Swiss Watchmaker Gets Serious About Apple Watch Threat

Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple special event (Apple Watch)

Source: Justin Sullivan/ Getty Images

While it remains to be seen if the Apple Watch will have any impact on the traditional timepiece industry, there is at least one watchmaker that isn’t taking any chances. According to Reuters, TAG Heuer — a watch brand owned by multinational luxury goods conglomerate LVMH — is pushing forward with an aggressive plan to develop its own smartwatch. TAG Heuer’s new response toward the upcoming launch of the Apple Watch represents a vastly different approach than the one the company appeared to be taking just a few months ago. Soon after Apple unveiled its wrist-worn wearable tech device at a media event in September, Jean-Claude Biver — president of LVMH’s watches and jewelry division — dismissed the Apple Watch as a poorly designed device that would have no chance of impacting the luxury watch industry.

“This watch has no sex appeal. It’s too feminine and looks too much like the smartwatches already on the market,” Biver told Germany’s Die Welt newspaper, according to The Telegraph. “To be totally honest, it looks like it was designed by a student in their first trimester.”

Biver predicted that the device would not represent a threat to the luxury watch industry since — unlike a traditional timepiece — a smartwatch would soon be outdated. “Luxury always has something timeless, it’s rare and conveys prestige,” said Biver, according to The Telegraph.

However, Biver — who recently took over as CEO of TAG Heuer after former chief executive Stephane Linder stepped down earlier this month — said that the luxury watch brand is now moving forward with plans to launch its own smartwatch. “We started on the project about four months ago,” said Biver, according to Reuters. “We have done several partnerships and might also do acquisitions.”

TAG Heuer general manager Guy Semon did not mince words when he described the existential threat that he believes smartwatches present to the overall horology industry. “Smartwatches represent a challenge to the Swiss watch industry that is comparable to the appearance of quartz technology,” said Semon, according to Reuters. “We cannot ignore this tsunami that is coming closer.”

Although TAG Heuer has presumably partnered with another Silicon Valley-based tech company to create its smartwatch, the company’s executives declined to name which one. However, Biver noted that the earliest the TAG Heuer smartwatch would be ready to launch would be late 2015.

On the other hand, the Apple Watch is set to make its debut sometime in “early 2015,” according to the California-based tech company. While Apple showed off some of the Apple Watch’s capabilities and features at a media event in September, there remain many unanswered questions about the device, such as the length of its battery life and the pricing beyond the $349 entry-level model. The smartwatch will be available in three distinct collections, including an Apple Watch Edition collection that will feature enclosures made of 18-karat gold.

Prices for the gold Apple Watch Edition collection models could be as high as $5,000, according to unnamed sources cited by French Apple news site IGen.fr. This price could put the premium version of Apple’s smartwatch on par with some of the less expensive luxury watches made by companies like TAG Heuer. Although TAG Heuer acknowledged the Apple Watch’s potential to disrupt its industry, the company emphasized that it was not interested in rushing into the burgeoning smartwatch market just for the sake of competing with Apple. “We’ll only do it if we can be first, different, and unique,” said Semon, according to Reuters. The only question is: Will TAG Heuer’s change of heart be too little too late?

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS

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