The launch of the Apple Watch on 9 September has prompted a discussion of how wearable devices can bridge the gap between technology and fashion, and how this developing market might affect traditional luxury brands.

Smartwatches represent a fast-growing market.  In 2013, the market volume of the global smartwatch industry was USD 700 million: experts believe this will grow to USD 2.5 billion in 2014 – an increase of over 350%.  It’s also an increasingly crowded market.  Looking at the website for the Smartwatch Group, an independent research company, it is clear that there are many companies already selling or preparing to sell smartwatches.

The question then becomes one of how each manufacturer may differentiate its products in such a crowded market.  Certainly, as with smartphones, tablets and other tech industry innovations of the last decade, there will be a focus on technological specifications: highest processing power, clearest display, longest battery life.  Integration with mobile devices and apps for monitoring health are also common selling points.  But there are signs that manufacturers are beginning to look to the fashion industry for the killer edge they need.

The Apple Watch appears to be the most unambiguous attempt so far to pitch wearable technology as a fashion accessory.  It will be sold in three distinct collections – Apple Watch, Sport and Apple Watch Edition – aimed at different demographic segments, with the latter (featuring cases in 18-carat yellow or rose gold) clearly aimed at luxury customers.  An early review appeared in Vogue.  Apple’s team features prominent names from the fashion and luxury goods industries: Angela Ahrendts from Burberry; Paul Deneve of Yves Saint Laurent; Musa Tariq of Nike; and acclaimed designer Marc Newson.  Yet Apple is not alone in this approach.  Samsung, the current smartwatch market leader by far, announced its Galaxy Gear S on 28 August with a seminar in New York featuring Carine Roitfeld, the global fashion director of Harper’s Bazaar and former Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Paris.  It has also recently announced it will sell Swarovski and Diesel Black Gold editions of the Galaxy Gear S.

It will be interesting to see whether smartwatches can become mass-market products, and how they will intersect with traditional fashion markets.  While the Apple Watch will retail for USD 350, industry watchers expect the Apple Watch Edition to be significantly more expensive, and current buyers of wearable technology are not accustomed to the kinds of price differentials seen for high-end watches, which typically sell for thousands of pounds.  While some commentators are asking how the watch industry will be impacted by smartwatches, another question might be how smartwatches will impact consumer attitudes to wearable technology.  CovBrands will certainly be watching this space…