One telling fact quickly became apparent as I wandered around the Rumpus Room at London’s Mondrian hotel on Wednesday night, grasping a dubious attempt at an Old Fashioned, for the launch of the Huawei Watch; there was a distinct lack of familiar faces.
GQ’s deputy editor Bill Prince and fashion director Robert Johnston are regulars on London’s fairly tight-knit watch circuit, but their presence was hardly surprising given that the Chinese telecoms giant had selected the venerable men’s magazine as its partner for the event.
None of my esteemed watch journalist colleagues were present; this was an altogether different bunch. The gents paired turtleneck sweaters with Prince of Wales double-breasted jackets in a manner that you don’t often see outside of an aftershave advert, while the ladies were draped in loud prints with plunging necklines and soaring hemlines. This was a fashion crowd and I was in enemy territory.
It’s not that the watch journalist is a scruffy soul, every man jack (or woman) of us appreciate a finely-cut jacket and expertly handcrafted shoe – perhaps because most occasionally dabble in the heady field of luxury lifestyle. But fashion journalists actively seek out the new, the challenging. Watch writers take a bit more convincing and tend to err on the side of tradition.
In selecting GQ, and the stylish crowd they were sure to invite which ended up including model Daisy Lowe and designer Henry Holland, Huawei had very clearly identified their product as something to be marketed and publicised to a fashion-conscious audience, more of a tech accessory than anything that should be considered in the same scope as a watch.
Before a panel discussion onstage at the same event that reached absolutely no conclusion on the matter, GQ’s Johnston suggested he was most likely to adopt a double-wristed approach towards smart watches, mainly because there was no chance in hell he would be handing over the wrist real estate currently occupied by his Rolex.
Outside of its own vast tech retail network Apple too has taken this line with its Apple Watch, choosing to work with a very select group of retailers from launch that includes Selfridges and perhaps more surprisingly, the uber trendy Dover Street Market.
Up until now the worlds of fashion and watches have only collided in the aptly titled fashion watch sector. Fashion watches that might represent an established fashion label or simply take their design cues from the catwalk, turning over new styles at a much faster rate than traditional watches to keep up with the current trend.
But these are usually pieces priced to become an impulse purchase whilst smart watches, such as the Huawei Watch which starts at £289 and continues all the way up to £550, are considerably more expensive; a considered purchase that a customer is likely to research before pulling the trigger.
So it would seem that smart watches are not fashion watches and they are most certainly not traditional watches. The question of where they should be sold, or more pertinently where customers expect to find them being sold is, as yet, unanswered. Is a jeweller or watch specialist the right place to attempt to sell these tech hybrids or would you look for them alongside your smartphones? At least one UK multiple has trialled smart watches in select stores and the results are not yet in.
This latest, sustained raft of smart watches is still in its infancy and I’m not sure the perfect bricks and mortar retail channel exists for them yet. They don’t seem to be able to find a comfortable home anywhere but online where direct sales are looking increasingly likely. It will be interesting to see what line TAG Heuer takes with the retail of its Connected watch when it launches on Monday.