The smartwatch market is huge, and those looking to add some intelligence to their wrists are spoiled for choice. Some luxury brands have released their own take on smartwatches and attached a price tag to match. But is the concept of a “luxury smartwatch” really silly enough?
Tech giants like Samsung and Apple have plenty of high-end, quality pieces, but they’re not what you’d consider ultra-high-end in terms of price and prestige. In this category you will find names like Rolex, Omega and Montblanc. In addition to standard features like sleep tracking, step counting and GPS, they promise to add a sense of prestige and collectability to your new device. However, despite their decades of success and exclusive client list, these brands provide an excess that no one wants or needs.
Why people collect luxury watches
A luxury watch is as much an investment as it is a display of wealth. With its multitude of small moving parts and stunning precision, it is a work of art and a stunning technical achievement. While Rolex has no more practical uses than something like a G-Shock, it comes with a pedigree; it’s a ticking little piece of history.
Due to scarcity, longevity and prestige, luxury watches tend to appreciate in value. It’s something you can pass down through your family or sell for a lot of money if you fall on hard times. Although certain electronics can command a high price, you are talking about items of historical significance in excellent condition. A boxed Apple 2 would fetch a decent price, but if you buy a brand new MacBook, it probably won’t cost much in 40 years. It’s the same with smart watches. Crack open the case and you’ll find a circuit board, not a hundred precision-made pieces. No matter what brand is printed on it, your smartwatch will have no value.
There are several luxury smartwatches available
Several major companies make high-end smartwatches and sell them at a premium. Montblanc, a German company known for producing fountain pens, is one of them. Surprisingly for a company that charges several thousand dollars for a ballpoint pen, their contributions to the smartwatch market aren’t that outlandish. While still about twice the price of the Apple Watch, the Montblanc Summit and Summit 2 can be picked up for under $1,000.
Established Swiss watchmakers such as Tag Heuer have dipped their toes into the smartwatch pool. Its “Calibre E4” seems to be more about style than substance – you might have a Porsche-branded display on the front, but nothing under the hood differentiates the watch. If you’re looking to spend more than $10,000, Breitling has a weird mechanical-smartwatch hybrid aimed at “pilots and sailors.”
The B55 pairs with your phone, but it doesn’t seem like it would be very useful outside of the cockpit. It won’t track your steps, but it will track flight and bike times. The display is a combination of a traditional watch and a digital display like you would see on a Casio. And there’s an app that’s the easiest way to access the watch’s very specific features.
Luxury smartwatches offer nothing beyond perceived status
You could justify the price if the likes of Montblanc and Tag Heuer were delivering something top-notch – but their efforts are nothing special. It’s safe to say that they can’t keep up with established smartwatch brands, so you get less for more money.
While the reality of the product doesn’t live up to its headlines, Garmin is at least pushing some innovation with its “unlimited battery” solar smartwatch. It’s an attempt to solve what may be the biggest drawback of smartwatches – the fact that you have to charge them regularly. Similarly, Apple has a high quality product (as usual) that integrates flawlessly with the rest of their catalog. So if you’re using an iPhone, it’s an obvious choice.
To put things into perspective, one feature the Tag boasts is the ability to display the NFT you’ve undoubtedly overpaid for on the front of the smartwatch you’ve overpaid for. The problem with this feature is that no one cares about your NFT or fitness tracker.
Electronics have a shorter lifespan
While some families have had items such as watches passed down from generation to generation, the same is unlikely to happen with electronics. Electrical items have a shorter life span, things like smart phones only last two to three years on average. Then there is obsolescence; products in the world of technology improve quickly and often. High-end smartwatches now will more than likely be primitive garbage in a decade.
Yes, mechanical watches are technically an obsolete item. Some watches are linked to atomic clocks that are more accurate than a purely mechanical device could ever hope to be. But like classic cars and retro consoles, they have found a place among collectors and are still for sale.
Luxury watches also require maintenance, and maintenance is becoming more expensive. Ideally, you take your watch to a certified professional every three to five years. This expert will inspect the watch, perform standard maintenance tasks such as lubrication of the movement parts, 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 innards of an aging luxury smartwatch in 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 they don’t have the same prestige.
The Apple Watch is as premium as it should be
Apple as a brand has a lot of prestige. If you look into the hands of a billionaire on the phone, chances are you’ll see the latest iPhone. This iPhone may be clad in gold and covered in jewels, but beneath the overpriced display of opulence, it’s still the same type of phone that most people in the US use.
Despite this, even the biggest name in tech has learned the hard way that luxury smartwatches are not for beginners. Seven years ago, the company offered an edition of the first Apple Watch in 18k gold. This luxury edition cost around $17,000, putting it on par with brands like Rolex. Unlike Rolex, Apple’s ultra-premium watch was a huge flop. Since then, the company has ditched the precious metal case, adjusted prices, and seen incredible success in the smartwatch market.
If you want to show off, you won’t be looked down upon for displaying an Apple product, while an Android-based tech like the Montblanc Summit might get you some looks. Apple’s technology also works seamlessly together, although when it plays with others, it’s not always too enthusiastic about it. So if you’re currently using an iPhone, opting for something outside the Apple ecosystem can limit both your expensive watch and your expensive phone.
If you’re an Android user, there are probably cheaper options available that will impress the same amount of people as any other Android watch. So there you have it. If you want to show off, buy an Apple. If you don’t, you’ll pay more, likely have a worse experience, and be bullied by the shallower elements of the tech community.
It’s an overhang that no one needed
For the above reasons, the luxury watch collector is more than likely not interested in smartwatches. Likewise, while the truly tech-savvy may not have a problem spending four grand on something truly top-of-the-line – I doubt they’ll pay a 100% premium over a standard Apple Watch for a Wear OS device with a pen maker’s name on it.
So there’s a problem. These devices theoretically appeal to two large, affluent markets, but offer nothing that either of them wants. And on top of everything else, when you run a luxury brand, it comes at a huge premium with the territory. 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 stupid idea. The customer base is probably limited to three middle-aged guys in an Austrian ski lodge who know nothing about technology but care about how much REM sleep they’re getting.