Smartwatches: The friend of Switzerland?

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Former Apple boss Tony Fadell says the Swiss watch industry needs to adapt to a digital world.

There are people in Geneva's annual watch fair who would probably prefer to take an arm off rather than wrap a smartwatch on their wrist.

The Haute Horlogerie Salon International presents the world of Swiss watchmaking. where handmade watches are sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Not for her the soulless black Apple Watch. But even in the heart of watchmaking, there are signs that the digital world is entering.

For one, former Apple engineer Tony Fadell is at the show. He is considered one of the fathers of the iPod and founded the Nest Labs, which Google had bought in 2014 for $ 3.5 billion.

"The thing about the digital revolution is that it touches everything, so as not to touch it [Swiss watch] World makes no sense, "he says.

In fact, several manufacturers of mechanical watches are experimenting with intelligent functions in mechanical watches.

Tag Heuer developed an Android hybrid watch and raised $ 190,000 worth of diamonds.

Montblanc and Frederique Constant have developed E-straps that add digital functionality to the bracelet's somewhat chunky buckle, keeping the watch itself in the traditional look.

Frederique Constant also has an automatic watch with Bluetooth technology and a rechargeable battery. However, £ 3,000 is still more of a luxury watch than a smartwatch.

The Belgian company Ressence, which manufactures its watches in Switzerland, has developed the E-Crown. A few clicks on the watch glass and the Bluetooth connection connect to the company's iPhone app.

The creation was possibly complicated. The clock is powered by tiny solar panels. However, functionality is limited to basic things like changing time and time zones. It is far from being able to track fitness or act as a payment platform.

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Maarten Slaet

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Ressence's solar-powered hybrid watch has smart technology but is sold at a luxury price of over $ 40,000

Ressence founder Benoit Mintiens points out, "It's a first-generation model, and there will be another fusion of analog and digital features."

Ressence sells only about 300 watches a year, but has some high profile trailers.

The managing director of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, is a fan, says Mintiens, as well as the designer Philippe Starck. "They are real admirers, we are a small company and can not pay brand ambassadors," says Mintiens.

  • A Brit in the heart of a Swiss tradition

  • Times of industry change

Mr. Fadell works with Ressence, and although he does not discuss business or investment plans, he is clearly interested in the market potential of hybrid watches. The future of smartwatches is a stand-alone device and not tied to smartphones, he says.

"It's really interesting to think about how these worlds might collide, there are the digital and code artisans I'm used to, and mechanical craftsmen here in the watch industry, both of whom want the boundaries of what they do in their fields can be reached, "says Fadell.

"They need people to stir things up, like Ressence, it does not matter if people get involved, they just have to spark interest and that leads to change."

The Swiss watch industry, still the third largest export sector in the country, had witnessed a death in the 1970s when the Japanese introduced quartz watches to the market.

Mr Fadell says that there are lessons to be learned if Swiss industry is not to be carried away by another tech revolution. First of all, he thinks his approach to startups is wrong.

"The digital world knows there are many start-ups that have the potential for break-out products, so they are very supportive.

"Here it is:" Prove me why I should sell you something. I do not want to waste my time with you. "

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Johann Sauty

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Patrick Pruniaux was involved in the Apple Watch Launch, but is now back with a Swiss mechanical watchmaker

In a report last month, the investment bank Morgan Stanley warned that the two largest Swiss watch companies, Swatch Group and Richemont, are at significant risk for smartwatches.

Its many high-end brands such as Cartier, Breguet and Blancpain will hardly be affected. But with the Apple Watch, which is available for around 450 Swiss Francs (£ 356), the low-end products are vulnerable.

Signs of this are the latest figures from the Chamber of Commerce of Swiss Industry. The export of watches with a factory price of less than 500 francs (£ 400) fell by 15% in the eleven months to the end of November.

However, exports of watches over 3,000 francs increased by 11% - an increase that has given comfort to many premium brands.

Another man who understands the digital threat is Patrick Pruniaux, but he is far less worried.

Mr. Pruniaux knows Apple from the inside and left Tag Heuer to join the team that launched the tech giant's smartwatch.

At that time, his move sparked talk of a Swiss brain drain into Silicon Valley. But now Mr. Pruniaux is back and runs the luxury watchmakers Girard-Perregaux and Ulysse Nardin.

Would he consider integrating Smart-Tech into his mechanical watches? "First, I have to ask what's in it for our customers." The answer is not much.

He does not criticize his competitors for experimenting with connectivity. But just as some complex high-end watches are created just for that reason, hybrid watches are also made for the same reason.

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The smartwatch will never generate the emotion of a mechanical watch, says Swiss executives

"There are no emotions with a smartwatch," he says. "A good watch is not obsolete - people who buy our watches do so through passion and creativity." A smartwatch only performs one function.

Smartwatches are a great opportunity for Swiss industry, says Pruniaux. Young people and millennials now wear watches and talk about it.

"This gives us a potential new market to explain ourselves and to tell them why we offer a better price quote," he says. He also believes that we may enter an era when people occasionally want to part with the world.

However, where the Swiss industry has to learn the lessons of Silicon Valley, is access to the customer.

"I see some [mechanical] Clocks and wonder if the customer was a reflection ... For Apple, the product is just the tip of the iceberg. They provide a rich customer experience, "he says.

"If something goes wrong with a £ 100,000 mechanical watch, the repair can take months," says Pruniaux. This is an example where things have to change.

To adapt, Swiss industry should be less concerned with smart tech than with the end user, he says.