Smart moves On fleek. Yolo. Bae. Basic. Winning. All frightfully au courant slang words that should make any man over the age of 25 cringe to read and bellow with rage if a chum were to utter them in jest. Using such words is the equivalent of a drunken uncle dancing at a wedding, David Bowie experimenting with drum 'n' bass (why David?) or Sylvester Stallone outrunning an explosion. Why do I bring this up? Well, it may not have escaped your notice that we live in a smartwatch age, much to the chagrin of Samsung, Pebble and others I'm sure. Thanks to Apple's delightfully named "Watch", the world has changed for traditional specialist watchmakers; winter is no longer coming, it's already here, and it's bloody freezing.
The response, belated though it is, has been a bit like that drunken uncle: out of step and out of time. That's not to say every watchmaker, especially those of the mechanical variety, should be churning out pieces with heartbeat monitors and the like. On the contrary, I really hope Breguet, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin never go anywhere near "connectivity". The elite brands have little to worry about, as they will remain sought after and elegant status symbols. It's the watches that are priced at HK$130,000 and under, about the price of an 18-carat-gold Apple Watch, that are in a bit of bother. Younger consumers, in particular, will take to smartwatches faster and come to see little point in a traditional product that costs a lot, needs to be wound every few days, isn't the most accurate and requires an expensive service every few years.
So what of the products? Well, so far it's not looking good (and keep in mind the Bowie drum 'n' bass analogy). IWC's opening salvo is the Connect (right), which isn't a watch at all but rather a smart strap that allows the wearer to connect themselves to their devices. The strap will be integrated into IWC sports watches soon, starting with the Big Pilot range. There are no prices or specifics on functions yet beyond what the watchmaker says is an ability to track the wearer's activities, suggesting a heart-rate monitor and pedometer most likely. The question of why anyone would want this naturally arises. Until we know more, I can't see the appeal but, for diehard IWC fans with a weakness for gadgets, this might be something that allows them to bridge both passions.
Our next smartwatch, well, smart strap, comes from a luxury brand. The Montblanc TimeWalker Urban Speed Chronograph e-Strap (top) will retail at just over HK$40,000. Now this makes a little more sense as the functions seem genuinely useful and the price isn't insane. The strap connects to Apple and Android devices, and the major pluses are that it gives you previews of texts and emails as well as incoming calls and reminders. There's an activity tracker that can be checked against daily goals. You can also control some of the functions on your phone, such as the camera, from the e-strap but I can't imagine when the need for that would arise. The Find Me function also allows you to search for your phone within a 30-metre radius.
Finally, we have a proper smartwatch from a Swiss watchmaker, although you wouldn't know it to look at it. The Frederique Constant Horological Smartwatch (right) has lots of fancy-schmancy Silicon Valley tech inside, including a motion tracker, sleep pattern tracker, alarms, alerts, 2.5 years of battery and device compatibility, and yet still looks like an elegant, traditional Swiss watch. It's not perfect, but at a bargain HK$8,000 it shows how there could be room for a smartwatch with classical good looks. Sadly, it also means the obsession with mechanical movements, at least at the lower end of the market, will have to stop.