Smart Wars Episode 1 – A New Hope

The Swiss watch industry will never forget the gross underestimation of the Japanese quartz watch of that 1970’s.  That was an error that, were it not for the genius of Nicholas Hayek, would have likely brought the industry to its knees.

Since then, Swiss luxury watchmaking has gone from strength to strength, weathering global economic recession whilst at the same time giving birth to international watchmaking powerhouses like Swatchgroup, Richemont and LVMH.

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Swiss Watch Exports since 1986

In the last few decades, the world of the wealthy has gone crazy for the latest exo-tourbillon, the minute-repeater complication, the perpetual calendar and the ultra-slim.

However, there is a new Quartz-like threat looming on the horizon and it is far less linear and far more devastating than the Japanese invasion of the 1970’s could ever be.  It is a threat that each and every Swiss manufacturer, from Le Brassus to Le Locle, from the Jura valley to Schaffhausen, simply cannot afford to ignore.

All hail the arrival of the Smartwatch…

Smartwatch fever is now here to stay
Smartwatch fever is now here to stay

 

The Smartwatch is no ordinary threat.  It is not a menace that directly impacts the economics of the industry, nor one that involves any kind of technological hurdle for watchmakers in general.  What the industry is facing is a challenge that goes to the very heart of historic watchmaking and one that risks altering the very DNA of the traditional timepiece.

After all, the Smartwatch has, in essence, very little to do with actually telling the time, nor with measuring it, nor with the aesthetics of it.  The device is ostensibly a sophisticated micro-computer worn on the wrist, has everything to do with connectivity, productivity, communication and information.

And therein lies the problem.  An entirely different consumer looking for a wholly different wrist-based experience totally divorced from the romantic, emotional, collectible, nostalgic appeal of a traditional hand-made timepiece.  The Swiss watch industry, presently dominated by high-value, aspirational, status-based, precision-oriented feats of mechanical engineering, now risks being relegated to the lowly, heavily-discounted shelves of mass-market consumer electronics stores.

A. Lange & Söhne's 'Grand Complication' close-up
A. Lange & Söhne’s ‘Grand Complication’ close-up

 

We’ve always known that the Smartwatch was coming, but it is now here and the battle is being waged on all fronts.  And we really mean all fronts…

APPLE COMPUTER

The world has waited with baited breath for many months while Apple Computer has repeatedly announced the launch of the much-hyped Apple Watch, with the latest launch date slated for late April 2015.  Joining its Android-based counterparts, many of which have been physically available for a while now, the Apple Watch promises to revolutionise the way we interact with our digital environment.  Unlike its Android equivalents, the Apple Watch will showcase models that will be fashioned out of solid gold, with a luxury watch pricetag rumoured to start at US$10,000 and up!

Apple Watch product range to be launched April 2015
Apple Watch product range to be launched April 2015

 

The values being brought to the table by the Apple Watch and its Android cousins are those of close-knit interoperability with your existing mobile phone architecture, together with capacitive touch-screens, the ability in some cases to make and receive calls, fitness tracking, video and audio recording, full-featured messaging platforms, GPS guidance, integration with your online calendar, and a whole host of mind-blowing space-age functionality.

This raises a number of questions for the Swiss watch industry.  Firstly, is the above feature-list enough to woo customers away from the traditional mechanical complicated watch?  Secondly, are the maisons prepared to adopt and accommodate a “me too” approach when it comes to the Smartwatch offering?  And thirdly, to what extent will the likes of Breitling, Tissot, Zenith, Hamilton, Patek, etc. go to compete with the Smartwatch?

There is no concrete answer to the above questions, but there sure are a lot of clues out there:

BREITLING

This Grenchen-based maison is a proud, independent company whose fiercely-loyal customer-base swear by the brand’s precision-engineering, its dedication to all things aviation and its bold, glaring good looks.

Earlier today, Breitling announced the B55 Connected Calibre, its first foray into the Smartwatch arena.  Surprised?  Don’t be.  This is a stunning timepiece, with a simply hard-to-believe feature-set.  Breitling for Bentley?  No, this is Breitling with Bluetooth!

 

Breitling's Brand new B55 Connected
Breitling’s Brand new B55 Connected

 

Check out the amazing product video for the Breitling B55 Connected here.

MONTBLANC

This Haute Horlogerie maison, based in Le Locle in the Neuchatel canton, is a pioneer of high watchmaking.  Their Villeret collection is the stuff of dreams, and in two short decades, they have launched a slew of stunning tourbillons, the world most competitively-priced perpetual calendar complication, a striking metamorphosis (face-changing) series, and a host of other feats of contemporary watchmaking.

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The striking new Montblanc Urban Speed e-Strap timepiece

At the SIHH 2015 Geneva by-invitation-only show, Montblanc unveiled its Timewalker Urban Speed E-Strap.  According to the Montblanc website, this baby is an integrated technology device that offers an activity tracker, smart notifications, remote controls and Find-Me functions. It connects, via Bluetooth Low Energy, to selected Android and iOS smartphones. For the first time, an owner will be able to wear a mechanical timepiece with highly useful digital functionality.  Okayyyy…

 

The rear of the Urban Speed e-Strap
The rear of the Urban Speed e-Strap

 

Have fun watching Montblanc’s Urban Speed e-Strap video here.

SWATCH

Only two days ago, the BBC announced that Swatch has just revealed plans to compete with its smartwatch rivals.  Swatch is careful though to make the distinction between a “tech-enhanced” Swiss watch and a “fully featured” micro-computer worn on the wrist à la Apple Watch.

According to the BBC article, the new waterproof Swatch Touch Zero One is targeted at beach volleyball players and can track their number of footsteps and measure how hard they smack the ball with their hands.

The Touch Zero One uses one of the company’s standard batteries, which Swatch says lasts months between needing to be swapped, and it features a curved monochrome touchscreen and built-in backlight. The touchscreen supports taps and side-swipes to manage six timing functions.

The new Swatch Touch Zero One smartwatch
The new Swatch Touch Zero One smartwatch

 

According to Swatch, the watch will not provide any information on notifications for calls, alarms or emails and it appears that the Swatch Touch Zero One is essentially a fitness tracker. Whether it connects via near-field communication (NFC) or Bluetooth remains to be seen, but the promotional video shown here suggests that connectivity will be provided by a Bluetooth radio in the first instance.

FREDERIQUE CONSTANT

Frédérique Constant SA is a manufacture of luxury wrist watches based in Plan-les-Ouates, Geneva.  Together with their sister company, Alpina, Frederique Constant produces an extremely safe and contemporary line of beautiful mechanical watches which appeal to the mass consumer as well as the discerning watch-lover.

Well, you guessed it.  FC were one of the first to release their version of the smartwatch called, wait for it, the Swiss Horological Smartwatch!!

The Swiss Horological Smartwatch by Frederique Constant
The Swiss Horological Smartwatch by Frederique Constant

 

Powered by a MotionX patented sensor-fusion engine, the SHS tracks activity and sleep patterns with high accuracy, at least according to the Frédérique Constant website, which goes on to say that activity and sleep information is presented in real-time on the Swiss Horological Smartwatch using beautiful traditional analog dials.

The Swiss Horological Smartwatch synchronizes automatically with applications on Apple and Android smartphones.

TAG HEUER

Without a doubt one of the most successful watchbrands in the LVMH stable, TAG Heuer are also planning to join the smartwatch race later this year, at least according to www.digitaltrends.com, who go on to say that until now, little is known about its first attempt to battle the growing ranks of smartphone connected timepieces.

According to watch mogul Jean-Claude Biver, LVMH Group’s watch division chief, we should expect the watch to feature GPS and health monitoring features, plus a selection of unique apps which are specifically related to TAG Heuer’s brand, and the sports it sponsors. Over the past year, the company has backed events including Formula-E racing, the Race of Champions, and various marathons run around the world, plus it has a wide range of personal sponsorship programs too.

TAG Heuer Aquaracer 72 Digital Smartwatch from 2013
TAG Heuer Aquaracer 72 Digital Smartwatch from 2013

Let us not forget TAG’s proven answer to everything: “Don’t crack under pressure!”, even if that pressure happens to be a new watch named after the oldest fruit….  According to Biver, the new TAG smartwatch will end up being the first TAG Heuer watch not developed in Switzerland. “We are not in the communications industry,” he said, adding “The hardware and the software will come from Silicon Valley. But the watch case, the dial, the design, the idea, the crown, that part of the watch will, of course, be Swiss.”

MONDAINE

The Mondaine Watch company, the half-century old Swiss watch manufacturer whose production values centre around the romance and charm of the Swiss Railways, is not to be left out of a party, especially the smartwatch party.  They too have launched the Helvetica No. 1 Smart, which combines traditional quality watchmaking with smart technologies and doesn’t look much like its competitors, instead, drawing inspiration from the style of the regular Mondaine Helvetica Bold.

The Mondaine Helvetic No. 1 Smart watch released in February 2015
The Mondaine Helvetic No. 1 Smart watch released in February 2015

The sub dial at six o’clock on the watchface doesn’t provide small-seconds or an annual calendar, instead it is an analog representation of the smart technology at the heart of the unique timepiece.  Contained within the watch is the latest in smart tech focused on monitoring the wearer’s activity and sleep. It features MotionX activity tracking, Sleeptracker sleep monitoring, Sleep cycle alarms, Get-Active alerts, and Smart coaching. The data from these can be backed up and stored in the MotionX cloud.

TISSOT

Whilst there is no announcement yet of a Smartwatch from one of the world’s best-selling and best-loved Swiss watch brands, this blog would not be complete without a mention of Tissot.  According to www.smartwatchgroup.com, “…besides Swatch, Tissot is the obvious company within the Swatch Group to include smartwatch technologies. First, Tissot has a lot of relevant technical experience. Second, the company is positioned at a sportive, tech-savvy clientele. Third, other than high-end brands of the Swatch Group, Tissot will be strongly affected by what is currently happening in the smartwatch industry.

The fact that Tissot is expanding its T-Touch line with solar-powered models and Bluetooth functionality opens up interesting opportunities. However, the speed of smartwatch-relevant innovation at Tissot is low. As long as Swatch Group’s CEO Nick Hayek remains sceptical of smartwatches, this is bound to stay.”

Now contrast that with the January edition of Europa Star online, which states (1) that Tissot will enter the smartwatch market with a “Swiss made” product before Baselword 2015, (2) that they promise to make a watch unique from the current smartwatches on the market and (3) that Tissot does not consider brands like Apple or Samsung as direct competitors.

We live in interesting times…

CONCLUSION

What is clear from the above is that the Swiss watch industry is not ignoring the threat of the Smartwatch.  If anything, they are embracing it and adopting an inclusionary stance by launching smartwatches of their own.  The difference though between these new offerings and the fully-featured smartwatch models released by Motorola, LG, Sony and Apple is that the former focus on connectivity and little else, while the latter do so much more.

We live in interesting times….

Happy shopping and don’t forget to visit our tax-free shopping site, www.antonioboutique.com for all your luxury watches under one roof.

Suresh Mahtani, Antonio Diamond Boutique (c) 2015