​Meet the boss: Mondaine CEO on the future of the hybrid and fighting the Apple Watch

We caught up at Baselworld after the launch of the Helvetica Regular

One of the biggest Swiss-made smartwatches at this year's Baselworld was the Mondaine Helvetica Regular Smartwatch – the company's second connected hybrid watch. It comes three years after the original, which led the way in terms of Swiss wearables, and adds significantly more tech, with notifications and waterproofing being key additions.

We caught up with André Bernheim at the show, to find out what the company learned from its smartwatch, why it took so long for the Helvetica Regular to be released, and what's next for hybrids.

Essential reading: Best smartwatches of Baselworld

"We started three years ago and we are at the forefront pushing connected watches. And it's important for us to be there. Shows speed and flexibility that's our spirit," Berheim told Wareable.

Meet the boss: Mondaine CEO on the future hybrids and competing with Apple

"We first heard of the possibility on 31 Jan 2015. We got a phone call from Peter Stas, who asked 'Are you interested in something new?'"

Peter Stas is CEO of Frederique Constant, which owns a share of MMT, the consortium responsible for the connected movement that blends Swiss design and the fitness tracking tech. Frederique Constant also has its own range of connected hybrid smartwatches.

"We had a joint press conference in San Francisco three weeks later, where we showed off our design, and another three weeks later we showed samples. And another three months later we delivered to the market. Six months from not knowing anything about it to delivering it," said Berheim.

The missing smartwatch

Meet the boss: Mondaine CEO on the future hybrids and competing with Apple

But the story is different this time around. Mondaine actually announced the Helvetica Regular at Baselworld 2017, without ever releasing it. Then a year later, made the same announcement again. We asked Burheim what caused the delay:

The media attention was terrific, the sales were affected by people's skepticism

"We had to get permission from Bluetooth for every design. We thought because we had the Helvetica 1 we could get away with using the same again. If the Bold works, which has more material, [the Helvetica Regular] should work. But it doesn't. Then we were too late for Christmas, then we launched the connected clock, another system called the Backlight."

Mondaine representatives have always downplayed the sales performance of its smartwatch, and Berheim is no different. "When you're a pioneer, you don't know what to expect. The media attention was terrific, the sales were affected by people's skepticism. What is it? How does it work? Retailers ask how they can explain it to the consumer – but we believe in the technology, which is why we have added this new smartwatch with a new movement, because we are convinced there are consumers who want this."

This story is at odds with Frederique Constant, which told Wareable that its smartwatch sales have been significant, currently accounting for 12% of the company's overall revenue. But Berheim believes that Mondaine priced its first smartwatch too high, something that it's addressed the second time around.

"I think there is a big difference between Mondaine and Frederique Constant, and that's price positioning. Mondaine starts at $150 dollars to $700 with some going to $1000. The smartwatch came at $950, which is the top range. For Frederique Constant it is an entry-level price. This is not entry price but we are below $500, which is what we have learned."

Brand new smarts

Meet the boss: Mondaine CEO on the future hybrids and competing with Apple

The new Helvetica Regular is more connected than its predecessor, but Burheim believes it's essential that wearables stick to doing what they're best at. "A watch should do what it can do: measure things from your body, sleep, million more possibilities to get things out of your body that a mobile would never be able to do. The watch will never have a display as big, a battery as big, an antennae as big. It's impossible.

It's a surprise it's taken Swatch so long

"For us, I don't like to talk about the smart or connected. Our approach to connected watches is that we offer those features, but make it beautiful. I believe there are things a watch can do better than a smartphone. Then there are things the mobile can do better than a watch. We don't have to duplicate things. I think that's overkill," Burheim continued.

And it seems that the company isn't against its watches getting even smarter – as long as they don't simply duplicate the functionality of your smartphone. The company has already been working with bPay and Tappy, and has patented the strap pocket for the contactless chip. But Burheim is wary of the implications of adding sensors to the wrist.

"The are some functions of your body which can save lives – blood pressure, blood sugars. I'm not sure if we should have them on a Mondaine in the future, maybe in Europe, but with the US liability laws I'm not sure. But yes, I think Mondaine could do it."

Competing with the Apple Watch

Meet the boss: Mondaine CEO on the future hybrids and competing with Apple

"Apple is Apple. Rolex is Rolex," said Burheim. "If something is Apple people will buy it. Is it the best designed watch? I think they did better at other things. It's a computer which you buy at mobile device retailers.

"There are a lot of consumers who have not been wearing a watch for a long time, or ever, who are wearing an Apple. It works for a year or two years and you replace it, or buy a second watch. where we come in."

Charged up: It's time for a second Swatch revolution

But what of Swatch? The company is a watch-making stalwart which capitalised on the quartz movement, and is working on its own smartwatch OS. Burheim is surprised the company hasn't been more active in the smartwatch game already

"It's a surprise it's taken Swatch so long. It has had many parts for a long time, including the mobile payments system, so why did it take them so long? Did they not believe in it?

"It shouldn't be hard for them to come up with something. They play by their own rules."


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