Exclusive: Seiko studying a smart watch as global sales eclipse Swiss watches

Visiting Seiko chief operating officer Hirohiko Umemoto has told watch-next.com that the company is studying the prospect of entering the connected watch field.

While giving no details of plans, he confirmed that the changing watch landscape was leading the company to evaluate whether a Seiko smartwatch was an option for the company.

Mr Umemoto was in Sydney in early March for the opening of the brand’s first boutique in Australia.

The entry of a player of the size and popularity of Seiko would change the smartwatch landscape, one that is currently dominated by Apple with barely a Swiss entrant apart from Tag Heuer.

SEIKO chief operating officer Hirohiko Umemoto in Sydney in March.
Seiko chief operating officer Hirohiko Umemoto in Sydney in March.

The news comes hot on the heels of Boston-based independent research and consulting firm Strategy Analytics reporting that global smartwatch shipments have for the first time eclipsed Swiss watch exports.

Strategy Analytics say connected watches reached 8.1 million units in the fourth quarter of 2015, compared with 7.9 million Swiss watch shipments.

Cliff Raskind, director at Strategy Analytics, said: “We estimate global smartwatch shipments rose a healthy 316 per cent from 1.9 million in Q4 2014. Smartwatches are growing rapidly in North America, western Europe and Asia.

Apple Watch captured an impressive 63 per cent share of the global smartwatch market in Q4 2015, followed by Samsung with 16 per cent. Apple and Samsung together account for eight in 10 of all smartwatches shipped worldwide.

By contrast Raskind added, “We estimate global Swiss watch shipments reached 7.9 million units in Q4 2015, falling 5 per cent from 8.3 million in Q4 2014.  Global demand for Swiss watches is slowing down, and major players like Swatch are struggling to find growth.”

Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics said that “the Swiss watch industry has been very slow to react to the development of smartwatches. The Swiss watch industry has been sticking its head in the sand and hoping smartwatches will go away”.

“Swiss brands, like Tag Heuer, accounted for a tiny 1 per cent of all smartwatches shipped globally during Q4 2015, and they are long way behind Apple, Samsung and other leaders in the high-growth smartwatch category.”

Don’t expect the Swiss watch industry to take that lying down. It adds to the interest surrounding the giant annual Baselworld watch fair which opens in Switzerland on March 17.

Bani McSpedden is editor of watch-next.com and The Australian Financial Review.

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