Apple Watch Second Only to Rolex in Worldwide Sales, but What Does It Mean?

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The Apple Watch Series 2 was unveiled today alongside the rest of Apple’s product launches, and it was largely what many expected it to be. The case has been upgraded to be “swimproof,” there’s a new operating system (watchOS 3), and there’s also a new (and pricey) case option of white ceramic. There are, of course, a handful of other upgrades and announcements relating to the latest iteration of the Apple Watch, and if you’re so inclined there are lots of tech blogs more than adequately covering the launch.

The most interesting thing to the w&w team, however, came in at around 10:24am PDT, when Apple put up the following slide:

Apple Iphone (Verge)
Photo credit: The Verge

Apple, at least through the mouth of Design Chief Jony Ive, has long claimed that that the Apple Watch would disrupt the Swiss watch industry. This bit of bravado was met with rancor within most enthusiast circles, as did the euphemism of calling a wearable computer a “watch.” The aforementioned slide—titled “2015 Worldwide Watch Sales” (in terms of revenue)—places Apple right behind Rolex, and ahead of brands like Fossil, Omega, Seiko, Patek Philippe, and Casio, and only serves to highlight Apple’s claim. It’s quite telling that Apple chose not to present a similar slide focused on wearables, a category where the Apple Watch is undoubtedly king. This is the market that Apple wants to go after, and with that graphic Apple is saying that it’s on its way to the top.


But the slide is undoubtedly misleading. Few would be surprised to see that the largest tech company in the world would do reasonably well with a release in a new product category. But Apple selling a watch is much like McDonald’s deciding it’s going to start selling sushi. Sure, McDonald’s would likely become the single largest proprietor of sushi in terms of revenue, but it won’t appeal to those who know what real sushi is. Nor does it indicate anything with regard to the quality of the product. Ultimately, the slide says less about Apple being able to sell a great watch to traditional watch consumers, and more about Apple’s power to produce and sell volume when it comes to their products.

Apple Watch 1
Ceramic case; Image source: Apple

All of this is not meant to reignite the debate, “is the Apple Watch a watch?” I am simply saying that for those interested in fine, long-lasting mechanical wrist watches, be they from Seiko or Patek Philippe, an Apple Watch with its inherently limited lifespan is no replacement. The graphic seems to imply that it is. And while there is certainly a degree of functionality offered by the Apple Watch not available in a classic wrist watch, and to that there is some merit worth noting, the watch making world’s biggest problem is not the Apple Watch.

Needless to say, the Apple Watch is a provocative product, and you’ll surely be hearing about it again. And as I wrote above, there is some merit to the product, which we’re sure to explore in a later hands-on.

Ilya is worn&wound's Managing Editor and Video Producer. He believes that when it comes to watches, quality, simplicity and functionality are king. This may very well explain his love for German and military-inspired watches. In addition to watches, Ilya brings an encyclopedic knowledge of leather, denim and all things related to menswear.
  • Terrance Steiner

    While there is some cross over the people buying Apple Watches are not generally “Watch guys”. For the most part Apple Watch sales are adding to the watch market share not taking sales from the traditional watch companies. I doubt there are many people debating between a Rolex or an Apple Watch

    The one major difference between smart watches and traditional watches it that smart watches are sold with the ingrained obsolescence. It is unlikely a smart watch will still be usable in 3-4 years. Technology advances too quickly. The watch industry could have a watch that remains essentially unchanged for a decade or more. The Speedmaster Pro for example. The planned obsolescence of the tech sector means there will be a new or refreshed device almost every year.

    I am one of the few people that came into the world of watches from a smart watches. I had not worn a watch for years. I never wore one regularly. I bought a smart watch 1.5-years ago. I thought it was cool but not for me so I sold it. I found I missed having something on my wrist and ended up buying a mechanical watch…and another…and another…and another…you get my point. Damn that smart watch ended up costing me a lot of money.

  • Garrett Hu

    This slide contains no useful information, they could have taken their sales figures and compared it with Abercrombie and Fitch or Toyota e.t.c. There is no data that shows how many people gave up their Rolex for a wearable device or people that own mechanical watches also bought a wearable device. So there is no useful comparison here and only serves as something for die hard Apple fans to cheer about. It’s not a watch, at best it is an assist to a mechanical timepiece. 🙂

  • DannyBoyJr

    No Timex? Sure their watches are cheap, but volume sales would do wonders to one’s bottom line.

  • Pistol Pete

    In my limited experiences, the vast majority of people wearing apple watches (or similar electronic devices) are IT professionals. I suspect there is very little overlap between Apple and most of the brands on their slide. They are different markets altogether, much like comparing sales of Lamoborghinis to John Deere tractors. Some similarities, yet oh so different.

  • Roger Swiper

    The slide essentially indicates there are many people in the world who buy Apple products, religiously.
    To me, a watch is functional jewelry and offers the buyer a method of making a statement about him/herself (classy, sporty, retro, etc.). No matter what is inside a watch case, or the quality of the manufacturing; most people decide on a watch to purchase based on it’s design/look. Then they consider (in no particular order) cost, brand image/reputation, quality, perhaps resale value, functionality and intended use.
    This is where I think Apple falls short.
    I have never been attracted to the Apple Watch design and think it simply looks silly on the wrist (in my opinion). In the smartwatch world, there are better executed options from other brands. If another phone manufacturer released that design first, it would have been criticised as infantile and uninspired.
    However, passion for a brand is far stronger than good taste. Not that there is anything wrong with that and everyone has the right to spend their money how they wish to.
    I think the statement an Apple watch owner is making is, ‘I don’t really want or need a watch. I want/need another Apple product’. Again, nothing wrong with that.

  • imageWIS

    Clearly that list is just known companies that produce wristwatches, period. There is no useful info to be derived from that slide.

  • Torben Pedersen

    Well, Rolex are mainly bought by people who wants a watch to show of – ‘Look, I wear a Rolex!’
    Overprices Apple smart watches on the other hand … ?

    • Oh_Oh_SarCastro

      If your trying to make the argument that Apple products are not used as status symbols as opposed to Rolex, I would suggest you have been living under a rock for the last 15 years.

  • Richard Baptist

    One of my theories is that it’s not a good sign for the watch industry because I think the Apple watch appeals to young people. I just wonder if those people will be lost to seeing the appeal of mechanical watches. I try to get my kid and my friends kids interested in mechanical watches and they show no interest. They point to their apple watch and say “I have one already”. Maybe this will change as they get older but I fear haute horology will be the preserve of the old and the rich. Not a population segment for a thriving industry. Instead of dismissing the slide, I think the watch industry should be doing more to woo younger buyers with cheaper pricing and more interesting complications. I think there should be more experimenting – kind of what Biver is doing with the Tag Heur connected – giving the buyers the option to buy a mechanical watch after some time. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but what if I’m not?

    • I wore a mechanical watch for years, and I actually have a negative interest in them now. It’s not “I have a watch already” in my Apple Watch. It’s that “I have a better watch FOR ME” in my Apple Watch. The extra features are more important to me than the beauty (yes, I’ll say beauty) of a traditional watch.

      My mechanical watches sit in a nice bag that protects them. If I take them out of that bag more than a dozen times over the rest of my life I’ll be surprised.

  • Nathan

    Ummmm its not misleading at all. Apple’s graphic doesn’t say anything other than “we sold a lot of products”. It doesn’t say “we sold a lot of watches to watch enthusiasts”. And arguing that the Apple watch isn’t a true watch because its disposable or has fancy functions is like arguing digital watches aren’t real watches, or that the original Sistem 51 isn’t a real watch because it’s disposable. Apple Watch is the second highest selling watch in the world, that’s all.

    • DannyBoyJr

      It is not the 2nd highest selling watch in the world by volume, but by revenue. We all know that Apple’s markup for their products is over 50%, which makes them the most profitable company in the world. Their iPhone is by any objective measure a midrange device spec-wise, but has a premium price tag. While flagship Android devices are being sold almost at cost just to be competitive.

      The same is also the case with their watches. We don’t actually know how many watches Apple sold. They could very well have only sold several thousand units but made a fortune on overpricing. If the list was about volume, we would see Timex, Bulova, Guess, Invicta, and Swatch on the list. These brands sell a lot of watches but I suspect that their profit margins are low.

      The title of this post should read: Apple, the second most profitable watch brand in the world. The current title is just too misleading.

      • Terrance Steiner

        The same probably applies to Rolex’s mark up. I would be curious to see who moved more units Rolex or Apple. I would guess that apple sold more watches but Rolex still made more. Now that’s a mark-up.

        • ZOD

          They must have. Rolex watches are an order of magnitude or two more expensive than all but the rarest Apple Watches. Apple sells watches for between $250.00 & $700.00 USD. IIRC, there are special editions that top out at $2500.00 or so.

      • Oh_Oh_SarCastro

        If its markup than sure. Thats easy if you cheap uneducated labor in China VS fully educated craftsmen in Zwitserland.

  • Oh_Oh_SarCastro

    I fully agree with the point Ilya is trying to make. The Applewatch is to haute horlogerie as what Mc Donalds is to haute cuisine.

  • foljs

    >All of this is not meant to reignite the debate, “is the Apple Watch a watch?” I am simply saying that for those interested in fine, long-lasting mechanical wrist watches, be they from Seiko or Patek Philippe, an Apple Watch with its inherently limited lifespan is no replacement.

    What about those interested in the most cutting edge technologically digital watch?

    Would a Patek Phillipe do it for them?

  • CanAmSteve

    Reality does not bear this out. Maybe everyone in Asia has an Apple Watch, but I get around a bit in the consuming world and I see very few Apple Watches in the wild. Of the few friends who have one, the #1 reason is “It was a gift”. So while I would agree that it is based on revenue and ubiquity of Apple sales points (the McDonalds analogy) I *still* have my doubts and would ask for independent verification. I mean, I see ten fake Rolexes for every real one, and only tossers wear Rolexes to begin with (they go nicely with gold shoes and/or gold chains). I don’t think one of my relatives/friends under 30 even uses a watch…

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