland and received no real interest. According to Kapshitzer, most were reluctant to really adopt the new technology.
This sentiment seems consistent with those voiced by the CEO of Swatch, Nick Hayek Jr., who in March said of the iWatch and smartwatch category that "Personally, I don’t believe it’s the next revolution."
Of course, chances are that many in the Swiss watch industry won't sit still given the lessons learned from past complacency, and there are some that are already possibly developing smartwatch technology such as Tag Heuer. According to a spokesperson for the Swiss watch maker, they've been working with Oracle on something related to smartwatches.
My personal opinion? Many high-end smartwatches will eventually build in smart technology while retaining the same high-end look and feel of traditional fashion watches. I just 't think the Swiss watch industry will stand still, and most will either develop their own technology or partner with large technology platform companies to have a line with "smarts" to appeal to those want it.