The media has been full of articles about how Apple is schmoozing fashion editors with its Watch, but little has been written about traditional watchmakers reaching out to the technology world.
That is changing thanks to the work of Fullpower, the company that developed the MotionX system that is turning proper Swiss watches from Frederique Constant, Alpina and Mondaine watches into activity-tracking smartwatches.
Fullpower, based in California’s Silicon Valley, has a hotline to the technology press, and has already hooked in respected PC World editor Jon Phillips (Twitter: @jonphillipssf).
Philippe Kahn, CEO for Fullpower, gave the PC World editor an exclusive look at Frederique Constant and Alpina watches featuring and MotionX and, if I had to summarise, he was impressed.
“These watches look absolutely nothing like “traditional” high-tech wearables. They’re resplendent with textured dials, raised hour markers, and polished hands. They look like classy Swiss watches. They are Swiss watches. Nonetheless, the watches I demoed at Fullpower’s Santa Cruz, CA headquarters are, feature for feature, much like the Jawbone UP24 — except clad in finely tailored suits instead of gaudy Lycra unitards,” Phillips said after his first encounter with the watches.
Fullpower provides the sensor-based technology that collects and transmits information like step counts and sleeping patterns from the watch to a smartphone app. It is working in a joint venture with Union Horlogere Holding in Geneva called MMT (Manufacture Modules Technologies).
MMT is in turn working with Swiss watchmakers to take the functionality to market in the form of proper Swiss-made watches.
Frederique Constant, Alpina and Mondaine will launch watches costing in the range of £500-£1500 this summer.
PC World’s review of the Frederique Constant model described an understated design fit for male boardroom executives, but “absolutely loaded with techy-mechanical sex appeal”.
Alpina’s watch, Phillips says, is going for a much more modern, even brash, aesthetic.
“The men’s designs are thick and chunky, with heft and gravitas. But there’s nothing wrong with that—this is all about personal preference—and I loved the embossed Alpina logo on the back of the case. You just won’t see this level of detailing on a watch designed by a consumer electronics company,” he adds.
PC World wasn’t shown the Mondaine Helvetica, but from the publicity material, it was described as a more neutral option that’s appropriate for both men and women without sacrificing an iota of style.
It comes as no surprise that Swiss watchmakers can do style. But can they also do smart?
Phillips seemed to stop short of comparing them to smartwatches from the mobile phone world. “I think these are “smart” watches in a figurative sense, but not smartwatches as we’ve come to use that label,” he explains.
Using dials more regularly associated with functions like day and date, the watches present information like step counts. Other information, including calorie burn estimates and sleep patterns, is transmitted to an accompanying smartphone app, and from there to cloud-based sharing platform.
Phillips concludes by posing and answering the billion dollar question: “Which watch would you still be wearing two, three or even five years from now—the first-gen Apple Watch, one of today’s Android Wear watches, or one of these Swiss activity-tracking watches? With timeless beauty and at least the ability to be upgraded, these timepieces clearly have the most staying power,” he says.