Watchmakers Race Apple to Offer Smartwatches in Switzerland

Updated on
Montblanc TimeWalker Smartwatch
The digital device on the strap of the Montblanc TimeWalker Urban Speed e-Strap wristwatch. Photographer: Philipp Schmidli/Bloomberg

Swiss watch shops will be stocked with a whole new range of smartwatches in coming weeks as producers race Apple Inc. to get a lead in Switzerland, the home of brands such as Rolex and Patek Philippe.

Montblanc showcased an “e-Strap,” which can make a watch receive e-mails and control music playlists, at a press briefing Friday. The device, which is clipped into the band of a watch, will go on sale at the end of this month.

The Apple Watch enters Switzerland June 26, and Swiss watchmakers are scrambling to add electronic functions to their products. Elmar Mock, one of the inventors of the Swatch, said in March that the Californian company’s device may cause an “ice age” for the Swiss watch industry. Other experts feel it will take time before tech companies pose a threat.

“Swiss players depend 50 percent on the Chinese, and about 70 percent of Chinese want their watch to be Swiss-made,” Luca Solca, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, wrote in a note Friday. “High-end watches are passed down to future generations. But Apple’s move puts the pressure on.”

Frederique Constant’s smartwatch will reach stores in the U.S. and Switzerland next week. Mondaine’s first Helvetica Smart model will be available for pre-order online mid-July, while four other models will go on sale by October, according to Chief Executive Officer Andre Bernheim.

Swiss Models

Movado Group Inc. plans to introduce wearable technology in its namesake brand ahead of the Christmas gift-buying season, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Efraim Grinberg told analysts on a May 27 conference call.

Swatch Group AG will start selling a namesake timepiece that can make mobile payments around July or August, while LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE has said it will introduce a $1,400 TAG Heuer smartwatch later this year.

Montblanc’s e-Strap accompanies the brand’s TimeWalker watches and will also allow users to track physical activity. The brand is owned by Cie. Financiere Richemont SA, whose chairman, Johann Rupert, has said it will probably only introduce electronic functions into straps and not the case of a watch, so the timepiece doesn’t become outdated. Richemont’s IWC brand also plans an intelligent watchband device.

Read this next:

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE