From telling time to counting your steps to switching off the lights in your home, smart watches have proven to be highly functional. Does that mean the end of life for mechanical luxury watches?
By: Abhay Gupta, Luxury Expert, Author, Speaker, Professor of Luxury Management
Posted on: May 14, 2019
April 24, 2015 will be remembered in the history of wearable technology as the day when the world was introduced to its first Apple watch. A vivid technology trend started with no precedent, Apple shook the world with its vision of a futuristic world. Today almost every cell phone brand is launching or has already launched their own smart watch.
With millennials being exposed to such gadgets from an early age, adoption of smartwatches has been relatively easy. Smartwatches offer a plethora of functionalities that traditional or luxury timepieces will not be able to offer in their current form. In the near future, will smartwatches be known as a fad from yesteryears, it remains to be seen. However, one needs to understand that there is a clear differentiation between a smart watch and a luxury watch.
A smart watch is a technology gadget. While it may offer a lot of oohs and aahs, with newer hardware and software applications, smart watches become obsolete quickly, sometimes in under six months to a year. Luxury watches, though mechanical or automatic, have a certain timelessness to them, one that is only understood by those who appreciate these crafted timepieces. Luxury watches have been around for quite some time and have a very rich history behind every brand. Rolex for one, the epitome of luxury watches, is considered to be one of the most famous luxury watches and has gained more significance over time. Much like most luxury products that have been cared for and treasured over the years, the value of a vintage classic Rolex only increases with time. The same cannot be stated for smart watches.
Ideally, smart watches are for those who want, rather need, to be constantly connected to social media. Fitness goals have also had a role in propelling the popularity of smart watches. This means that the entire millennial population has learned to appreciate a smart watch over a luxury watch, especially since few have been exposed to luxury watches. Apple’s Tim Cook’s 2017 presentation at the launch of Apple watch 3 confirmed this when the CEO stated that the company now is the biggest seller of watches in the world, far beyond the numbers achieved by Rolex, Omega and others. However, this doesn’t mean that the world of luxury watches is nearing its death soon.
The reaction of the luxury watch companies so far, has been mixed, to say the least. Some connoisseurs and experts believe that smart watches have created an ancillary market where luxury watches have a clear advantage. Various luxury brands have launched smart watches that cater to both demographics, people who appreciate tech and luxury. For example, Tag Heuer’s latest connected modular smart watch is a hybrid smart and luxury watch with modularity at its core. With prices ranging from $1700 - $180,000, the modularity allows customers to customize their watches based on personal preferences with configuration options available in size (41mm and 45mm); modules (ceramic, titanium, diamond, gold, aluminium); straps (rubber, calfskin and rubber, ceramic, and titanium); and lugs (titanium satin finish, titanium with diamonds, capped gold, black mat ceramic finish).
As per Tag Heuer, more than 4000 combinations are available with the smart connected modular pieces for customers to choose from.
Breitling’s first connected chronograph has built the functionalities of a smart phone in its watch, especially catering to pilots and yachtsmen, complete with an electronic tachymeter, a “Chrono flight” and “Chrono regatta” device for recording flight and regatta times, and many more sophisticated functions built inside a specially crafted Titanium casing. With prices ranging from $7100 - $18,600, this is a luxury smart watch for those who truly savor form, functionality and luxury.
Louis Vuitton has also launched their Tambour Horizon watch collection recently and each watch is a piece of art, with a stunning design for a fun element. The watch series comes in several designs with the Horizon Black being the most expensive at $2900. The watch runs on Google’s Wear OS and is both iPhone and Android compatible.
Michael Kors’ Access Collection, Bulgari’s Diagono Magnesium, Hugo Boss’ Touch, and Frederique Constant’s Horological are many of the luxury brands and their luxury smart watches. With technology being democratized, the transition of luxury and smart connected devices is already happening. However, there are still many brands who have not taken the leap and still believe in maintaining their pristine history of crafted mechanical timepieces. Rolex, for one, has not released any smartwatches till date with no known plans in the future as well. Rado is another brand that is following similar lines. Many other Swiss brands have also so far stuck to fine mechanical timepieces.
Currently, smart watches are witnessing a boom, however, luxury watch brands need not fret. It is clear that luxury watches have a win on their hands. While smartwatches are primarily seen as purely functional, luxury watches focus on the aesthetic value. Due to this reason, unlike smart watches which have pesky battery lives, luxury watches have better battery life, are better looking, are more meaningful, last a lot longer and most importantly, have a better resale value - something that smart watches would never be able to offer. This is why luxury watches such as Cartier, Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Breitling, and others will always be seen as a better investment than smart watches for years ahead in the long run.
Abhay Gupta is the founder, promoter and CEO of Luxury Connect (a boutique consulting organization) and Luxury Connect Business School (LCBS). He has helped establish luxury brands like Versace, Versace Home, Versace Collection, Corneliani, Arredo Classic, etc in India. Luxury publication Blackbook recognizes him as one of the ‘Top 100 Indian Luxury’s Most Influential’ for the past 6 years. He is also a recipient of the ‘Luxury Retail Icon 2012’ title by Asia Retail Congress. Having being featured in Forbes Luxury Trend Report 2012 as one of the industry leaders, he has also been widely recognized as a luxury expert by many media organizations. FondazioneAltagama has also recognized his contribution to the growth of Italian luxury industry by his pioneering efforts in India.