The smartwatch market is vast, and those looking to add some smarts to their wrists have plenty to choose from. Some luxury brands have released their own take on the smartwatch and added a price tag to match. But is the concept of a “luxury smartwatch” actually quite silly?
Tech giants like Samsung and Apple have plenty of high-end, high-quality pieces, but in terms of price and prestige, they’re not what you’d consider ultra-high-end. This category is where you find names like Rolex, Omega and Montblanc. Along with standard features like sleep tracking, step counting and GPS, they promise to add a sense of prestige and collectability to your new device. However, despite their decades of success and exclusive client list, these brands are the overlap that no one wants or needs.
Why do people collect luxury watches?
A luxury watch is as much an investment as it is a display of wealth. It is both a work of art and an amazing feat of engineering, with numerous small moving parts and amazing precision. While Rolex may not have a more practical use than something like a G-Shock, it does come with a pedigree; is a small piece of history.
Because of scarcity, longevity and prestige, luxury watches command high value. This is something you can pass down through your family or sell for a large sum of money if you fall on hard times. While certain electronics can fetch a premium, you’re talking about items of historical significance in excellent condition. An Apple 2 in the box might cost a lot, but if you go out and buy a new MacBook, it probably won’t be worth much in 40 years. It’s the same with a smart watch. Crack open the case and you’ll find a single circuit board, not hundreds of precisely engineered pieces. Regardless of what brand is printed on it, your smartwatch will not appreciate in value.
There are several Luxury Smart Watches available
Several popular companies make high-end smartwatches and sell them at high prices. The German company Montblanc, famous for producing expensive pens, is one of them. Surprisingly, for a company that charges several thousand dollars for a ballpoint, their contribution to the smartwatch market isn’t that extraordinary. While still roughly twice the price of the Apple Watch, the Montblanc Summit and Summit 2 can be had for under $1,000.
Well-known Swiss watchmakers like Tag Heuer have dipped their toes into the smartwatch pond. Its Caliber E4 appears to be more about style than substance – it may have a Porsche-branded display on the front, but nothing under the hood distinguishes the watch. If you’re willing to spend close to $10,000, Breitling has a quirky mechanical-smartwatch hybrid designed for “pilots and yachtsmen.”
The B55 will pair with your phone, but it doesn’t seem very useful outside of the cockpit. It won’t track your steps, but it will track flight and lap times. The display is a combination of a traditional watch and the type of digital display you see on a Casio. And there’s an app that’s the easiest way to access the watch’s very specific features.
Luxury Smart Watches Offer Nothing Beyond Perceived Status
If companies like Montblanc and Tag Heuer provide something cutting-edge, you can justify the price – but their efforts are nothing special. Arguably, they can’t keep up with established smartwatch brands, so you get less for more money.
While the reality of the product doesn’t live up to its headlines, Garmin is at least pushing some innovation with its “limited battery” solar smartwatch. This is an attempt to overcome the biggest drawback of smartwatches – they need to be charged regularly. Similarly, Apple has a high-quality product that blends seamlessly with the rest of its catalog (as it usually does). So, if you are an iPhone user, this is an obvious choice.
To put things into perspective, one feature Tag boasts is the ability to display your overpaid NFT on the face of your overpaid smartwatch. The problem with this feature is that no one cares about your NFT or fitness tracker.
Electronics have a shorter shelf life
While some families have had items like watches for generations, the same is unlikely to happen with electronics. Electrical items have a shorter shelf life, with things like smartphones lasting only two to three years on average. Then there is attrition; products in the world of technology improve quickly and often. The top-of-the-line smartwatch now will likely be a primitive piece of junk ten years from now.
Yes, a mechanical watch is technically an obsolete object. Some clocks are associated with atomic clocks, which are more accurate than a purely mechanical device. But like classic cars and retro consoles, they have found their place with collectors and are still available.
Luxury watches also require maintenance, which is costly. Ideally, you’ll take the watch to a certified professional every three to five years. That professional will inspect the watch, perform standard maintenance such as oiling the movement parts, and replace badly worn or broken parts.
This is very delicate, specialized work and can cost hundreds of dollars. So, can you replace the internals of an old fancy smartwatch in the same way? Maybe. But as I mentioned earlier, part of the appeal of luxury watches is the intricate mechanism. Chips and circuit boards are also incredibly complex, but don’t carry the same prestige.
An Apple watch is as premium as you have to go
Apple as a brand has quite a reputation. If you look at the hand of a billionaire making a phone call, you will see the latest iPhone. This iPhone may be gold-plated and bejeweled, but underneath the overpriced display of wealth, it’s still the same type of phone that most people in the US use.
However, even the biggest names in tech have learned the hard way that luxury smartwatches are a non-starter. Seven years ago, the company offered an 18k gold edition of its first Apple Watch. This luxury edition costs around $17,000, putting it on par with brands like Rolex. Unlike Rolex, the ultra-premium Apple watch was a colossal failure. Since then, the company has ditched the precious metal case, adjusted its prices, and become incredibly successful in the smartwatch market.
If you want to show off, no one will look down on you for showing off an Apple product, whereas with an Android-based technology like the Montblanc Summit – you can look sideways. Apple’s technology also works seamlessly together, and while it plays with others, it’s not always happy with it. So if you’re currently using an iPhone, choosing something outside of Apple’s ecosystem can limit both your expensive watch and your expensive phone.
If you’re an Android user, there are likely cheaper options available that will impress just as many people as any other Android watch. So there you are. If you want to show off, buy an Apple. If you don’t, you’ll pay more, likely have a worse experience, and be insulted by the shallower elements of the tech community.
This is an overlap that no one needs
For the above reasons, the luxury watch collector has no interest in a smartwatch. Likewise, while really tech-savvy people have no problem spending four figures on something that’s truly market-leading – I doubt they’d pay a 100% premium over a standard Apple Watch for a Wear OS device with a pen-maker name on it.
So there is a problem. These devices theoretically appeal to two large, affluent markets, but offer nothing that either of them wants. And to top it all off, getting a great reward comes with the territory when you work for a luxury brand. So they can’t even rate these watches at a point where they could theoretically compete with Apple, Samsung, Garmin and others. Luxury smartwatches are a stupid idea. The customer base is probably limited to three middle-aged men in an Austrian ski lodge who know nothing about technology but are curious about how much REM sleep they’re getting.