The smartwatch market is vast, and those looking to add some intelligence to their wrist have plenty to choose from. Some luxury brands have released their own take on the smartwatch and attached a price tag to match. But is the concept of a “luxury smartwatch” actually pretty stupid?
Tech giants like Samsung and Apple have plenty of high-end, high-quality pieces, but in terms of price and prestige, they aren’t what you would consider ultra high-end. This category is where you find names like Rolex, Omega, and Montblanc. Alongside standard features like sleep tracking, step counting, and a GPS, they promise to add a sense of prestige and collectability to your new device. However, despite their decades of success and exclusive clientele list, these brands are providing an overlap no one wants or needs.
A luxury watch is as much an investment as it is a display of wealth. With its multitude of tiny moving parts and staggering accuracy, it is both a work of art and a staggering engineering achievement. While a Rolex has no more practical use than something like a G-Shock, it comes with a pedigree; it’s a little ticking piece of history.
Because of the scarcity, longevity, and prestige involved, luxury watches tend to appreciate value. It’s something you can hand down through your family or sell for a large amount of money should you fall on hard times. Although certain electronics can fetch a hefty price, you’re talking about items of historical significance in outstanding condition. An Apple 2 in the box would fetch a hefty price, but if you go out and buy a brand new MacBook, it’s probably not going to be worth a lot in 40 years. It’s the same with a smartwatch. Crack open the case, and you’ll find a circuit board, not a hundred precision-crafted pieces. No matter what brand name gets printed on it, your smart watch will not appreciate in value.
Several notable companies are making high-end smartwatches and selling them at a premium. Montblanc, a German company famous for making costly pens, is one of them. Surprisingly for a company that charges several thousand dollars for a ballpoint, their contributions to the smartwatch market aren’t that outlandishly priced. While still about twice the price of an Apple Watch, the Montblanc Summit and Summit 2 can be picked up for under $1000.
Established Swiss watchmakers like Tag Heuer have dipped their toes in the smartwatch pond. Its “Calibre E4” seems to be geared more towards style than substance — you can have a Porsche branded display on the front of it, but nothing under the hood sets the watch apart. If you want to spend closer to $10,000, Breitling has a strange mechanical-smart watch hybrid aimed at “pilots and yachtsmen.”
The B55 will pair with your phone, but it doesn’t look to be of much use outside of the cockpit. It won’t track your steps, but it will track flight and lap times. The display is a combination of a traditional watch and the sort of digital display you’d see on a Casio. And there is an app, which is the easiest way to access the watch’s very specific features.
You might be able to justify the price if the likes of Montblanc and Tag Heuer were providing something cutting edge — but their efforts are nothing special. Arguably, they can’t keep up with established smartwatch brands, so you’ll get less for more money.
Although the reality of the product doesn’t match its headlines, Garmin is at least pushing some innovation with their “unlimited battery” solar smartwatch. It’s an attempt to tackle what may be the smartwatch’s biggest drawback — the fact you need to charge them regularly. Similarly, Apple has a high-quality product (as they usually do) that integrates flawlessly with the rest of their catalog. So if you’re an iPhone user, that’s the obvious choice.
To put things in perspective, one feature Tag boasts about is the ability to display the NFT you undoubtedly overpaid for on the face of the smartwatch you overpaid for. The problem with this feature is that nobody cares about your NFT or fitness tracker.
While some families have had items like watches handed down through the generations, similar things are unlikely to happen with electronics. Electrical items have a shorter shelf life, with things like smartphones lasting just two to three years on average. Then there’s obsolescence; products in the tech world improve quickly and often. A top-of-the-line smartwatch now will more than likely be a primitive piece of garbage in ten years.
Yes, a mechanical watch is technically an obsolete object. Some watches link to atomic clocks, which are more accurate than a purely mechanical device could ever hope to be. But like classic cars and retro consoles, they have found a niche with collectors and are still marketable.
Luxury watches also require maintenance, and it gets expensive. Ideally, you’ll take the watch to a certified professional every three to five years. That professional will check the watch over, perform standard maintenance tasks like lubricating parts of the mechanism, and replace any badly worn or broken parts.
This is highly delicate, specialized work and can cost hundreds of dollars. So, could you replace the internals of an aging luxury smartwatch the same way? Probably. But as I mentioned earlier, part of the appeal of a luxury watch is the intricate mechanism. Chips and circuit boards are also incredibly complex but don’t carry the same prestige.
Apple as a brand has plenty of prestige. If you look in the hands of a billionaire taking a phone call, the chances are you’ll see the latest iPhone. That iPhone may be clad in gold and covered in precious gems, but underneath the overpriced display of wealth, it’s still the same kind of phone the majority of people in the US use.
Despite this, even the biggest name in tech learned the hard way that luxury smartwatches are a non-starter. Seven years ago, the company offered an 18k gold edition of the first apple watch. This luxury edition cost around $17,000, putting it on par with brands like Rolex. Unlike Rolex, the ultra-premium Apple watch was a huge flop. Since then, the company has dropped the precious metal casing, adjusted its pricing, and found an incredible amount of success in the smartwatch market.
If you want to show off, no one is going to look down on you for displaying an Apple product, whereas with an Android-based piece of tech like the Montblanc Summit — you may get a sideways look. Apple’s tech also works seamlessly together, and while it does play with others, it isn’t always too happy about it. So if you’re currently using an iPhone, opting for something outside of Apple’s ecosystem may limit both your expensive watch and expensive phone.
If you’re an Android user, cheaper options that will impress the same amount of people as any other Android watch are probably available. So there you have it. If you want to show off, buy Apple. If you don’t, you’ll pay more, probably have a worse experience, and be bullied by the shallower elements of the tech community.
For the reasons stated above, a luxury watch collector more than likely has no interest in a smartwatch. Equally, while people who are really into tech might have no problem spending four figures on something truly market-leading — I doubt they’ll pay a 100% premium over a standard Apple Watch for a Wear OS device with a penmaker’s name on it.
So there’s the problem. These devices theoretically appeal to two large, affluent markets but offer nothing either of them wants. And on top of everything else, charging a huge premium comes with the territory when you’re operating a luxury brand. So they can’t even price these watches at a point where they could theoretically compete with Apple, Samsung, Garmin, et al. Luxury smartwatches are a dumb idea. The customer base is probably limited to three middle-aged blokes in an Austrian ski lodge who know nothing about tech but are interested in how much REM sleep they’re getting.