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Frederique Constant - A Swiss watch brand gets smart

Frederique Constant A Swiss watch brand gets smart

Frederique Constant’s CEO talks about the past, present and future of the smart watch.

As I recently reported, some of the giants in Silicon Valley have already abandoned the crowded wearable technology and smart watch segment to concentrate on other sectors. After some people working for the very same giants predicted that the smart watch would kill off the Swiss watch industry, it is ironically the Swiss watch industry that is bringing smart watch technology in-house at its own factories. TAG Heuer is set to reveal a new smart watch this year and Alpina (a company of the Frederique Constant Group) has only recently presented the latest model to use its “horological smartwatch” technology.

In this interview, Frederique Constant’s CEO Peter Stas looks back on the origins of the brand’s smart watch technology, how it fits in with the traditional perception of a Swiss watch and what its prospects are for the future.

What led Frederique Constant to invest a lot of money in the Horological Smartwatch in 2014?
Back in 2010, the Frederique Constant Group started to research three smartwatch projects: a) the Alpina Mountain Watch; b) Android Wear; c) the Horological Smartwatch. We were intrigued by how it was possible to add smart features to simple quartz watches. We saw an opportunity to develop exciting connected watches with extensive information and graphics displayed on smartphones. Our company has innovation as one of its core values. It is only logical that we decided to invest a significant part of our R&D budget in connected watch technology.

With its analogue display, the Horological Smartwatch has a rather conservative look about it. What is the target group that Frederique Constant and Alpina are aiming at?
The target group for Horological Smartwatches is businessmen and women who want more than just to be able to consult the time on their wrist. It is customers who have previously purchased a ‘simple’ quartz watch, so we’re talking about a market of 21 million Swiss Made watches per year. We predict that 30-40% of this Swiss watch industry production will turn to smart technology in the next three to five years.

A Swiss watch brand gets smart

In comparison with its competitive environment, the Horological Smartwatch represents a relatively high investment. What will your customers get for their money?
Horological Smartwatches are priced €595-€1395 at retail (MRRP), so it’s the same price as typical chronograph quartz watches. However, Horological Smartwatches feature a GMT watch function, activity tracking, sleep monitoring, notifications, alarms, dynamic coach. The MMT-365 App on iOS or Android (both platforms!) gives plenty of information to aid self-improvement through features that can be individually adjusted, all for an exciting user experience well beyond an 'old' quartz watch.

Smartphones are obsolete after three or four years. What are the prospects for a Horological Smartwatch?
We worked hard to ensure longevity of Horological Smartwatches. With Over-The-Air (OTA) software updates, we can upgrade the firmware on Horological Smartwatches compatible with the latest smartphone technology and even add additional features. Moreover, the Horological Smartwatch calibre has a modular construction and so it is easy to exchange the PCB (printed circuit board) if hardware changes in the long term (10 years or more). New PCBs cost around 25 Swiss francs, so it’s very low cost.

The first generation Horological Smartwatch was developed in collaboration with specialists in the US. For the second generation, Swiss skills predominate. What are the reasons for this?
In March 2016, the technology company behind the Horological Smartwatch decided to invest in a software team in Geneva. We felt that we needed a team of technology experts located close to the Swiss watch industry to be able to react fast to any developments. We have a highly capable team of firmware, iOS apps, Android apps and Cloud storage engineers located in Geneva, who exclusively work on Horological Smartwatches. This ensures rapid response, both for watchmaker training and for developing new smart watch functions.

Frederique Constant stands for affordable luxury in watches. Where is the Horological Smartwatch positioned in the broad spectrum between fine mechanical watchmaking and convenient quartz technology?
Design is the primary strength of a Horological Smartwatch. We choose to create a smart watch with a traditional watch dial and hands. Dials are finished with delicate patterns, applied hour markers, galvanised colors. Hands are diamond cut. These design details ensure that Horological Smartwatches look like luxury Swiss watches. This has been an essential requirement for Frederique Constant, since we do not believe that our customers are interested in wearing a smart watch with just a screen that is off most of the time, we do not believe in these ‘blank’ watches.

The people who buy a Horological Smartwatch entrust their personal activity and sleep data to a specially developed smartphone app. How does Frederique Constant ensure that such data cannot be misused?
MMT (Editor’s note: a spin-off that is separate from Frederique Constant and Alpina and therefore not part of the acquisition of the Frederique Constant Group by Citizen) runs the cloud in Switzerland, so it is governed by Swiss Privacy Laws. The Swiss are known for their discretion and their banking confidentiality. We have specifically chosen a cloud in Switzerland to be able to offer our customers the best privacy possible.

The Horological Smartwatch certainly gives an indication of incoming calls or personal news, but cannot show the content because it has an analogue display. Is there a reason for the decision not to include a digital display?
Current models of Horological Smartwatches do not have digital display. Especially on classic watches, we feel that a display will not look good. We are however working hard on integrating a small digital display on future generations of Horological Smartwatches to give customers the option of having additional alphanumeric information on their watch. We believe that pure Horological Smartwatches and so called “Anadigit” smart watches will live side-by-side. The range of different Horological Smartwatches will be increased to offer multiple designs, which we know is an important driver of success in the watch industry.

Une marque horlogère suisse connectée

How do you personally see the prospects for the smart watch in general and the Horological Smartwatch in particular?
We believe we are only at the beginning of the development of this category, which we think will have a huge role in the future. If we take the 21 million quartz watches produced today as a base, in 2020, six to eight million quartz watches produced in Switzerland will be smart. Some brands are already ahead in this new product category and investing heavily, others will still have to start or lose out on a major segment of the Swiss watch industry.

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