TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45
Why Are The Swiss Doing It?
The initial rumblings of a digital revolution started for real at the Baselworld 2015 watch fair, when TAG Heuer advertised that it was teaming up with Google and Intel to launch its own smartwatches.
Two years on, the luxury smartwatch is fast becoming the answer of choice for Swiss watch brands looking to navigate their way in the realm of digital wearables – not least because the market for smart wearables is expected to be worth almost US$16.9 million by 2021 – double what it is worth today.
Closer to home, brands have also seen the fruits that luxury smartwatches have borne for TAG Heuer. According to CEO Jean-Claude Biver, sales of its Connected Watch last year contributed significantly to the company’s “highest turnover” since its founding in 1860. In other words, people are open to paying good money for a high-end smartwatch.
Louis Vuitton Tambour Horizon
Aren’t They All The Same?
Maybe the question to ask is: ‘What are the similarities?’ At their core, all smartwatches are made in the same spirit of providing tech-enabled, lifestyle-enhancing connectivity, largely with similar supporting software.
There are currently three main operating systems: Watch OS for Apple, Tizen OS that is used by Samsung, and the most widely used, Google’s Android Wear platform, the latest being the Android 2.0, which debuted this year. Software aside, customers can expect other baseline tech features. Up-to-date processors (Qualcomm Snapdragon 2100 being the latest), 4GB storage, wifi and 4G connectivity, built-in GPS, high resolution AMOLED display, and increasingly, NFC chip for contactless payment are now de rigueur. Which brings us to the next question: what separates a smartwatch from its ‘luxury’ alternative?
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So What Makes It ‘Luxury’?
Because Swiss luxury brands entering the smartwatch fray are still lagging on the technological front, they are flexing their brand game. Smartwatches that mimic the spirit and form of their mechanical brethren; smartwatches that serve as a digital gateway into the world of haute horlogerie; smartwatches that offer pride of association with the most esteemed names in the world of luxury – these are lofty enticements that the likes of Apple, LG or Samsung can only aspire to.
Hence, we are enticed with creations like Louis Vuitton’s monogram-patterned (and patented) interchangeable strap system for its Tambour Horizon smartwatch; TAG Heuer’s customisable Connected Modular 45 that allows you to swap the digital smartwatch module of its smartwatch with one housing a tourbillon movement; and Montblanc Summit's decidedly luxurious offering with a case that recalls models from its vintage-inspired 1858 collection.
TAG Heuer Connected Modular 45 with tourbillon module
Is It Going To Stay?
If Swiss watch brands learnt anything from the quartz crisis of the 1980s, it is that new technologies, however alien at first, can and should be adopted. In fact, this strategy ensured the flourishing of the luxury watch business over the next few decades.
By acknowledging the impact of cost-effective, mass market quartz watches, high-end watch brands started to reposition themselves as crafts-based entities determined to preserve horological traditions. At the same time, watch companies, too, utilised quartz technology to their advantage, cladding these cheaper and more reliable electronic components in regal materials and design, which helped increase profit margins.
As much as luxury watch brands are reluctant to admit it, there is a sense of history repeating itself. Like the early quartz watches of the 1980s, smartwatches today represent a disruptive new technology is that threatening the validity and sales of mechanical watches. And again, watch companies are trying to find ways to embrace an ever-evolving technology without undermining their very foundations.