Are smartwatches the future of high-end horology?

‘Why is it (…) that despite the multitude of life-enhancing features offered by smartwatches, we still invest in traditional forms of timekeeping?’

In an age of progress and technological innovation, smartwatches were predicted to destabilise the luxury watch market, eventually replacing mechanical pieces altogether. However, according to recent studies, the consumer demand for mechanical watches is strong. In fact, it has increased significantly over the last year. Why is it then that despite the multitude of life-enhancing features offered by smartwatches, we still invest in traditional forms of timekeeping?

The Tradition of Buying Mechanical Watches

As any watch owner will agree, we seldom buy watches for the sake of telling time. Instead, we are attracted to their designs and means of self-expression. Whether you opt for a rugged Panerai Luminor or a sleek IWC Portofino, you are not only making a fashion statement but also communicating your particular lifestyle ideals. Thus, while we are increasingly dependent on our smartphones – using them as calendars or fitness trackers and even glancing at their screens to check the time – we are simply less inclined to wear that same technology on our wrists.


IWC Portofino Hand-Wound Monopusher

IWC Portofino Hand-Wound Monopusher


Very often, customers will settle on a particular watch due to the model’s or brand’s legacy. This is especially true in the case of cult watches, such as the Cartier Santos, known as the first ever pilot’s watch. Another great example is the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch Professional. Famous for being the first watch on the surface of the moon, the Speedmaster will forever remind us of its incredible legacy.

The Introduction of the Smartwatch

While traditional watches have been around for centuries, the history of smartwatches is a relatively short one. The first product of this type can be traced back to the Timex Datalink, co-developed by Microsoft in 1994. It was the first watch capable of transferring and downloading data from a computer. By 2012, Pebble launched the ‘Kickstarter’ marking a new era of the smartwatch. It offered access to the internet, enabling the ability to receive emails and notifications. Although the brand closed in 2016, the ‘Kickstarter’ triggered an industry-wide response that inspired the launch of watches from technology giants, such as Apple, Samsung, and LG.


Pebble 'Kickstarter'

Pebble ‘Kickstarter’


Arguably, one of the basic reasons explaining why the smartwatch hasn’t had a significant effect on the watchmaking industry is that we refuse to think of it as a timepiece. And indeed, it isn’t one. Rather, a smartwatch is a small computer with a sophisticated interface and a bright LED screen, offering largely the same features we find in our smartphones.

In terms of functionality, the wide range of features of smartwatches makes them unquestionably fun to wear. Launched in September 2017, the Apple Watch Series 3 is the best-performing smartwatch currently available. It offers a complex package filled with portable media, such as activity trackers, a heart rate monitor, sleep sensor, and GPS tracking. In addition, it is designed to operate alongside your iPhone, taking phone calls and receiving messages. One of the most irksome downsides to the Apple Watch is its short battery life. Because of this, the purpose of the watch is somewhat undermined, as data collection is repeatedly disrupted by daily charging.


Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch Series 3


The Lifespan of the Smartwatch and the Mechanical Watch

As smartwatches depend on ever-advancing technology, by the same token, they also rapidly lose their value, becoming outdated as soon as new innovations are developed. Much like phones, tablets, and computers, they need to be replaced every few years. Well-crafted luxury mechanical watches, on the other hand, have much longer lifespans. They often become prized family heirlooms of deep sentimental value. Therefore, while luxury timepieces are without a doubt a considerable investment, they are made to last and will retain value much better than any piece of technology.

The Best of Both Worlds

For those seeking a classic-looking watch that seamlessly incorporates a system for tracking fitness and sleep patterns, Frédérique Constant offers an interesting hybrid solution. The Notify model, currently priced at £650, merges beautiful, traditional Swiss watchmaking with high-end technology. Although seemingly traditional on the surface, the watch boasts a dynamic coaching and personal messaging system synced with an iOS or Android mobile device. It is available on a stainless steel bracelet, leather or rubber strap, depending on the specific needs of the wearer. The watch also proposes a solution to short battery life, featuring the MMT-281 connected movement, which will run on a battery for an impressive 25 months without the need to charge.


Frédérique Constant Notify

Frédérique Constant Notify


With all this in mind, we don’t see smartwatches so much as competition to traditional watchmaking but simply as a technological gadget supplying a range of (superfluous?) life-enhancing functions. Luckily for fans of both types of watches, we believe that smartwatches and traditional timepieces can easily coexist, as they are purchased for different purposes in mind. Having said that, it is clear that mechanical watchmaking is truly an art form of its own that will never go out of style.


Images ©: Header. Phonedog 1. Horobox 2. Gigaom 3. Overstock 4. Watchtime