While there is continuous purist critique of mechanical watches by collectors and journalists, one area is often missed in general discussion that is having an impact on the industry and certainly the watch buying market as a whole – Smart Watches.
While they are of course very popular – e.g. more Apple watches have been sold than an other watch in history – the Swiss watch industry is renowned for being critical and rejecting of digital technology in the mechanics which are best known for their apparent mechanical autonomy from digital or most human intervention. Almost all watches containing an electronic battery or readout of any kind is considered another product area altogether by the Swiss purists and collectors, although there are as always a few exceptions such as the Breitling Emergency and the Seiko Springdrive technology which are iconic for their own reasons.
When Apple released their Apple Watch in 2015 the watch industry was presented with an interesting new thought – there was now a fully electronic smart watch on the market that everyone wanted, and even purist collectors were buying.
Now while most traditional Swiss brands would never dream of digitizing their products to avoid compromising their mechanical heritage, a few bold brands are more embracing of smart technology since the obvious popularity of these devices.
Several companies have launched analog watches featuring smart technology that connect by bluetooth to iPhones or Android devices and provide tracking features on your activity and sleep, such as Alpina, Frederique Constant and more recently Kronaby (an analog smart watch company developed by former product engineers from Sony Ericsson).
Aside from these smaller independent brands offering smart technology, two releases from 2016 are worth noting as unusual – the Tag Heuer Connected and the de Grisogono Smartwatch, for entirely different reasons. Tag Heuer are in many ways a heritage collector’s brand, but are really known for their phenomenal mechanical racing instruments from the 1950s-1970s. They have more recently been known for alienating some of these purist collectors for departures into areas such as Smartwatch Technology.
The de Grisognono Gear 2 watch released last year was not only a big release at the BaselWorld fair, but also a big surprise to many. The Swiss brand are renowned for their high jewellery and heavily diamond set pieces, so to release a more functional electronic piece at a relatively high price to the competition seemed odd, although almost certainly sure their loyal customers loved it. They partnered with Samsung to create this product, and in fact all runs on Samsung software.
We’re yet to see the fall out of the smart watch era – with most people commenting that these watches do nothing more than our smart phones, which we all know will be obsolete in a year or two. But the trends and spends continue to grow with more produts offering more integrated features all the time. How long will the smart watch be a useful and current piece of technology? The watch industry thinks, not very long. The true stand of time in a good watch product still seems to be based in horology and the best traditional watchmaking, but it may not be long before our passports, credit cards and car keys are all digitally secured on our wrist. We’ll see which of the Swiss brands come into play next.