Oct 25, 2013
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Swatch pioneer blasts Swiss watch industry

Oct 25, 2013

GENEVA, Switzerland - One of the pioneers behind the rise of the world's biggest watchmaking group Swatch criticised the luxury-focused industry in Switzerland on Thursday, charging it had missed the "smartwatch" train.

Former executive Ernst Thomke, who ran what would become the Swatch Group from 1984 to 1991, said the Swiss watchmaking industry was so obsessed with dominating the market for super-expensive and often jewel-studded watches that it was letting other countries take the lead in the emerging market for high-tech timepieces with smartphone capabilities.

The development of such watches is happening "far from our borders, in the United States, in Japan and in South Korea," the 74-year-old told the Le Temps daily.

"These online watches will be made by Samsung, Apple and others. Switzerland has completely missed this bend in the road," he added.

Thomke said that Swiss watchmakers were too focused on the luxury segment, with exquisite timepieces that can each take a year or more to make and that can cost millions.

"The Swiss watchmaking industry has become a prisoner on its Indian reserve, which is all mechanic and all high end," he said.

In Switzerland, "we prefer to concentrate on complicated watches that are unattainable for common mortals, and which everyone wants but no one really needs," he added.

This did not mean the Swiss watchmaking industry was in trouble, Thomke said, insisting "there are still very good years ahead."

"As long as some people need a Mercedes, a Porsche and a luxury watch on their wrist to feel superior, the outlook is rosy," he said.

And indeed, the future looks far from bleak.

The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said this week that the country's watch exports rose 8.5 percent in September compared to the same month in 2012 to 1.9 billion Swiss francs (1.58 billion euros, $2.13 billion).

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