When it comes to smart­watches, the bal­ance be­tween tra­di­tion and in­no­va­tion is a thin line. Sean Mossadeg looks at how the watch in­dus­try has taken up the chal­lenge

Adore Gems & Timepieces - - CONTENTS -

How the in­dus­try is re­act­ing to Smart watch tech­nol­ogy

The hot seat ques­tion posed to sev­eral lux­ury watch brand CEOs these two years has been: “Will the smart­watch have an ef­fect on the in­dus­try?” With Ap­ple re­veal­ing its Ap­ple Watch last year to great fan­fare, the hal­lowed halls of Baselworld and SIHH were ripe with fears that change was im­mi­nent. Nat­u­rally, the an­swers were di­verse, but in the case of haute horol­ogy, a re­sound­ing “no” was the gen­eral con­sen­sus; be­cause while even Ap­ple re­leased a higher priced range of the smart­watch — with an 18k rose gold case that starts at US$15,000 — the true com­pe­ti­tion for mar­ket share is in the lowto mid-price seg­ment.

For all the alarm over smart­watches re­cently, the tech has been around for a long time. In truth, at least some 30-odd years, with Seiko re­leas­ing the RC se­ries, the first dig­i­tal watch to in­ter­face with com­put­ers in 1984. A decade later, Timex put out the Datalink, a dig­i­tal wrist­watch that boasted a wire­less data trans­fer mode to com­mu­ni­cate with a PC. Watches like these have been around for years, but have been re­garded largely as ac­ces­sories to a dig­i­tal lifestyle rather than time­pieces.

These days, smart­watches are pre­sented as an ac­ces­sory to your smart­phone. Ac­tiv­ity track­ers, in­stant no­ti­fi­ca­tions and con­trol over the phone’s me­dia or cam­era — these are the func­tions that make smart­watches com­pe­ti­tion for wrist real es­tate. In 2013, oth­er­wise also known as “the year of the smart­watch”, the trend kicked off fully when it was adopted by mo­bile phone man­u­fac­tur­ers. Sony put out its Smart­Watch 2 and Sam­sung re­leased its first Galaxy Gear. These con­nected de­vices pushed the trend in the right di­rec­tion, paci­fy­ing the pub­lic’s ini­tial para­noia over un­known man­u­fac­tur­ers.

With the her­ald of the Ap­ple Watch, a big­ger por­tion of the mar­ket has now opened and be­cause we only have two wrists, the com­pe­ti­tion has stiff­ened. Even the lux­ury watch in­dus­try is weigh­ing in with its own ver­sions of smart­watches, a blend of smart tech­nol­ogy com­bined with the best of Swiss­made watch know-how.



Mont­blanc and IWC Schaffhausen were some of the sur­pris­ing brands that sought to dip a toe in the dig­i­tal world. But not will­ing to sacri­fice the me­chan­i­cal as­pect of their time­pieces, both an­nounced in 2015 that dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy would be ap­plied to the straps of their time­pieces.

For Mont­blanc, its Time­walker

Ur­ban Speed e-Strap com­bines wear­able tech­nol­ogy and the fi­nesse of fine watch­mak­ing. The de­vice, in­te­grated into an in­ter­change­able strap, of­fers a bevy of

func­tions that in­clude an ac­tiv­ity tracker, smart no­ti­fi­ca­tions, re­mote con­trols and Find Me func­tions. Able to con­nect to both An­droid and iOS smart­phones, the e-Strap has only been pre­sented on Mont­blanc’s lat­est Time­walker Ur­ban Speed col­lec­tion that fea­tures three mod­els. The sportier time­pieces are Mont­blanc’s best bet at con­vert­ing younger buy­ers who are torn be­tween tech­nol­ogy and tra­di­tion.

IWC’s Con­nect fol­lows the same prin­ci­ple — an in­tel­li­gent tool em­bed­ded in straps. Like the Mont­blanc e-Strap, IWC Con­nect will al­low own­ers to be con­nected to their smart­phones via Blue­tooth and will have the abil­ity for smart no­ti­fi­ca­tions and ac­tiv­ity track­ing. Ge­orges Kern, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen, ex­plained that see­ing many of the brand’s cus­tomers and am­bas­sadors us­ing con­nected de­vices (fit­ness track­ers and the like) along­side IWC watches drove the brand to “de­velop an el­e­gant, aes­thet­i­cally com­ple­men­tary so­lu­tion that elim­i­nates

For all the alarm over smart­watches re­cently, the tech­nol­ogy has been around for a long time

the need to have ad­di­tional de­vices on the op­pos­ing wrist to your IWC.” He added that the essence of the IWC Con­nect is it doesn’t in­ter­lope with the brand’s time­pieces; it is in­stead “an in­tel­li­gent de­sign so­lu­tion that per­fectly in­te­grates and un­der­lines (their) prod­uct worlds”.

Another brand look­ing to dis­tance the dig­i­tal and me­chan­i­cal is Kairos. It of­fers the Hy­brid Watch that com­bines a me­chan­i­cal move­ment and a dig­i­tal in­ter­face over the dial for no­ti­fi­ca­tions, track­ing and the like. Don’t want to be dis­turbed by the tech? Switch it off and look at tra­di­tional time beat­ing steadily be­hind. Kairos has also built on the pub­lic’s de­sire for both worlds with its own T-Band that op­er­ates in the same way as Mont­blanc’s e-Strap or the IWC Con­nect.


While the ac­tiv­ity track­ing route and no­ti­fi­ca­tion is one that has taken off for IWC and Mont­blanc, other brands are look­ing to stream­line other fac­tors in daily life. Bul­gari’s lat­est Di­agono Mag­ne­sium Con­cept looks to solve the is­sues of se­cu­rity, play­ing on the idea that your watch can now be used to un­lock just about any­thing dig­i­tal.

Work­ing along­side WISeKey, a Swiss NFC (near-field com­mu­ni­ca­tion) tech com­pany, the brand un­veiled its plans for a self-wind­ing me­chan­i­cal watch with an NFC chip that can store vast amounts of en­crypted data and com­mu­ni­cate this with paired de­vices. The en­crypted data that Bul­gari wants to help you with are all your pass­words, PINs, bank de­tails and fre­quent flyer de­tails that you would no longer have to me­morise. In the­ory, the Bul­gari Mag­ne­sium Di­agono Con­cept will al­low you to un­lock your smart car once you’re close enough, or even en­ter your house should you choose to use a dig­i­tal lock.

Like Mont­blanc and IWC, the NFC chip in the Bul­gari Mag­ne­sium Con­cept will not af­fect the me­chan­i­cal move­ment of the watch. In a sense, Bul­gari’s ad­di­tion to this emerg­ing “lux­ury smart-tech time­piece” cat­e­gory is skewed to­wards stream­lin­ing your ev­ery­day life, a wor­thy no­tion that will no doubt see this tech as a con­tender soon enough.

Bre­itling, on the other hand, is ramp­ing up its “smart tech” agenda, plac­ing em­pha­sis on func­tion over form, as can be seen from its Cock­pit B50 Su­perquartz watch from 2014. True to its name, its list of func­tions reads like an air­plane’s ac­tual cock­pit: A per­pet­ual cal­en­dar, 1/100th of a sec­ond chrono­graph, alarms, bat­tery charge in­di­ca­tor, count­down timer, elec­tronic tachome­ter, sec­ond time zone, count-up mis­sion elapsed time (MET) in­di­ca­tor and a flight time chrono­graph.

Build­ing on the B50, the brand went one step fur­ther in 2015 with the Bre­itling B55 Con­nected. De­scribed as the “eas­ier to use” B50, it al­lows users to ad­just all the afore­men­tioned func­tions on their smart­phones, mak­ing your smart­phone the re­mote con­trol to your watch.


At Baselworld 2015, TAG Heuer an­nounced it was part­ner­ing Google and In­tel to cre­ate its own smart­watch. The re­cently un­veiled and hotly an­tic­i­pated

TAG Heuer Con­nected is a ti­ta­nium-clad gad­get that looks very much like the fa­mous Car­erra chrono­graph, ex­cept there’s noth­ing me­chan­i­cal about it.

The trans­flec­tive LTPS LCD dis­play shows three di­als that one can choose from: A stan­dard three-han­der, GMT and a chrono­graph that starts, stops and re­sets by tap­ping on the screen. Al­though its ca­pa­bil­i­ties are sim­i­lar to other An­droid Wear watches, the Con­nected of­fers an ex­tremely ap­peal­ing trade-up op­tion: Af­ter two years, for an ad­di­tional US$1,500, you can ex­change it for a sim­i­lar Car­erra de­sign that comes with a me­chan­i­cal move­ment.

The mes­sage is clear — there is a new seg­ment within watch­mak­ing and it is still open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion. The fu­ture holds in­ter­est­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties and only time will tell what tech­nol­ogy may sit on our wrists. But at the end of the day, af­ter all the hype has died down, con­sumers fall back on au­then­tic­ity. No smoke, mir­rors and bat­ter­ies — just a re­li­able, pedi­greed wrist­watch with a me­chan­i­cal beat­ing heart.

From top: Bre­itling’s B55 Con­nected; Sam­sung’s Gear S2; Mont­blanc’s Time­walker Ur­ban Speed e-Strap

This page: Ap­ple Watch Her­mès; Op­po­site Page: IWC Con­nect

From left: Bul­gari’s Mag­ne­sium Con­cept; TAG Heuer Con­nected

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