TAG Heuer has revealed its second-generation smartwatch, a modular system that combines both Connected and mechanical interchangeable watch heads
by James Buttery
TAG Heuer is clearly a watch brand that listens. It has learned from the mistakes of its first smart watch, the Connected, which has sold some 56,000 pieces since launching 18 months ago. Impressive for a watch brand, less so for a tech product.
What was wrong with the Connected? Well it was disposable tech with a luxury price tag. Software updates are one thing, but the hardware will date quickly and there’s no remedying that. Battery life was also an issue; the Connected, like every other smart watch at the time gave up long before its owner had put their feet up for the day.
Then there was the mixed message given out by TAG, which offered a part-exchange concept from the outset; own the £1,100 device for a couple of years and then, if not convinced, trade it in for a mechanical Carrera for another £1,100. This option to ‘bail-out’ suggested that TAG Heuer saw the smart watch as something of an experiment. A few referred to the Connected as no more than a down payment on the ‘proper’ Carrera – albeit a pretty savvy way to get your hands on a Carrera and enjoy a dalliance with smartwatch ownership into the bargain.
But as it turns out the brand has a great deal more faith in the concept than that, returning for a second generation, one which irons out a great many of the wrinkles.
For one, the interchangeable nature of the Modular 45 places both smart watch and mechanical counterpart on equal footing, with the intention that you might want to own and operate both simultaneously. Of course you could just buy separate watches, but where’s the fun in that?
TAG Heuer CEO – as well as overall LVMH watch president – Jean-Claude Biver realised that stablemate Hublot’s quick change strap concept used on its Big Bang collection didn’t only apply to straps, the watch head was just as interchangeable, except no-one was making interchangeable watch heads.
So TAG Heuer has borrowed, and modified, its sibling’s concept and developed the Modular 45 collection, an ecosystem currently offering three new 45mm watch heads and a multitude of interchangeable lugs, straps and bracelets in all manner of materials, resulting in some 4,000 variations. The new Connected starts at £1,400 for the steel bezel with rubber strap, and rises to over £5,000 for gem-set versions with ceramic, steel or part-gold cases.
The primary watch head is an all-new, all-metal version of the Connected with built-in GPS, Android Wear 2.0, NFC for contactless payments and a claimed 24 hour battery life. A new ‘design studio’ app also lets you tailor a series of traditional TAG Heuer dial layouts to a near limitless degree, as well as displays for the kind of data a mechanical watch couldn’t possibly manage.
But, should you wish, you can also add a very smart automatic three-handed black and red Calibre 5 watch head to your Modular 45 arsenal for another £1,400, although given the entirely flexible nature of the Modular 45 collection it could just as easily be your first purchase.
At the very top of the tree, but representing the same kind of value heralded by TAG Heuer’s £16,150 Calibre 01 Tourbillon last year, is a titanium and carbon flying tourbillon chronograph watch head for around £18,000. TAG takes the same approach as it did with the 01-T, the finish is modern industrial rather than traditionally ‘fine’ and the architecture of the tourbillon is simple rather than intricate. Limited to 1,000 pieces, this package also includes the smart watch module and a jewellery box style case to store all of your future Modular 45 purchases.
Dissecting that pricing a little does lead to the somewhat tricky conclusion that it would still be around £500 cheaper to buy the tourbillon watch (strap and all!) and the modular Connected separately. But then you’d be buying an interchangeable watch without anything to, er, interchange – does that make it a bad idea? Perhaps the smartest thing about the new Connected concept is the subtext that customers need to buy multiple watch heads to fully appreciate the point of the whole thing.
As Biver announced the new model in Switzerland, TAG’s website simultaneously launched the collection on its UK, US and Australian websites with a configurator and 21 day delivery time, courtesy of a dedicated Modular 45 workshop within TAG Heuer.
This really is a textbook move from Biver; it brings together the growing trend for bespoke customisation with a completely flexible approach to connected devices and ‘the internet of things’. It taps into the watch collector’s need to collect (although the collectability of straps, lugs and bezels is perhaps debatable) while also locking invested customers into a brand the way Apple and Android do with smart phones.
If successful, TAG could take this anywhere, do anything with it. Biver proclaimed from the press conference stage that we will see Modular 45 pieces costing half a million dollars – no doubt with the addition of large amounts of diamond.
On the wrist, the 45mm case size – no doubt designed to pack in as much battery as possible – is too big for everyday use, unless you spend each day lounging around on the beach in shorts and t-shirt. It’s not just wide, but stands tall off the wrist: the module is 13.75mm thick before you add the baseplate that it slots into. As a matter of perception rather than raw size, it seems less pronounced for the Calibre 5 and even less so when it comes to the limited edition flying tourbillon chronograph; partly it’s to do with the depth you get when looking into a mechanical dial.
However a unisex 39mm model is planned for October, which may answer these concerns hopefully without impacting too much on battery life.
Biver’s bold decision to pitch TAG Heuer into the smart watch market, while his watch market competitors chose to play a waiting game, seems to have paid off. The concept is now in its second generation, has been refined to answer its detractors and now presents an innovative new format that, for the first time, gives the smart watch a real sense of purpose.