If you’re climbing the mountains this season, choose it with a new smartwatch that doesn’t just turn your progress on and off pistebut also looks sharp if you go to the lodge for aprÃ¨s-ski. A handful of upscale watch brands have injected the popular tech watch category with old-school style and sophistication, but not even a touch of gimmick.
With smartwatch technology emerging, luxury watch brands were doubling down on the things that give their pieces lasting value when compared to single-use electronics. True watch enthusiasts can add a smartwatch to their collection as a novelty or fitness tracker, but these are not considered a replacement for their mechanical watches.
Still, a handful of upscale watch brands have embarked on the smartwatch battle, albeit to a very limited extent. Realizing that they couldn’t compete with tech giants like Apple or Samsung, they still saw potential in capturing a niche on the edge of the market by targeting an audience that wants technology on their wrist, but with a familiar, luxurious touch : High-end materials with high-quality surfaces and designs that are reminiscent of expensive mechanical watches. In other words, a smartwatch that doesn’t look like a smartwatch.
The first Swiss brand to test the water was TAG Heuer from LVMH with its Connected at the end of 2015, which was developed in collaboration with Intel and Google and is based on the popular Carrera collection. But the then CEO of TAG, Jean-Claude Biver, had no illusions that the market segment would be more than a niche.
Unsurprisingly, TAG Heuer takes a sporty approach to its Connected product line. The brand’s sports app was developed in-house to provide detailed performance data on a wide variety of activities. Last summer’s running and swimming apps followed last year’s special golf edition. Earlier this year, TAG launched a wellness app that generates feedback on changes in biometric data during training in order to track progress and serve as motivation.
The new Connected Bright Black Edition ($ 2,550) embodies the hybrid ethos of blending technology with luxury and features a sleek, black DLC case made of sandblasted titanium with a polished gold-colored ceramic bezel and 5N gold lacquer and PVD details; new versions of the brand’s popular dials; plus a chic new Eclipse dial.
In 2017, TAG’s sister brand Louis Vuitton brought its fashion sense to the party with the Connected Tambour Horizon, which was updated with a V2 model in 2019. Here the focus is on bubbly style and travel themes, with an app version of LV’s popular City Guides.
Hublot entered the ring in signature over-the-top style in 2018 with a Connected Big Bang E-referee to celebrate its sponsorship of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, using technology from its brother TAG Heuer. Today the brand offers three football-specific e-models with the UEFA Champions League, Premier League and the latest UEFA Euro 2020 (US $ 5,800), in addition to non-football e-models in titanium or black ceramic with prices starting at US $ 5,200. Dollars for the Big Bang E Titanium to $ 11,000 Big Bang E Titanium Diamonds, set with 108 diamonds.
Hublot’s E-Series uses the same sandwich-style cabinet construction as the flagship Big Bang. The case consists of 42 components, 27 of which are for the K-module, the cage that houses the digital heart of the watch.
Hublot’s stratospheric pricing may scare off an Apple Watch buyer, especially given the technology inside, but the strategy is in line with the brand’s ethos. The cost and extravagance are part of what makes Hublot customers so attractive, and keeping sales keeps maintaining the feeling of exclusivity.
Increasing innovation for activity tracking
Connected watches for all three LVMH brands run on Wear OS by Google, which is compatible with Android and iOS smartphones and offers access to a full library of apps. You can also get help from the Google Assistant and make payments with Google Pay. For the time being, however, the outdated Wear OS2 is still running with the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor, both of which have since been significantly updated.
Richemont’s Montblanc rose to the smartwatch record with the Summit in 2017 and runs on the same system as the Connected watches.
This year’s Summit Lite ($ 860) added a lightweight 43-millimeter case made from recycled aluminum and sturdy stainless steel, in a choice of matte black or matte silver gray finishes, paired with a sporty cloth or rubber strap. In addition to the usual fitness and performance applications, Summit Lite also focuses on wellbeing, with proprietary apps based on proven algorithms.
The Cardio Coach tracks progress and gives training recommendations for your personal fitness level (based on VO2 max) and gives live coaching advice. The sleep app records length, quality and sleep phases, and the stress app detects when the physical and psychological stress is at its highest and gives advice, such as breathing exercises. Ultimately, the Body Energy App analyzes all of this data to better understand how sleep, stress, and exercise affect your daily energy levels.
In May, Swatch Group’s long-awaited smartwatch entry, Tissot T-Touch Connect Solar ($ 1,150), became available with a solar charge variant thanks to photovoltaic cells that offer six months of autonomy. The rich 47 mm titanium cases are equipped with scratch-resistant ceramic bezels and offer either a titanium bracelet or a rubber bracelet.
In contrast to its predecessors in this genre, the Swatch Group invested in the development of its own SwALPS operating system with the Swiss research and development group CSEM (Center Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique). The system is compatible with iOS and Android and is the first in China to work with Huawei’s Harmony OS. One advantage of a proprietary operating system is that your data remains strictly private and is stored in the T-Touch Connect Solar mobile app.
Other Swiss names offering smartwatches include sister brands Alpina and Frederique Constant, both of which are owned by Tokyo-based Citizen Watch.
AlpinerX Alive from last year ($ 1,095) includes new features like: Breathe, Hydration, V02 Max, and Cardio Fitness Index, as well as related features like activity and sleep tracking, call and message notifications, heart rate monitoring with Phillips sensor technology, plus a built-in GPS.
Frederique Constant’s Vitality incorporates the same technology but with a classic aesthetic. Models for men and women cost around $ 1,000 and embody the hybrid approach. At first glance, it looks like a traditional analog watch with applied Roman numerals and handcrafted hour and minute hands, but with a push of the crown a second digital display lights up for functions such as heart rate, activity tracker and more. All functionalities for both clocks are configured directly via telephone applications.
For Hublot, the idea of ââcombining luxury with electronic technology goes back to its origins. The brand’s first watch, inspired by a ship’s porthole, was powered by a quartz movement. At the time, it was considered revolutionary to combine a gold case with a rubber strap that is infused with the subtle scent of vanilla. And when it comes to experimenting with the latest technology, the Swiss mechanical watch industry has remained true to its luxury tradition.
This story originally appeared in Mansion Global Experience Luxury.