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Swatch sees smartwatches as opportunity, not threat

Swatch watches are displayed in front of a shop at the central station in Zurich February 4, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Swatch watches are displayed in front of a shop at the central station in Zurich February 4, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

ZURICH (Reuters) - The emergence of smartwatches, gadgets allowing the wearer to check text messages or capture video, is an opportunity rather than a threat for traditional watchmakers, the head of Swatch Group told Reuters on Friday.

Tech companies Sony <6758.T>, Samsung <005930.KS> and Qualcomm have all launched wearable devices able to make calls, access the web or run apps, raising questions over whether this new trend could impact traditional watch sales.

"The smartwatch is an opportunity for us, whatever happens. If people who never used to wear anything on their wrist start wearing a so-called smartwatch, then we certainly can convince them quickly to try wearing a beautiful watch instead," Chief Executive Nick Hayek said in a telephone interview.

He said Swatch Group had all the know-how necessary to make smartwatches and already had some "smart" products on the market, but didn't intend to become a big player in this field.

"We have all the know-how but we do not want to build up stock of technology bombs people won't want to buy."

Ten years ago, Swatch Group teamed up with Microsoft to launch a smartwatch called Paparazzi that offered users direct access to news, horoscopes, stock quotes and other real-time information via radio waves, but the product did not meet with the hoped-for success.

Clumsy designs, high prices and technological constraints of the new-generation smartwatches are likely to put off consumers, industry executives and analysts said at an electronics show in the United States this week.

Watch executives told Reuters in autumn they didn't see smartwatches as a threat to luxury watches given they were not aimed at the same customers and were not in the same price category.

Swatch, the world's biggest watch maker, said on Friday it expected double-digit sales growth this year on the back of stronger demand in China.

(Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Mark Potter)

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