For traditional watch makers, hybrid smartwatches offer a less risky passage to the connected wearable market than going "full smartwatch" (ie Android Wear). And thus far we've seen a lot of established names get involved, but as far as real innovation in the field goes, things have felt a bit… lacklustre.
Which makes Frederique Constant's Hybrid Manufacture, its new hybrid watch, all the more fascinating. The beauty of hybrids is that the tech doesn't have to come at the expense of classic design, and Frederique Constant's previous contributions certainly can't be faulted for elegance, but to date the market has relied on quartz movements. According to Frederique Constant CEO Peter Stas, the company has heard demand for a hybrid that uses a mechanical movement.
And that's what the Hybrid Manufacture is: the world's first smartwatch to combine "smarts" with the company's own mechanical movement. This is a smartwatch made with the watch enthusiasts in mind – and it's a real stunner.
Mechanics, meet brains
The watch comes in four 42mm variants, one of which is a sportier, limited edition version, with options of brushed stainless steel or rose gold. Starting at $3,495 and topping out at $3,795 for the rose gold, these are some of the more expensive hybrids we've seen. Frederique Constant calls this "accessible luxury", not "high end", though these terms are relative to the wider watch market, not smartwatches.
There's certainly no denying the luxury feel when you pick one up. All four come with convex sapphire crystal and are water resistant to 50 metres. More interestingly, all the cases have a see-through back, letting you peer in on the oscillations of the mechanical interior. Speaking of which, Stas said that one of the biggest innovations in the watch is in how it cancels out the negative magnetic effects between the mechanical and electronic modules.
But the most interesting part, to me, is that it also gives you an insight into something that usually only watchmakers will see. In the app you can actually see the rate, amplitude and beat error of the movement, essentially a health checkup on the watch caliber. It's really neat, but definitely a niche feature for the super enthusiasts.
The other smarts are par for the course. You've got step and sleep tracking, a dynamic coach, and a second time zone that can be activated with a press of the single pusher on the left side. The coach is another interesting feature that takes us beyond the expected basics, offering up tips based on your activity history. This is another stand-out feature I think, as so many hybrids offer up the bare minimum, but this actually tries to convert that data into something useful.
I asked Stas about the possibility of smaller models for the female market, but he said this wasn't something the company has planned. Stas suggested that generally the female market is less interested in mechanical watches, but I'm unsure of that. For the time being, Frederique Constant offers the Horological Notify watches for women.
As smartwatch giants like Apple and Samsung are starting to move from basic fitness to consider deeper health and wellbeing, Stas says that the company is becoming increasingly aware of the impact this will have. And as beautiful as the new Manufacture is, it still feels like an experiment when it comes to the smarts. Are these the features people really want in a hybrid? Is classic watch design immortal in the face of much smarter watches? That's what Frederique Constant is asking as it drags Swiss watch thinking into the connected era. What can't be denied is the innovation on display as it tries to find the answer.