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Swiss watch industry headed for an 'ice age' thanks to Apple Watch, Swatch inventor says

Apple's soon-to-be-released entry into the wearable market could bring financial pain for the low end of Switzerland's vaunted watch industry, according to Swatch co-inventor Elmar Mock, who believes that the Apple Watch "will put a lot of pressure on the traditional watch industry and jobs in Switzerland."

"Anything in the price range of 500 francs to 1,000 francs ($500-$1,000) is really in danger," Mock told Bloomberg. "I do expect an Ice Age coming toward us."

The Apple Watch starts at $349 for the smaller aluminum Sport model, and the stainless steel variants max out at just over $1,000. The luxe Edition versions, fashioned from 18-karat gold, begin at $10,000.

Mock recalled the "quartz crisis" of the 1970s and 1980s, which precipitated the development of the plastic Swatch watch. Swiss watchmakers had failed to anticipate the public demand for less-costly quartz watches, ceding large swaths of the watch market to Japanese firms and losing tens of thousands of jobs in the process.

"So far I see watchmakers in this country making the same mistakes as back then," Mock said. "We've seen a lot of arrogance in the Swiss watch industry in the past few years, calling the smartwatch a gadget and not taking it seriously."

Most vocal among the Apple Watch's critics has been Swatch Group CEO Nick Hayek, who is on record saying that he doesn't "believe [smartwatches] are the next revolution." Hayek has since reversed course, revealing plans to take on both the Apple Watch and Apple Pay with a new smart device.

While Apple is likely to cause some heartburn for the industry, Mock is ultimately hopeful that Swiss watchmakers will not suffer a repeat of its dark days in the last century, despite his grim short-term outlook.

"We do have the technology, and the Swiss watch industry hasn't lost the competition," he added. "I just hope the top managements of the companies will react accordingly. Apple won't die if the smartwatch isn't a success. But in the next two to three years, a part of the Swiss watch market will suffer strongly."