Smart Watches – the Swiss Way

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Not so long ago smart watches was a four-letter word when mentioned in the room of pretty much any CEO of a traditional Swiss watch manufacturer. But one Swiss brand is having massive success with their take on a smart watch.

Let’s go back in time (pun intended) to when the Swiss Franc uncapped from the euro and smart watches were making headlines all over the world. CEOs of traditional watchmaking thought the end was near and that the crisis of the 1970-80s was back. Back then it was the invasion of cheap yet very precise quartz movements that forced the traditional mechanical watchmaking to its knees. And now it was the introduction of the smart watch that made the boardrooms tremble with fear.
Apple especially were loudmouths and Apple’s design chief, Jony Ive, even claimed that “Swiss watch makers are f*cked”, when Ive presented the Apple watch. Sure, Apple certainly has sold a lot of their smart watches, but Rolex, Patek Philippe and Omega are very much still here and still sell a lot of watches with traditional mechanical movements.

The Swiss renegade

TAG Heuer however does things a little differently. The sporty watch brand belongs in the top of Swiss watchmaking – the watch brand is owned by the French powerhouse LVMH – and has been a favoured watch brand for decades already. But besides from being a watch manufacturer TAG Heuer has introduced a fierce competitor to all smart watches on the market, challenging not only the lippy Ive, but the whole market of smart watches with their Connected watch. An all new smart watch that was presented to the world on the annual watch fair, Basel World, in 2016.

Unlike the Apple watch the TAG Heuer Connected actually looks like a watch and not just an electrical gadget on the wrist. It takes the form of a Carrera, a line of watches that was launched back in 1960s and on demand offers a digital display that resembles that of a traditional mechanical watch.
The TAG Heuer Connected also feels like a watch with its integrated rubber strap that comes in a plethora of colours. You can even buy several limited editions already and unlike Apple, who recently cancelled the production of the USD 17 000 Apple Watch, TAG Heuer has launched a luxurious 18k red gold version of their Connected watch retailing at USD 9 900.

Embracing the trend, investing traditions

On top of that TAG Heuer even offers owners of the Connected watch to pay additional USD 1 500 after two years and get the mechanical version of the Connected watch. That is not only clever because it supports a trend. It is also clever because it supports the traditional Swiss watch making that, – face it – has a better chance of surviving trends than an obsolete smart watch with outdated software and the constant search of uploading hubs.

Not only has TAG Heuer challenged Apple and other smart watches currently on the market. They are also moving into the back yard of Apple in Silicon Valley, cementing its smart watch alliance with Google and Intel Corp. The new TAG Heuer office, which is located on Intel’s campus in Santa Clara, California, will house about a dozen research and development employees, according to TAG Heuer Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Biver. According to Bloomberg TAG Heuer even hired Intel’s Tom Foldesi to lead its smart watch program.

Biver told Bloomberg that “We want to have our finger on the pulse. In Switzerland, we’re where everything is happening in the traditional watchmaking industry. We believe in the future of connected watches, so we have to go where they’re being developed.”

Smart, not f*cked

TAG Heuer obviously means business with their Connected watch and is taking the smart phone trend seriously, expecting a sale of 150 000 Connected watches in 2017, having sold all 60 000 watches produced in 2016. But TAG Heuer is at the same time targeting a younger audience with accessible entry level watches with quartz and mechanical movements promoted by models and DJs, making sure that the watch brand becomes cool again and certainly not obsolete, nor “f*cked”, as Apple’s Jony Ive predicted the Swiss watch makers would be. Instead TAG Heuer turns out to be rather, well… smart.

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By: Kristian Haagen