Connecting the dots

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It’s no understatement to say that Jean-Claude Biver is shaking up the watch industry. The Rake takes a look at his latest model for TAG Heuer, a watch that puts personalisation at the forefront.

TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Claude Biver is on a roll: “You never know what’s happening in the future so now we have gone to the future – we are ahead, we are in the future!”

The effervescent boss is addressing The Rake in Brunnen, Switzerland at the launch of TAG’s second connected watch. “What you can do with this is nothing short of magic, and one day all watches will be modular!”

It’s a big claim, but he’s rightly excited as this new release does feel like a game-changing moment.

The venue was chosen to launch his new  Tag Heuer connected modular 45 because the town next to a lake is at heart of the country and TAG say they wanted to bring watch technology back to the home of horology. While their first connected watch was put together elsewhere, crucially the electronic module for the latest model was finished in the brand’s workshops in La Chaux-de-Fonds meaning that it can carry the Swiss Made stamp.

It’s more than just symbolic. The problem with tech watches was always that they looked like something you’d wear to go running, or perhaps dressed very casually at the weekend, but probably at no other time. TAG has addressed this sartorial issue by creating something that hides the technology inside a more traditional looking timepiece, and one that’s made in Switzerland.

More significantly, it now has an original concept in which the connected module is interchangeable with an Haute Horlogerie mechanical module – either a three-hands or Chronograph Tourbillon COSC certified. You can essentially buy a base model and then upgrade the body later to something mechanical. Biver likens it to buying a camera 20 years ago and then upgrading the lenses as you go.

“You can start with a connected watch and slowly move to a mechanical one – that’s huge!” he exclaims, and yes, it does feel like a lot of his sentences end with exclamation marks, but he also believes this is a new way to bring people into the world of mechanical watches. For securing the younger, tech obsessed generation, this is hugely significant. “It’s great PR, they come for the connected watch but can then go mechanical later on, and this is really important because we will never be just a smartwatch company.”

There are currently two basic watches being offered, with 11 references and 46 different options that range from straps, to buckles, to colors, materials (titanium, ceramic, rose gold) and more. You have the ability to design your own watch face from the colours and options within the watch itself, letting you change the look of your time piece to match what you’re wearing or just to fit your mood that day.

Biver describes it as the idea product because “you configure it yourself and there are 4,000 configurations, so 4,000 people can all be wearing a different watch.” His configuration? “All black, the anti colour.”

The smartwatch component, however, packs a lot of impressive features, thanks to a collaboration with Intel, including GPS for navigation, organic LED that can detect when you’re in the sun so it changes luminosity and an NFC sensor for payments, something that is becoming more common and practical. For example, by holding your wrist over the sensor on the gates on the London Underground it just takes off the payment, so there’s no need for fumbling for your Oyster card or queuing to buy a ticket or – notably – removing your phone from your pocket or bag. Likewise, paying for a morning coffee means just holding your wrist over the tap-and-go censor in the coffeeshop.

“The wrist is the future!” Biver says, but in a way, it’s something watchmakers have known all along. “The whole reason we have wristwatches is because pilots during the First World War no longer wanted pocket watches, they wanted the information to be right there on their wrist – the wrist is the best place to get information quickly. Why pull a pocket watch out of your pocket when you can have that information right there on your wrist? So why go to your pocket for your phone when you can have what you need in your watch?”

That’s not to say that smartphones have had their day, but for alerts, updates, messages, quick directions, contactless payment and times when you need a fast response there’s a logic here that pilots figured out about a century ago. And according to Biver, new functions can, and will, be added in updates.

Right now, TAG are leading the way in luxury smartwatches and with a modular system the buyer can flit between traditional and technology as suits their mood or clothing. He hold up the two parts, “Tourbillion invented in 1801 and connected technology that updates as you go… we have the past and the future in one watch!”

So perhaps the best people to take us into the future of connected watches are those who have been connected to the watch industry for centuries – people who can embrace the future but will never stray too far from traditional values. As if to prove the point he laughs and then nods to a huge wheel of artisanal Swiss cheese that he made himself – it’s his hobby – and excitedly exclaims, “as is traditional, let’s celebrate with cheese!”

For The Rake magazine

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