Can the Swiss Watchmaker Survive the Digital Age? →

June 03, 2015 |

Great piece by Clive Thompson for The New York Times:

Last fall, however, Koeslag set off on a very different, decidedly 21st-century project: a smartwatch. In response to Apple’s plans to introduce a high-tech watch this year, the chief executive of Frédérique Constant, Peter Stas, decided the company would produce its own. It would not be a minicomputer with a screen, like Apple’s. Instead, it would combine the functions of a Fitbit, a device that tracks physical activity, with a traditional Swiss timepiece, a $1,200 entry-level Frédérique Constant watch. A Silicon Valley company would produce the tiny sensors that count steps and measure sleep cycles, and this information would be transmitted to a phone through a Bluetooth connection. The phone would also control the watch — resetting its hands in different time zones, for example. From the outside, the watch wouldn’t look “smart” at all, but it would be packed with electronics. Koeslag’s job was to bring to life this chimera of Swiss engineering and Silicon Valley wizardry.

Koeslag faced a significant problem, though: He had never worked with chips and sensors before. He didn’t even own a soldering iron. Swiss watchmakers don’t need them; their devices are put together with screws and screwdrivers.

I still don’t think entering the smartwatch market is the way forward for traditional Swiss makers, but what do I know?