Traditional v Smart?
Traditional v Smart? We explore the best technical watches out there.
How Swiss watch brands match up in the digital age.
Swiss watchmakers have long been creating highly technical, complex watches. Innovative materials, professional capabilities and micro-engineering to a hair’s breadth have led to major horological advancements, and none more so than in today’s market. But in the age of wearable technology, how do Swiss watch brands match up?
The world of horology has forged ahead with pioneering innovation, ever since the first portable clock or ‘wearable tech’ pocket watch was invented in the early 16th century. Traditional watches have an enduring quality, holding their value and even gaining it in many cases. Dependent on cogs and springs, rather than software, a mechanical watch can be passed down from generation to generation. But, this doesn’t mean a lack in technical advancement.
“The traditional wristwatch is one of the most technologically advanced gadgets to have ever appeared, and it continues to evolve with the times.”
Tim Barber, Editor of QP magazine
Panerai’s new Lab:id model, launched at watch fair SIHH in January this year, is a great example of real innovation in watchmaking. Made from a new carbon-based material, making it extremely light, the material is so black that it completely absorbs the light. The watch doesn’t use any lubricant within the movement, an incredible technical feat, meaning there is very little friction and damage over time. Panerai has guaranteed the Lab:id for 50 years as a result.
Although smartwatches are considerably cheaper, you have to remember that the technology is still developing. Like a smartphone, you may need to end up replacing your watch every few years, unlike the lifetime service you get from a mechanical watch.
We’ve all dropped our phones and cracked the screens, sadly too often in my case, and smartwatches have the same propensity for collateral damage. But look to your Swiss counterparts and the stringent tests that some models go through, you’re in no danger of cracking or damaging them any time soon.
British watch brand Bremont has a collection of watches (the Martin Baker range) so shock resistant that they can be fired out of an ejector seat from a plane and land to tell the tale, still fully functioning.
Whilst Swiss watch brand Breitling puts every single watch it sells through a stringent series of tests. Called ‘chronometer-certified,’ this high-level quality control testing means that all of its watches have chronometer-certified movements, an independent proof of accuracy. Breitling is one of the few brands that test 100% of their watches to this high level of specification.
Heralded as “the most complex watch ever created” at this year’s SIHH trade show launch, Greubel Forsey’s new Grande Sonnerie took eleven years of research and development, two patents and at least 935 parts to create.
Housed within a super light-weight titanium acoustic resonance cage for a “pure sound”, the manually wound watch features a silent striking regulator and Tourbillon 24 Secondes. The sheer complexity of this watch is breathtaking, strapped to your wrist it is a highly advanced and technical piece of micro-engineering.
Mechanical watches can be highly water resistance and none more so than a Rolex, with the brand inventing the first waterproof wristwatch, the Oyster. For over a century, Rolex watches have accompanied explorers, divers and professionals on their missions leading to new innovations and technical advancements, even beyond the realms of human capability.
The Rolex Deepsea is water resistant to a depth of 3,900 metres, with an innovative Ringlock System which allows the case to withstand water pressure equivalent to a weight of three tonnes on the crystal. The core components of this intricate case are made in the toughest aerospace‐grade materials available. The Deepsea can go deeper than all but a few purpose‐built research submersibles and more than 100 times beyond the depth that any human could physically survive.
In today’s digitalised world there’s a new mainstream appreciation for all things crafted, as we value the time and care of something that has been worked on by hand. Many hundreds of man-hours go into the production of a traditional watch, along with centuries of fine-tuned techniques.
The more you delve into the background of a watch and its heritage, you more you understand the true value of it. A brand, such as Jaeger-LeCoultre, has the ability to make most watch components in-house, not just movements. This requires an exceptional level of skill and gives them huge control over quality.
Audemars Piguet’s iconic bracelet alone takes 8 hours to polish by hand. Every fine detail of the watch has been worked on by master watchmakers and craftsman. Processes can be sped up but you lose the precision and quality that comes with a luxury item and that so many Swiss watch brands pride themselves on.
“We see the smartwatch industry as being a natural evolution and complement to the traditional watch industry…The key is distinguishing between an appliance with no soul that you wear, and an item that is stylish that allows the world to know something about who the wearer is. Both traditional and smartwatches have the potential to have soul, or utterly lack it.”
Highly technical smartwatches have been described as “the epitome of wearable technology,” so it comes as no surprise that analysts estimate Apple sold nearly 12 million smartwatches in 2016, holding almost 50% of market share for the year. The next two largest smartwatch sellers in 2016 were Fitbit and Samsung, holding 17% and 15% of market share respectively, according to analyst firm Canalys. “Staying healthy, staying connected and expressing your style,” are the three pillars of smartwatches today, according to Head of Android Wear David Singleton.
Many of the technical issues with the very first smartwatches have been ironed out and the trend has moved beyond those few early adopters to becoming a mainstream style statement. And luxury fashion houses are now getting in on the action. Dubbed ‘designer wearables,’ 2017 sees Louis Vuitton, Michaels Kors, Emporio Armani and Tommy Hilfiger all produce Android Wear smartwatches. Fossil Group also announced it will offer 300 new smartwatch designs by the end of the year.
But what are the best smartwatches on the market? TechRadar heralds the Apple Watch 2 as “the best smartwatch you can buy right now.” Its water-resistant qualities ensure you don’t have to worry about getting it wet in the rain, there is built-in GPS and it comes with the newest watchOS 3 software.
The website also rates the Samsung Gear S3, despite a lack of original apps. It features GPS and a battery life of up to 3 days. “If you’re looking for a more traditional-looking alternative to the Apple Watch, you may have found your match,” it says.
Additionally, the LG Watch Style (built in collaboration with Google) which “offers everything that’s to love from the best Android Wear smartwatches.” Described as the “thinnest Android Wear smartwatch yet,” battery life is said to be a low point but upgrades such as like voice-activated Google Assistant are a plus.
Swiss watch brands are now launching their own smartwatch versions, with many using Google’s Android Wear technology. Mechanical watch fans can finally combine their passion for both craftsmanship and technology, with options from the likes of TAG Heuer, Montblanc, Frederique Constant and Breitling.
TAG Heuer Connected Smartwatches
Dubbed “a computer on the wrist” TAG Heuer’s Connected Modular 45 (launched this year) is a new concept from the Swiss watch brand and a step on from the original Connected. To make the watch standout, TAG has ensured almost every part of it can be customised, using a modular design. The watch can seamlessly switch between a smartwatch and a mechanical watch, with both modules attaching to the lugs of the watch and around 4,000 dial options.
The Modular 45 can now also boast the name ‘Swiss-made’, as most of the parts have been made in Switzerland, despite a partnership with Google for the Android Wear 2.0 technology.
“As a standalone product, the TAG Connected Modular 45 has many of the features to compete with the likes of Apple’s Watch but also the Swiss history and pedigree,”
Matt Burgess, Wired
Montblanc Summit Smartwatches
Montblanc has combined its heritage for crafting stylish, mechanical timepieces with the gadget-led category of ‘wearable technology,’ heralding it as “a new era in luxury wearables for men”. The design of the Summit has been based on Montblanc’s award-winning vintage-inspired 1858 collection and the newer Timewalker models. They are digital versions of Montblanc’s classic dial designs with a new face due to be released regularly, making the watch highly customisable.
With high-grade titanium and stainless steel the watch is surprisingly very light, also due to the lack of a weighty movement inside. The Summit is covered by domed sapphire glass, which the brand says is a world first in smartwatches. Discover more in our article ‘Does Montblanc have the answer to the Smart generation?’
Frederique Constant Horological Smartwatches
Frederique Constant manufactures its Horological Smartwatches in a dedicated HSW Atelier, which combines traditional watchmaking with movement assembly, encasing and quality control. Engineers program each watch movement to have connected functions, which will work in conjunction with the MMT-365 App.
The App gives details on all data recorded by the smartwatch and can be connected via Bluetooth. Features include an activity tracker, Worldtimer and sleep monitoring. Details are communicated to the App and visually displayed on the watch.
Breitling Exospace B55
Breitling’s Exospace B55 watch is the brand’s first smartwatch offering and has been aimed at pilots, with features including chrono flight time logs and countdown to ‘mission start.’ Breitling has designed and built the watch and movement in-house, so it is very much ‘Swiss made,” whilst the phone app and connected features are all custom programmed for Breitling too.
Still in keeping with the brand’s heritage for absolute accuracy, it contains a SuperQuartz movement which is ten times more accurate than standard quartz. It uses Bluetooth LE to connect to a smartphone, enabling you to customise settings such as a second timezone, alarms and reminders.
With Switzerland and Silicon Valley now working hand in hand, if you’re looking for a traditional looking smartwatch, there are plenty of options available. But, in the age of wearable technology, if Apple’s tech-version is more up your street, there’s no reason why your watch collection can’t comfortably house the both.