Wearables were at one time seen as something of a passing trend - a gimmick that wouldn't enjoy the popularity or lifespan as some of the more ubiquitous gadgetry we see in everyday life. The phenomenal success of the Apple Watch and fitness trackers like the FitBit have changed this, however, and now more and more companies are falling over themselves to get in on the increasingly lucrative wearables market.
Whether it's traditional tech companies like Samsung and LG, luxury watchmakers like Montblanc and Movado or fashion houses like Louis Vuitton, it seems more and more brands are producing smart or hybrid watches into the market, eager for a share of the explosion in popularity of wearables.
What's great about big name brands coming into the market is the continued push for innovation and new features, as well as different designs and materials. I loved both iterations of the Apple Watch, but the physical design isn't something you'd describe as especially innovative or spectacular, and the materials are typically 'gadget-like', as opposed to what you might find in a luxury timepiece. With high-end retailers such as Louis Vuitton, Montblanc, and Movado watches entering the market, the design and materials have taken a big step up, which is exactly what I feel the market needs in order to push competition and design evolution.
Let's take the new Louis Vuitton smartwatch for example. Called the Tambour Horizon, this timepiece isn't exactly cheap (with prices ranging from $2,495 to near enough $3,000), but it does represent a significant shift in the wearables industry. It has all the functionality of a traditional smartwatch and is based on the latest version of Android Wear 2.0, but it is also a luxury object - a status symbol that boasts stunning design, materials, and craftsmanship. I absolutely love this watch, and if money wasn't a (fairly substantial) obstacle, I would add it to my growing collection in a heartbeat.
Similarly, new watches from the likes of Movado and Montblanc are pushing innovations, continuing to blur the lines between gadgetry and luxury object. The new Movado Connect and Montblanc Summit watches for example, both revealed at the Baselworld watch and jewelry show in March, present typical smartwatch technology in stunning, luxury timepieces that wouldn't stand out against their traditional high-end mechanical watches.
Luxury brands, whether they're based in technology, fashion, horology or the lifestyle sector, also encourage competition, which in turn feeds innovation. Initially, no high-end watch manufacturer was particularly interested in smartwatches, until the Apple Watch showed the potential size of the market. Montblanc then produced an innovative 'smart strap', and then TAG Heuer produced a full-blown smartwatch. Since then we've seen Movado, Louis Vuitton, Tommy Hilfiger, Hugo Boss and several others enter the market with products of their own. Knowing their competition is entering a new market sector - and making money - is considerable motivation for other brands to do the same. How long until we see a smartwatch from Rolex, Omega or Cartier?
With big brands also come substantial research and development departments, as well as big marketing budgets - not only that, but brands like Rolex and Omega can draw on decades of experience and expertise in watchmaking. Once these resources are applied to a relatively new technology like smartwatches, we begin to see genuine innovation and the introduction of increasingly bold and radical ideas. This is how markets evolve and improve, and I for one can't wait to see what the introduction of luxury brands into the wearables sector will produce in the coming years.