Replica Tag Heuer’s smartwatch goes back to the future

The Connected Modular 45 combines traditional craftsmanship with smart capabilities

smart-watch

The lull in wearable technology contains a contradiction. At the moment when the market’s pioneers in Silicon Valley — including Fitbit, Pebble and Jawbone — are struggling and tech groups such as Motorola are pressing pause on their wearables projects, the traditional replica watch industry is doubling down on the technology.

That was the clear message from Jean-Claude Biver, chief executive of replica Tag Heuer, this week as he unveiled the Swiss company’s second smartwatch, the Connected Modular 45.

He declared at the launch event that the watch would marry 19th and 21st-century technology. Tag’s choice of materials such as titanium and ceramic, and a familiar circular display, ensure it looks more like a watch than a phone.

Tag’s launch was the first of several announcements ahead of next week’s Baselworld watch fair. Another luxury watchmaker, Montblanc, unveiled its first smartwatch, the $890 Summit, while Swatch said that it was working on a smartwatch operating system of its own to rival Apple and Google.

Tag’s first smartwatch, released in 2015, has sold 56,000 units, according to Mr Biver — more than the company expected. In consumer electronics terms, it seems a small number, but at $1,500 apiece, $80m in revenues appears to be a good result for the LVMH-owned company.

If that momentum can be maintained, it stands to profit even more from the second version, which starts at $1,650 but its array of interchangeable bezels, lugs and bands can add up to several times that price.

This “modular” approach is another attempt at futureproofing the device and addressing the apparent contradiction between spending thousands of dollars on a luxury timepiece that could be obsolete in a few years.

The original Connected Tag came with a guarantee that it could be traded in after two years for a traditional mechanical model.

Its successor offers that option from the day of purchase. This modular system’s bands and lugs come with quick-release buttons that allow its components, including the main clock, to be snapped in and out in a few seconds. Unlike conventional replica watches, no special tools are required for this, allowing the owner to do it as often as they wish.

Changing a watch’s strap is nothing new, but the button-press system Tag introduced this week is faster and simpler than fiddling with spring bars.

Setting aside the smartwatch component, Tag proudly proclaims it is the “first modular watch bearing the Swiss Made label” of any kind — digital or analogue. There are 56 different designs available to buy upfront, and potentially hundreds of permutations when combining 18 different rubber, leather, titanium and ceramic bands with various lugs and buckles.

That is before counting the thousands of customisable fake watch faces available, both through Tag’s own “studio” app and on the Android Wear app store.

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Jean-Claude Biver, chief executive of Tag Heuer

While Tag may be claiming a first on behalf of the Swiss industry, other smartwatches already offer this kind of simple swap-ability. Personalisation has been a cornerstone of the Apple Watch since it was first unveiled in 2014, while Fitbit and Misfit have also teamed up with fashion brands on accessories.

Apple’s constantly changing bands are an under-appreciated part of Apple Watch’s appeal. The ease with which they slide into the Watch case is a big part of that.

A study just over a year ago by Wristly, which surveys Apple Watch owners, found that the average customer has at least two bands, with about a third buying three or more. I am among the extreme cases: I own six Apple Watch bands, including cheap rubber ones in bright colours bought for a few bucks from eBay to Apple’s own magnetic leather loop.

Consumers buy replica watches not only because they are practical but also because they are stylish, so smartwatches should be no different. Tag’s Connected Modular 45 has GPS for tracking runs and is waterproof for wearing in swimming pools — or (as its promotional video somewhat frighteningly suggests for something costing thousands of dollars) surfing in the ocean.

If we wear different clothing in water and at the dinner table, why shouldn’t our watch straps change as well?

Verdict

All this customising is irrelevant for those who believe that a smartphone does everything they need from a smartwatch, including telling the time. There is little new in the Connected Modular 45’s technological feature set that will win over smartwatch sceptics.

Its chunky casing oddly lacks a heart-rate monitor, which has become standard in most wearable devices (I will have more to say on Android Wear 2.0 software and other, more affordable Google-powered smartwatches soon).

For those who enjoy high-priced timepieces, though, Tag’s pitch of combining the best of traditional watchmaking craftsmanship with something that can tap Google’s Assistant, track a run or pay wirelessly at the coffee shop will hold appeal. The future may look rather more like the past than we had anticipated.

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Even Switzerland Is Obsessed With Replica watches Now

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Movado’s new Connect smartwatch

The Swiss watch market exists within a blissful parallel universe. In this magical place, people celebrate the contemplative beauty of a perpetual calendar complication, and happily pay five or six figures for mechanical timepieces that don’t actually keep time accurately. This universe arose during the Renaissance, and changes slowly. The heritage, the history, the ahem timelessness of it all remains precisely the point.

That universe is unraveling. The watch industry is in a precipitous decline, one that started when people realized their smartphone does a pretty good job telling the time. Last year, Apple bragged about being the second-biggest replica watchmaker on the planet. Swiss watch exports, meanwhile, fell 16.1 percent in the first half of 2016, the fastest decline ever. The industry faces intense competition from companies like Apple, Samsung, LG, and Huawei that don’t know much about complications but know everything about making the connected devices people love.

You see replica watches everywhere at Baselworld 2017, which you could call the Consumer Electronics Show of watchmaking. In fact, the first thing you see after walking in the door is the Tag Heuer Connected 45, a stylish modular smartwatch that costs $170. Depending who you ask, such timepieces represent a massive opportunity to woo a new generation of buyers, or a looming threat to everything that makes replica watches great. Either way, replica watches are on everyone’s mind.

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Fossil’s Q Activist hybrid smartwatch

Not that anyone even agrees on what a smartwatch is. Some embrace the Apple and LG model of building big wrist-puters with big touchscreens. The idea is to complement, if not replace, your phone by letting you receive notifications, track your fitness, send email, and more. It doesn’t matter whether you buy a Movado, a Tag Heuer, or a Montblanc, because they all offer the same basic features. They’re probably made by the same company, too—Fossil, which has become a licensing giant. Prices vary only because you’re buying a brand, a look, a feeling.

On the other wrist, you find what you might call the smart-ish watch, or the hybrid. It looks like a conventional timepiece. You don’t charge it each day, or even each year. It collects fitness and sleep data, and vibrates when you get an important notification. But such things are secondary to its primary function: keeping time. Pretty soon you’ll be able to buy a fake watch like this from Fossil, Guess, Hugo Boss, and Tory Burch. Soon enough, you can easily imagine every reasonably priced watch featuring some measure of connectivity. The components needed to add, say, Bluetooth, to a watch are so small, so efficient, and so cheap that there’s little reason not to include them.

But adding such things to a watch invariably calls into question what a watch is, and what it does. Watchmakers like Patek Philippe, Rolex, and Harry Winston craft timepieces you leave to your children, not trade in at the Verizon store when a new model arrives. They are heirlooms, not commodities, and more art than technology. As company reps showed me their Baselworld products, they talked about materials and movements and historical inspirations, not Wi-Fi specs or processor speeds. Rolex replica watches are notoriously bad at keeping accurate time, but this basic failing does not diminish its brand in the slightest. Because it’s not really about telling the time.

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Montblanc’s Summit smartwatch

And so the question isn’t whether a watchmaker like Rolex can make a fake watch, but what a Rolex replica watch would mean. When every Android Wear watch is the same—which is to say six months away from hopelessly obsolescence—how do you make something that lasts forever? In a world where everything is only exciting until the upgrade comes along, does such timelessness even matter?

Some companies are diving into this new market eagerly. Michael Kors, for instance, says every men’s watch it sells will feature some measure of connectivity. But for others, particularly the truly luxurious brands, finding the right balance of past and future, heritage and innovation, remains a challenge.

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This Bulgari Beauty Is the World’s Thinnest Chiming Replica Watch

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When Bulgari designers set out to build the world’s thinnest chiming watch, their goal was to blow the dust off of what typically is a very classical complication. “Minute repeaters are usually an expression of an old-fashioned way, a traditional way—they are expressions of aesthetic codes of the past,” says Guido Terreni, managing director of Bulgari Replica Watches. According to Terreni, Bulgari’s Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater is designed to be used. “We wanted the minute repeater to be on the client’s wrist, not stay in the safe,” explains Terreni. “We wanted to create an object that was for daily wear.” The watch’s svelte profile at 6.85 mm thick certainly encourages that.

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As Terreni points out, superthin movements are not simply available for purchase from suppliers, they have to be developed in-house. While Bulgari had acquired the skill sets for building exceptional chiming watches through the purchase of the Gerald Genta and Daniel Roth brands in 2000, it had to cultivate its own expertise in ultrathin movements starting with the Octo Finissimo Petite Seconde.

“We could reproduce everything that we learned in all these decades of making chiming watches; the challenge was to do it in such a small height,” says Terreni, who notes that they could have gone even slimmer if they had chosen to. “We could have gone down to 2.9 or 2.88 mm, but then the main plate would have been very delicate. And when you have the push button or lever, the pressure could deform the plate.” So, for the sake of reliability, the caliber BVL 362 movement measures 3.12 mm.

The technical aspect of the design merges with the aesthetic in the brand’s choice of titanium for the case material. Finissimo’s faceted, sandblasted titanium case not only endows it with bold, disruptive character, it also enhances performance, because in addition to being modern, lightweight, and robust, titanium is also an excellent conductor of sound. “My idea as a designer is that the material has to define the product itself,” says Fabrizio Buonamassa Stigliani, director of fake Bulgari watch design department. “We chose titanium not just for the quality of sound, but also for the texture and the color.”

But for Stigliani, an Italian with a background in industrial design, the golden design rule of form follows function is not enough. “For me, it’s more about beauty follows function,” he says. “Italian design merges beauty and functionality in a completely different way. Our replica watches are not driven only by performance. The performance is a part of our design, but the aesthetic motif has exactly the same importance. Italian design is very difficult to explain, because it is a very unique mix of functionality, aesthetic beauty, and sense
of proportions.”

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Bulgari also chose titanium for the sliver of a dial, dispensing with applied indexes and instead laser cutting the hour markers and Bulgari’s signature 12 into the metal. This innovative approach not only lends the design its pure, contemporary appeal, it also enables the sound to travel through the entire case, which is a must when you are working with such compact space. The unprecedented notion of an ultrathin minute repeater could be viewed as a contradiction in terms, says Terreni. “When you have a minute repeater, you need case volume to chime, because it’s an issue of acoustic resonance,” he explains. “It’s the case that produces the sound.”

At its heart and soul, a minute repeater is a musical instrument that must be fine-tuned for optimal sound. In addition to using titanium for the case and dial for heightened acoustic resonance, Bulgari has fitted the movement with traditional round, steel gongs to achieve the purest, ideal tones without a clanging metallic quality.

And while Bulgari’s master watchmakers apply time-honored tuning skills to the Octo Finissimo Minute Repeater, the brand is also using cutting-edge technology. The replica watch is put to the test with a special machine that measures sound quality far beyond the limits of the human ear. It assesses the purity of the notes, as well as the intensity and pacing over the course of the chime. It also boasts the capability to isolate and analyze each hammer, like a mixing board in a recording studio. After all, this is, as Bulgari intended, not your grandfather’s minute repeater.

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