"It's not enough to have tradition, because tradition connects you to yesterday—we need to be connected to tomorrow," said Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of TAG Heuer and president of LVMH Group's Watches Division, during last fall's debut of TAG Heuer's Connected smartwatch developed with Intel and Google.
Confronted with the Apple Watch and other smartwatches, a handful of premier brands have responded with their own takes on the technology, but with a luxury twist. Last year, Montblanc introduced its e-Strap, a high-tech watchstrap that includes an activity tracker, smart notifications, remote control and Find-Me functions. Meanwhile, Breitling launched a connected chronograph, Exospace B55, which links via Bluetooth to your smartphone and exchanges data back and forth. Bulgari prefers to describe its Diagono Magnesium Concept as "intelligent," as it does not have typical smartwatch functions but rather serves as a digital data vault on the wrist. Plus the movement is mechanical, so it never requires a battery charge.
"This is a marriage between Silicon Valley and Swiss craftsmanship," said Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel Corporation, at the TAG Heuer Connected's launch. "It looks like something I would want to wear."
TAG Heuer's designers aimed at both sexy and smart. Connected ($1,700, as shown) is housed in a 49-mm titanium Carrera case, the brand's flagship model. Inside is an Intel Atom processor that runs the Android Wear platform with thousands of apps. Connected is not a slave to your phone as it connects by Wi-Fi to the Cloud. And in two years, when the technology has advanced, you have the option to upgrade it or convert it to a mechanical watch.
Frederique Constant's Horological Smartwatch looks even more like a traditional watch. Launched in 2015, the collection's latest addition ($1,295) comes in a 42-mm, rose-gold-plated steel case with a handsome navy-blue dial appointed with applied indexes and Roman numerals. Underneath the dial, Fullpower's MotionX end-to-end technology platform links to your smartphone and tracks your activity, monitors sleep and features a world-timer function for frequent travelers. When the watch syncs with your smartphone, it automatically adjusts date and local time on the dial. The subdial at 6 o'clock shows how close you are to reaching your activity or sleep goals, and the battery runs for up to two and a half years without needing to be charged.
Tissot's 45-mm titanium Smart-Touch ($1,100 to $1,200), an evolution of the brand's T-Touch Solar, is activated by touching the sapphire crystal and is powered by ambient light via an exposed photovoltaic cell. Smart-Touch links to your smartphone and other devices via Bluetooth and offers more than 30 functions including weather forecast, compass, altimeter and navigation.
While many in the upper echelons of Swiss watchmaking have dismissed tech watches as nothing more than disposable gadgets, others are finding ways to embrace the future on their own terms. And they're just getting started.