What is it about?

This article uses a study of the Swiss mechanical watch industry to build theory about how a legacy technology, instead of being supplanted by a new dominant design as current theory would predict, is able to reemerge and achieve new market growth. The introduction of the battery-powered quartz watch in the 1970s made mechanical watches largely obsolete, but by 2008 the Swiss mechanical watchmaking industry had rematerialized to become the world’s leading exporter (in monetary value) of watches. This study uncovers the process and mechanisms associated with technology reemergence: the resurgence of substantive and sustained demand for a legacy technology following the introduction of a new dominant design. It reveals that technology reemergence involves a cognitive process of redefining both the meanings and values associated with the legacy technology and the boundaries of the market for that technology. Watchmakers redefined and combined values of craftsmanship, luxury, and precision to create new meanings and values for mechanical watch technology; repositioned the mechanical watch as an identity and status marker; temporally distanced themselves from the period of the discontinuous quartz technology by recalling their founding and more successful past and connecting it to the future; and used conceptual bridges such as analogies and metaphors to help employees and consumers understand the new meanings. They redefined market boundaries by reclaiming the competitive set, rebuilding the community of mechanical watchmakers, and mobilizing groups of enthusiast consumers who valued the mechanical watch. For mechanical watchmakers, reemergence culminated in competitive and consumer differentiation that ushered in reinvestment in innovation and substantive and sustained demand growth for the legacy technology.

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Why is it important?

This paper examines how a legacy technology, and the organizations and community that support it, achieves substantive and sustained market growth following the introduction of a new dominant design. It identifies the processes and temporal sequence related to technology reemergence that have not been accounted for in theories related to technology cycles and industry evolution.

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This page is a summary of: Technology Reemergence: Creating New Value for Old Technologies in Swiss Mechanical Watchmaking, 1970–2008, Administrative Science Quarterly, May 2018, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/0001839218778505.
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