With the Apple Watch making its (relatively) quiet entrance on the world stage this week, all eyes are on China’s burgeoning watch enthusiasts, whose own emergence on the world stage had major implications for luxury watchmakers worldwide over the past half-decade.
As luxury watch sales continue to slide within mainland China and major brands seek relief in the booming number of shoppers at their boutiques in Europe and the United States, the hollowing-out of the luxury watch market in China may be a blessing for Apple.
Itself a luxury brand in mainland China, Apple has largely been spared from Xi Jinping’s ongoing anti-corruption crusade. Unlike brands such as Louis Vuitton or Prada, Apple sales in China have continued to soar, with the company’s iPhone expected to make Apple the top smartphone vendor in China, displacing homegrown brand Xiaomi.
But things have not been so rosy for the likes of Rolex or Vacheron Constantin. Luxury watch sales in mainland China plummeted an estimated 12.5 percent in 2013, and saw only a slight recovery by the end of 2014. In response, major conglomerates have pushed their more modestly priced brands in the market, with the Swatch Group heavily promoting its portfolio brands Tissot and Longines.
However, the continuing luxury-as-four-letter-word campaign means watch brands will likely remain wary this year of making major gestures in the market, such as the opulent launch events that were so ubiquitous even a few years ago. Meanwhile, Apple will continue its marketing efforts undisturbed, courting celebrities and getting its products plastered on fashion and lifestyle media.
By skirting the line between luxury and technology, Apple will be able to “get away” with far more from a media perspective than any other high-end brand in the market, undoubtedly making its fair share of Swiss brands jealous along the way.