We begin our wrap-up of 2016 — an interesting year in watchmaking — with this roundup of smartwatches that debuted this year, most of them at the Baselworld watch fair in March. In 2015, brands including Frédérique Constant, TAG Heuer, Breitling, Bulgari, and Mondaine either unveiled their first smartwatches or vowed to do so soon. This year, the rush to wearables gained real momentum, and smartwatch talk echoed through the watch industry.
Tissot unveiled its first smartwatch, the solar-powered Smart-Touch, which incorporates the brand’s signature touch-screen technology. Like many smartwatches, it’s aimed at the athletic and adventurous: it pairs with a smartphone to help its wearer navigate in unfamiliar territory (the watch hands point the way). It also displays weather data, the time in other time zones and much other information: there are more than 30 functions in all. It sells for $1,100 to $1,200. (So far, it is the Swatch Group’s only connected watch. The Swatch brand’s Bellamy model has an e-pay feature, using near field communication technology to enable its wearer to charge purchases to a credit card with the flick of a wrist, but it does not connect to a smartphone.)
Casio’s new smartwatch, the Smart Outdoor Watch WSD-F10, powered by Android Wear, made its Basel debut, too; the company had unveiled it two months earlier at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Like the Tissot watch, it pairs with a phone to provide directions, give weather reports and much else. The watch has G-Shock-like proportions, measuring a gigantic 62 mm by 56 mm by 16 mm. It’s priced at $500. For a closer look at the Smart Outdoor Watch and its functions, click here.
Breitling presented the commercial version of the smart concept watch it showed at Basel last year (the watch came out at the end of the year; we covered it here). It’s called the Exospace B55 ($8,900). It’s a quartz chronograph (it has a thermo-compensated movement) that connects with a smartphone to help pilots measure, access and store flight-specific data.
TAG Heuer had launched its smartwatch, the TAG Heuer Connected, four months before Baselworld. TAG CEO Jean-Claude Biver told WatchTime that the company had received orders for 80,000 of its Connected watches: four times as many as the company had expected. “That’s nothing compared with Apple, but for Switzerland, it’s huge,” he said. As of Basel- world, the watch’s distribution network was very small: just 100 points of sale worldwide. The watch retails for $1,500. For a hands-on review of the TAG Heuer Connected watch, click here.
Other companies were doubling down on earlier decisions to enter the smartwatch market. The Movado Group, which introduced smartwatches in its Movado brand late last year, unveiled the first smartwatches in its fashion brands Coach, Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Juicy Couture and Tommy Hilfiger as well as its Ferrari-licensed brand, Scuderia Ferrari. The watches incorporate the same HP technology used in Movado Bold Motion watches. It is compatible with iOS and Android smartphones, alerting wearers of e-mails, messages and calls. It also tracks the wearer’s steps.
Frédérique Constant, which introduced its first smartwatches at Baselworld 2015, added a new model this year. Last year’s models track physical activity and sleep; the new version also provides world time. (Alpina, Frédérique Constant’s sister brand, also launched a fitness-tracking smartwatch last year.) The company says its smartwatch venture has been a success. At a Baselworld press conference, Peter Stas, the brands’ CEO, announced that Frédérique Constant and Alpina together had shipped 16,000 watches to date.
Toward the end of the year, at a VIP cocktail party in New York, Frédérique Constant also launched the second generation of its Horological Smartwatch, including its first ladies’ version, which will be represented in a new campaign by Academy Award-winning actress Gywneth Paltrow, a Frédérique Constant “Global Brand Ambassador,” who also attended the launch event.
A Japanese company called Veldt, founded in 2012, exhibited at Baselworld for the first time this year. The company specializes in smartwatches sold under the name Serendipity: hexagonal-case models that sync with a phone and show information on a bar-shaped digital display beneath a traditional analog display. The newest model has what the company calls MIP (most important people), which limits the message alerts to those from people you have pre-selected. Veldt watches range from $520 to $1,500.
There was a barrage of new smartwatches in the under-$500 price range. Michael Kors brought out a watch called Access, priced at $395. The brand’s parent company, the Fossil Group, announced during Baselworld that it would introduce about 100 new smartwatches this year across its brand portfolio. The Fossil Group acquired the technology to do so when it bought Misfit, the San Francisco-based maker of wearable devices, late in 2015.
The youth-oriented Nixon brand brought out a smartwatch designed for surfers. It’s called the Mission ($400) and one of its selling points is its high level of water resistance: 100 meters, rare in a smartwatch.
Mondaine, which, like Frédérique Constant, launched a fitness-tracking smartwatch at Baselworld 2015, this year added another smartwatch, this one with an e-pay feature.
Bulgari’s Diagono Magnesium Concept watch, announced at Baselworld 2015 and expected to be launched this year, also incorporates an e-pay chip. Its chief point of distinction from other smartwatches is that it enables the wearer to have 24/7 access to his or her credit card numbers, passwords, etc., without worrying about data security.
Among the new smartwatches was at least one high-end women’s jewelry model, from the jewelry and jewelry-watch company de Grisogono. The watch was developed with Samsung and is called the Samsung Gear S2 by de Grisogono. It gives its wearer notifications, logs her physical activity, measures her heart rate and performs many other functions. The watch is set with more than 100 black and white diamonds. Price: $15,000.
Despite what seemed like a flood of new wearables, some watch executives worried that the industry has not reacted forcefully enough to smartwatch introductions by tech giants like Apple. There was some buzz about a report issued by Boston-based Research Analytics saying that shipments of smartwatches, in unit terms, had surpassed those of Swiss watches for the first time in the fourth quarter of 2015. The figures were 8.1 million and 7.9 million, respectively. (Apple accounted for 63 percent of smartwatches sold during the quarter; Samsung for 16 percent, the report said.)
Among those raising the alarm was Urban Jürgensen CEO and principal owner Søren Petersen, a tech-industry veteran who spent 17 years at Nokia and helped establish its luxury cellphone brand Vertu. He thinks the smartwatch poses a real threat to less-expensive brands (although not to Urban Jürgensen, whose $14,000 opening price keeps it above the fray). The Swiss industry is in denial about the smartwatch’s potential to damage sales of traditional watches, he believes. After all, smartwatches provide the time as a free, add-on benefit. Why would anyone wanting to spend just a few hundred dollars opt for a time-only watch, he asks.
Frank Müller, founder of the consulting company The Bridge to Luxury, also thinks the Swiss industry needs to embrace smartwatches more eagerly than it has. “If we don’t react, other industries will,” he said. Sales of mechanical watches have leveled off, he pointed out, and luxury-watch companies need to find ways to generate additional revenue. Müller has some skin in the smartwatch game: he went to Baselworld to seek watch-brand customers for a module that can be incorporated into a luxury mechanical watch to give it smartwatch functions without changing its high-end appearance. The module, which will add about $600 or $700 to the price of the watch, is made by TimeConnect, a consortium that includes high-end movement maker Chronode and watch-industry veteran Pierre Nobs.