Can an Apple watch ever compete with a Rolex?

Since the Apple watch was launched last year, there has been continuing debate about the impact this new wearable piece of technology might have on the watch market, and in particular, if it would pose a threat to traditional watches.

The launch of Apple's most elite version of the smartwatch, the Apple Watch Edition, with an eye-watering price tag of £13,500, has also stirred up debate as to whether this upmarket version could be viewed as a viable competitor to luxury timepiece brand, Rolex. So, what is the view from industry insiders and the public - is it justifiable to even mention the Apple watch and Rolex under the same breath, and should the luxury Swiss watch manufacturer be worried?

Status symbol

A survey by a dating site for millionaires recently questioned 1,400 of its members on whether they prefer an Apple watch or a Rolex. 80% of the women questioned said they would rather date a man wearing a Rolex, because it's the ultimate symbol of status and wealth. Whilst this particular piece of research might be hot off the press, the idea of a Rolex watch being a status symbol is, by no means, new.

Chalk and cheese

Although the Apple Watch Edition and Rolex are both marketed towards those with lots of money, many experts believe that they are actually very different products altogether, and so it would be like comparing chalk and cheese. In fact, in a recent survey, only 15% of upmarket consumers regard the Apple watch as a potential substitute to a luxury timepiece, such as Rolex.

A Rolex watch is much more than a timepiece. For owners, it represents a type of jewellery, a status of wealth, an investment and even an exquisite item of art to be passed down from generation to generation. It's the craftsmanship and timelessness of a Rolex that, ultimately, defines it.

An Apple watch, on the other hand, is more like a wearable computer. Rather than being revered for its investment value or its ability to be perceived as a statement piece of jewellery, users are attracted by the technology and its functionality, and, of course, the fashionable status of the Apple brand. Apple watches are capable of performing many of the functions of an iphone, giving users tools and apps to organise their lives, remind them of events, and even monitor how much they eat or exercise. Experts argue the Apple watch is regarded as an accessory to the iphone, as opposed to its capabilities for timekeeping precision or its craftmanship.

Rather than being in competition with each other, the Rolex and Apple Watch Edition may, therefore, actually complement each other. A Rolex timepiece might be worn on the left hand, as a status symbol, whilst the Apple watch might be worn on the right hand, for its functionality values.

It's not just how a Rolex or Apple watch is perceived or used that sets them both apart from each other. A Rolex watch is individually and expertly handcrafted, using meticulous precision components and exacting manufacturing processes. The Apple watch, on the other hand, is mass-produced in China. Even the Apple Watch Edition, with its 18 karat gold case, is made with the same electrical components as the cheapest version of the smartwatch, retailing for around £250.

As well as being a mass-produced product, the Apple watch doesn't enjoy the same revered history as Rolex. With more than a century of existence under its belt, Rolex has firmly established itself over the decades as the ultimate exclusive brand. Although Apple enjoys a huge legion of followers, and is one of the most-respected names in technology, the immaturity of the smartwatch just can't match up to the wise old age of Rolex.

Investment value

Amongst the chatter about whether Rolex and Apple are set to become rivals in the watch market, are views about how Apple will fare in terms of its investment value. There's no doubt that many people purchase a Rolex watch for its investment value, where it increases its worth as the years roll on. But can the same be true for an Apple watch? Will the Apple Watch Edition still hold or increase its value in 50 years time, in the same way that a Rolex watch can?

Experts are not sure that this is feasible. The technology behind a smartwatch means that it is being improved upon all the time with the latest releases, so older watches may quickly become out of date or obsolete. The technology in 50 years time may not even be compatible with the older versions of smartwatch, so this also casts a shadow of doubt over the investment worth of wearable technology.

Shaking up the market

Apple watch sales were strong in the first year of trading, and experts predict the brand could amass up to £5 billion in 2016, proving that there's a place for the smartwatch on our wrists. Whilst Rolex remains unfazed by the introduction of Apple's new breed of watches, other watch brands are remaining cautious. Horology experts even believe that some Swiss watch manufacturers may feel the impact of Apple's smartwatches in the marketplace, with brands such as Swatch likely to be the most vulnerable to the competition.

Other watch makers have decided to take the smartwatch revolution into their own hands, by teaming up with technology giants to produce their own versions. Tag Heuer has partnered up with Google and Intel to create a smartwatch, Cartier has unveiled a technology watch aimed at sporty types, Montblanc has released the TimeWalker Urban Speed e-Strap, whilst Mondaine, Breitling, Frederique Constant and Alpina have all unleashed watches that incorporate the latest smart technology.

The question is whether Rolex will follow suit. Although the luxury brand jumped on the bandwagon when the Quartz phenomenon shook up the watch market some years ago, it currently has no plans to produce its own smartwatch. Of course, time will tell.