The launch of the first Apple watch last year gave rise to an interesting question: would mechanical watchmaking continue to dominate the world of haute horology or would the new Apple product usher in significant change? Twelve months on, the luxury watch industry shows no signs of abandoning its mechanical roots, yet a few smartwatches have been released by Swiss watch houses and they are proof that technology and mechanics do not have to be mutually exclusive.
The latest technology
In part, this has been accelerated by the creation of a horological smartwatch platform which was developed by Manufacture Modules Technologies Sàrl (MMT), a partnership between companies in Switzerland and California’s Silicon Valley. The platform enables traditional-looking watches to be developed with smartwatch technology; they don’t have digital screens or charging cables and so they retain their classic, refined aesthetic. MMT has facilitated smartwatch technology for a range of Swiss brands including Mondaine and Frédérique Constant. The latter is renowned for its traditional approach to watchmaking ‒ yet was one of the first Swiss watch brands to release a smartwatch.
Called the Horological Smartwatch, the Frédérique Constant timepiece is available in a stainless steel or rose gold-plated case. It has a galvanised black or silver dial and diamond-cut hands that display information analogically. It connects to a smartphone but can also function autonomously using its sensors and its sophisticated attributes include tracking sleep patterns and physical activity. The MMT technology it uses has a low-power bonus: the battery will function for more than two years before needing to be charged.
The models to know
Breitling also offers an impressive new product. Developed, assembled and finished in Switzerland, the Exospace B55 has evolved from the Breitling Cockpit 50. It runs on Breitling’s SuperQuartz movement and has an analogue display of the time as well as two additional displays on the dial. Designed for serious use by pilots, it includes features such as chrono flight time logs. It is made from titanium and has a rotating bezel with rider tabs that act as reference points to mark important deadlines, and an eye-catching two-tone rubber strap. As timepiece reporter Ariel Adams noted on A Blog to Watch, it is the connectivity that provides the user appeal. ‘When it comes to complex analogue digital watches … using the functions to their fullest extent requires a bit of a learning curve. Breitling has taken a major and very practical step in allowing your phone to simplify the user experience of a complicated watch.’ For Adams, the use of new technology is more than justified.
A truly smart watch
The Tag Heuer Connected is Tag Heuer’s first smartwatch. It comes with a Google-powered operating system and at 46mm in diameter it looks very similar to the brand’s mechanical Carerra. Made from grade two titanium and with a titanium deployment buckle and interchangeable rubber strap, it has one crown that acts as the control centre. It features three Tag Heuer faces: a chronograph, a three-hander and a GMT. The chronograph is operated by tapping the screen, once to start or to stop, twice to reset. As a review in the online magazine Hodinkee.com pointed out, ‘it is important to note that this is not a hybrid at all, but rather a true smartwatch’. And this was reflected in the high level of publicity that surrounded its launch.
The future of haute horology
Bulgari is also looking to the connected future, having teamed up with Swiss company Wisekey, expert in near field communication (NFC), which allows phones, tablets and laptops to share data. The result is the Diagono Magnesium Concept watch; its NFC chip unlocks an application that stores vast amounts of encrypted data and can communicate with other devices. When the watch is tapped against a smartphone, the app is engaged.
With many esteemed Swiss watch brands still to explore the connected market, it is interesting to see German label Montblanc dip its toe in the water with the Timewalker Urban Estrap. A Bluetooth accessory rather than a smartwatch, it can control music, receive smart notifications as small vibrations and preview emails, all from the wrist.
The concept of a Swiss-made smartwatch marks a fork in the road for haute horology. It is a big talking point, but it is still too early to tell whether traditional watchmaking will take a different route as a result. Perhaps the final word should be given to H Moser & Cie, whose Swiss Alp watch might not have any smartwatch functionality or connectivity, but bears a strong physical resemblance to the Apple watch, with its rectangular case, and its lugs that mimic the wire lugs of the Apple original. Luxury smartwatches might be a serious topic of conversation, but this Swiss watchmaker is adopting a light-hearted approach.