Montblanc gets smart

The luxury atelier has just launched its first smartwatch – based on Google's Android platform. Here's why it matters
By Thomas Shambler
Mon 17 Jul 2017 03:50 PM

Last month, Montblanc became the first brand in the Richemont family of luxury companies to put out a smartwatch. The Montblanc Summit, based on Google's Android Wear 2 platform, aims to compete with, among others, the Apple Watch and rival Swiss brand TAG Heuer's Connected Watch.

Like the TAG, which is also on the Android platform, the Montblanc watch is targeted to fans of the brand. By designing the case to look like a classic mechanical watch from its 1858 line, it hopes to attract a mix of loyalists and also millennials who aren't necessarily accustomed to wearing anything on their wrists but who might try out a unique-looking smartwatch.

"We hope that the Summit shows customers new and old that Montblanc is rooted in innovation and adapts to what the modern professional needs," said Montblanc Chief Executive Officer Jérôme Lambert.

The differences between the TAG and Montblanc versions are not vast—they both offer an array of Android apps. While the TAG has GPS for sports apps and NFC for making mobile payments, the Montblanc watch has a heart-rate monitor embedded in the back of the case.

They both come loaded with watch faces that look like their iconic models, which these companies swear is important, but to me slightly misses the point. Fans love mechanical watches for their ingenuity, beauty, and internal structural achievement—a dimly-lit 2D simulacrum on a screen, cased in something that looks like a mechanical watch, is hardly the same thing.

Smartwatches have become a large category but have still undersold compared with expectations. Market research firm IDC estimates that 19.8 million smartwatches were shipped in 2016, missing a 28.3-million projection by almost half. In the third quarter of last year, for example, Apple Watch sales were down more than 70 percent.

A large part of the problem is that makers of this kind of wearable (as opposed to a simpler, more purpose-built Fitbit) haven't yet really made a case for why its users need them when a smartphone is almost always near at hand. Think about it. If you own a smartwatch, and you accidentally leave it at home, what do you do when you get to work, and you realize it's not with you? Then think about what happens when you leave your phone at home.

While Apple owns more than 40 percent of the smartwatch market, according to IDC, you'll find more community enthusiasm, in my experience, for such watches as Garmin's sports offerings—which offer exactly what outdoor athletes want.

"Dedicated fitness trackers still do a better job at filling specific needs, although there are other mission-specific smartwatches out there that show how much room there is left to innovate and clarify product identity," explains Jack Forster, editor of Hodinkee.com. "Casio makes trekking-oriented smartwatches, for instance." The same IDC report that had smartwatches on the decline listed Garmin Ltd. as the industry's one bright spot, increasing more than 300 percent year over year.

If Swiss watchmakers and Apple and Google want to make smart timepieces more essential, it's good that brands with smaller, more specialized communities are having watches made just for them. "Smartwatch makers are creating products with a clearer identity," says Forster. For example, the Montblanc watch comes with a clever, intuitive worldtimer app that was built for the timepiece. Why? Montblanc users are travelers.

"The Montblanc customer is a modern, on-the-go professional that enjoys the luxury heritage lifestyle/status that Montblanc is known for," explains Lambert, the CEO. "Today’s Montblanc customer is living in a digital world where connectivity is key to success."

Future versions of the Summit may link with Montblanc's Augmented Paper (paper notebooks that record your writing into the cloud) in a work/play ecosystem that suits fans of the brand perfectly. Say you're traveling business class on a flight from Dubai and you can't bring on a laptop or tablet. Suddenly your phone, your watch, and such gadgets as Augmented Paper become much more important.

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