Germany’s Montblanc is embracing wearable technology with the introduction of the e-Strap, a device that can be added to any traditional timepiece.
In general, watchmakers were not inherently threatened by the emergence of smart wearables due to their dedication to craftsmanship. But, as the technology was developed some watchmakers, as well as retailers and accessories makers, have realized the potential of collaborations to maintain relevancy in a changing marketplace.
“First off, I think this is a really clever bridge device that allows luxury buyers to start incorporating luxury chic with tech,” said Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at RSR Research, Miami.
“Honestly, I think it’s brilliant,” she said. “It’s only a matter of time before the bands come with these features built in, but for now it’s a great way to have the best of both worlds, as long as it’s not too heavy.
“Until now, wearable tech has been mostly geeky. This elevates the concept.”
Ms. Rosenblum is not affiliated with Montblanc, but agreed to comment as an industry expert.
Montblanc was unable to comment before press deadline.
With the Apple Watch set to debut in early 2015 (see story) and Barneys New York’s smartwatch collaboration with Opening Ceremony and Intel already in stores (see story), Montblanc’s adaptation of a wearable may stand out among competitors due to its utilitarianism.
Unlike the aforementioned high-end wearables, Montblanc’s e-Strap can be added on to an existing timepiece thus making a “dumb” mechanical watch smart and highly functional. The device will come included on Montblanc’s Timewalker Urban Speed collection.
After a brief introduction on social media, Montblanc properly educated its followers about the e-Strap through a shared blog post. Montblanc opened the post by saying that it is “the first luxury brand to combine wearable technology with fine watchmaking in the centuries old Swiss horological tradition.”
Although interchangeable, Montblanc shows the e-Strap fixed to a TimeWalker timepiece for context. The device, connected via Bluetooth Low Energy to select Android and iOS smartphones, is highly-functional and integrated with technologies such as an activity tracker, smart notifications, remote controls and Find-Me functions.
When worn, smart notifications are signalled by vibrations to alert the wearer without having to look at, or for, his smartphone. Consumers will be able to view emails by topic and sender, read text messages, see incoming calls and social media feeds and reminders all on the e-Strap.
Also, the e-Strap doubles as a fitness monitor by tracking the wearer’s physical activity over time and by keeping track of personal goals. A mobile application accompaniment shows the wearer’s progress per week and month.
Additionally, the e-Strap works as a remote control for the wearer’s smartphone. For example, the camera remote enables the wearer to take a picture by tapping on the e-Strap and the music control can also play, pause and skip tracks played from the wearer’s smartphone.
The Find-Me function, similar to Apple’s Find My iPhone app, assists a consumer who have misplaced his smartphone or watch fixed with the e-Strap.
Montblanc’s e-Strap has an inbuilt touch screen display and is encased in a stainless steel case with rubber protection. As of press time, the device is fitted with a pass-through strap made of innovative Montblanc Extreme leather, created in the Montblanc Pelletteria in Florence, to match the TimeWalker Urban Speed timepiece, but can be placed on any watch with a strap size of 20/22mm.
Depending on usage, Montblanc’s e-Strap needs to be recharged every five days using a standard micro-USB cable.
Available for purchase in June 2015, a stand alone e-Strap will cost $416 while the TimeWalker Urban Speed automatic is priced at $3,562. Other variations of the watch, the TimeWalker Urban Speed UTC and the TimeWalker Urban chronograph will be priced at $4,753 and $5,587, respectively.
Toward the future
Montblanc has recently developed products that work to maintain its relevancy in a changing market while upholding its dedication to craftsmanship. These technological-advanced products target the tech-savvy while securing the relationship Montblanc has with its established consumers.
For example, Germany’s Montblanc extended its writing instrument offerings with the introduction of the new mobile-ready stylus, the e-StarWalker.
Montblanc partnered with consumer electronics brand Samsung to create the technology needed to create a digital writing instrument specifically for the Galaxy Note 4 smartphone. By widening the scope of its offerings into the digital realm, Montblanc will likely see an increased interest among mobile-savvy consumers (see story).
Given the popularity of horology, watchmakers won’t need to struggle to maintain relevancy, but by offering tech-driven products they will provide an answer to consumer’s wants.
“It might be better to say that by blending classic elegance with high tech, watchmakers are providing solutions that people need,” Ms. Rosenblum said.
“Brand management today is much more about selling solutions people want to buy, rather than products retailers/brand managers want to sell,” she said. “This certainly fits in that category.”