Watch enthusiasts call themselves horologists , like the way fans of wine call themselves oenophiles or fans of Justin Bieber call themselves pathetic. (What? That’s not what they call themselves? They totally should start calling themselves that.)
If you want to be a bonafide horologist, the price to admission is an expensive, analog and mechanical watch made in Switzerland. Rolex is just one brand — the more exclusive, the more likely it is you haven’t heard of it. IWC. Audemars Piguet. Patek Phillipe. If you think $17,000 for an Apple Watch Edition is excessive, you can’t play in this sandbox pleb.
It’s an industry steeped in tradition and hostile to outsiders. Kind of like cell phone companies, pre-2007. Remember this?
“We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in,” said some guy whose company isn’t around anymore.
Swiss timepiece makers were initially dismissive of companies in Silicon Valley getting into their industry. In 2014, following the first appearance of the Apple Watch, comments like “We have been in discussions — not ever initiated by us — with practically all players in smart wearables up until today. However, we see no reason why we should enter into any partnership agreement,” were made by Nick Hayek, CEO of Swatch; or, “If you buy a mechanical watch, the beauty is that it will still work in five years’ time. There is no obsolescence. With a smartwatch, that is not necessarily the case,” TAG Heuer CEO Stéphane Linder.
(Keep those two companies, Swatch and TAG Heuer in mind. We’ll come back to them.)
Some executives sounded a warning bell. Jean-Claude Biver, head of Hublot and an executive with its parent company, luxury brand conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy said (following the hiring of former TAG Heuer Vice President Patrick Pruniaux), “I personally believe [the Apple Watch] has the potential to be a threat for the industry, and it should not stay with its arms crossed.
Swatch changes course and in February, talked openly about it plans to jump into smartwatches which would integrate a mobile payment system and work with Android and Windows Mobile phones.
Fast forward to the present day. Release of the Apple Watch is imminent and happens in a month. Like any industry, the expensive-watches-with-hands-industry has its own trade show — Baselworld. The old guard of the watch industry hunkers down, digs in and…releases smartwatches of their own.
Which companies are coming out with them?
- TAG Heuer made a very public announcement that it was partnering with Intel and Google to bring an Android Wear device to market.
- Frederique Constant will feature an activity-tracking analog watch that connects to smartphones through an app, wedding the cutting-edge user interface of the 16th century with the connectivity of the 21st.
- Will.I.Am, from the Black Eyed Peas teamed up with Gucci to create a “smartband”. It includes a front facing camera, fitness tracking, notifications, and music control. A similar “smartcuff” he designed was panned in the press, as well as an add-on camera to replace the iPhone’s camera (yes, you read that right), which had a similar reception.