Whether the Swiss watchmaking industry choose to acknowledge it or not, data suggesting that the Apple Watch outsold Rolex, Omega, and even Swatch in the last quarter of 2017 cannot be ignored.
The likes of Tag Heuer, Frederique Constant and even Breitling have wised up to the fact that there is a demand for smartwatches, even if their connected timepieces so far haven't shifted the kind of numbers that Apple supposedly has.
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"Tag Heuer is taking a good approach, and they sold just 50–100,000 watches," says Douglas Finazzi, CEO and cofounder of Conex Watches SA. The Swiss startup is behind the X-One H1, a mechanical smartwatch that has already raced past its funding goal on Kickstarter with plenty of days left to run on the campaign. "I like Jean-Claude Biver and what he is doing there. His advisory board is only made of young people, so he is taking the right approach."
A more modern approach to watchmaking
Finazzi was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, located in the Swiss Jura, and often regarded as the spiritual home of traditional Swiss watchmaking. His father, who is head of design, has spent time working at Patek Philippe, Ebel and Montblanc, while head of technical development Jean-Francois Mojon cut his engineering teeth at IWC.
The idea of the X-One H1 was born in May 2016 when Finazzi, the other cofounders and his father decided they wanted to deliver the Swiss answer to smartwatches. Interestingly, a lot of the backers for its campaign are from Switzerland, and when we talk about what it's like being a startup making smartwatches from the home of watchmaking, it has clearly been an eye-opening experience. "My dad and Jean-Francois have seen the whole landscape," Finazzi tells us. "The approach to watchmaking is traditionally very conservative and secretive. It's also an industry where people are not very nice to each other. I told my Dad when I was younger I will never be a watchmaker because I don't like this kind of business.
"But the X1 project, I felt we could bring a new vision and something truly different to the market. I've tried to bring my young rebellious vision to watchmaking but also want to incorporate the Swiss-made values into the watch and focus on aspects like the mechanical movement."
Time for things to change
While Finazzi commends Tag Heuer's more progressive approach, there's still an overriding sense that the entire watchmaking industry is as stubborn as ever and things might not change any time soon.
The watch industry is basically still saying 'We are the watchmakers and we are better than everyone else'
"The watch industry is basically still saying, 'We are the watchmakers and we are better than everyone else,'" he says. "We are making the best watch luxury watches in the world so why would anyone change that? It's complacency and that's very dangerous. For me, Apple came to the market and apparently sold 60 million Apple Watches. If Swiss watchmakers want to deny these facts they are going to get complacent and that's stupid. We are a young startup and we believe we can think clearly about we want to do.
"We really want to offer something innovative. When you look at a watchmaker and a programmer, it's not that different. The programmer and watchmaker is going to craft his product, whether that's with movement or software."
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That innovation lies within a steel watch case where mechanical and connected worlds are merged. Mechanical movement alongside the electronic modules that can influence the mechanical movement in its precision. There's also a linear display that can activate preset responses for calls and text message notifications to assigned contacts. Motion sensors offer basic activity tracking and music playback control.
Finazzi and his team even added the ability to view messages on the linear display in Morse Code. "So Morse Code was the first digital language and it was honestly about having a bit of fun," he says. "Having this James Bond type of feature to read messages and sending messages. So what you read on your watch is your message only. Not like an Apple Watch where you receive a message and everyone around you can read it."
Going modular and life after crowdfunding
Another of the X-One H1's innovations, according to Finazzi, are the plug-ins that support the ability to replace the electronic modules and approach things in a more "Swiss made" manner where the watch doesn't quickly become obsolete and is durable for years to come.
We've come across modular smartwatches before in very different guises. Tag Heuer's Connected Modular 45 and Connected Modular 41 Wear smartwatches allow you to swap their lugs, buckles and even change the digital screen for an analogue one. There's also Blocks, a startup-made smartwatch that offers clip-on modules to plug in additional features like GPS and extra battery life.
"In the future we have a new Bluetooth coming out so we are able to upgrade that on the H1", Finazzi explains. "We want to improve the battery to maybe one week or even two weeks, then maybe we will add payment features, which is also possible to do. At this stage we decided not to do it, but we have the luxury to do it.
"In terms of software, we can do what we want as long as it's user-friendly, like an altimeter or giving you the ability to calculate speed. Maybe even showing weather on our linear display. I like to think of ourselves as the Tesla of watches because we can upgrade the software and the hardware. I admire what Tesla is doing and we try to approach things the same way."
While there has been a positive response from its own native Switzerland, now is the time to start spreading the word around the rest of the world, starting with the US where the first version of the X-One H1 was shown off back in January this year. "The response was extremely positive. We were not expecting such good feedback in Apple Watch world," says Finazzi.
"We've had a really great start with the campaign and we have clear plans for what we want to do next, but I'm taking it one day at a time to work very hard every day. There's a saying from Mike Tyson, 'Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the mouth'. You need to be very flexible and we are definitely making sure of that, in case we get punched in the mouth."