It was one of the most eagerly anticipated announcements of this pre-BaselWorld period. Frédérique Constant delivered a horological masterstroke last week. It wasn’t a new model, nor even a simple technological evolution, but a genuinely new market segment: the horological smartwatch. 

A strategy developed over the long term
In 2014, Peter Stas, CEO, announced that he was already spending 50% of his time on this project. His deliberations focused on some of the problems of the smartwatch that were, in his view, unacceptable: it is an object rather than a jewel, more “smart” than “watch”, perishable and with little added value over a smartphone.
Six months later, the answer is here. Its name has not yet been chosen, but this is not what interests Peter Stas, who has switched from interested observer to disciplined visionary as far as wearable technology is concerned. The key element is found elsewhere: in the definition of what a genuine smart watchmaking could be. 

Don’t do better, do different
“The current offering is characterised by the fact that it is based around a screen rather than a dial,” says the CEO, starting off on the attack. A good starting point, but it’s not enough: traditional watchmaking uses applied technology (five centuries of research in mechanics), the smartwatch uses embedded technology in the form of dynamic firmware that is in constant communication with the world. It is a long way from the mechanical calibre hermetically sealed inside its case, only to be opened every few years to add a bit of oil.
“We very quickly realised that we couldn’t do this on our own,” Peter Stas continues. “So we set up a joint venture with two partners, MMT and Fullpower. The former designed and produced the circuits. The latter developed the firmware, the apps and the cloud.” 

 

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Peter Stas explains the procedure for updating the Horological Smartwatch’s firmware. © Delos Communications

Swiss Silicon Valley
In their respective fields, these two partners are forces to be reckoned with. Both are located in Silicon Valley. MMT and its MotionX technology lie at the heart of the running applications developed by Nike for Apple (GPS combined with activity monitoring). Fullpower has already filed 50 patents and has another 75 pending.
These partners will be responsible for keeping the firmware of the horological smartwatch up to date. The most up-to-date versions will always be available through the cloud. The smartphone will download them as part of its regular updates, just like updating any other application. This update will then be transferred to the smartwatch over a Bluetooth connection. 

One in the eye for the nay-sayers
Detractors of the Frédérique Constant approach were out in force. All of them quizzed Peter Stas on the usual issues related to smartwatches: their price, their design, Swiss Made, their functions and their laughable battery life.
No question was left unanswered. “Nobody even comes close to us in terms of battery life: two years,” said Peter Stas, whose watch uses quartz technology. “The functions will be based around the ‘quantified self’, or measuring the activity of our bodies. This is the type of application that is most downloaded at the moment and 70% of them are downloaded by women. Swiss Made? Most of our partners are based in Switzerland. And we will produce a large number of the components ourselves. More than 60% of the finished produce will be Swiss. So not only are we Swiss Made under the current legislation but we are also ready for the new legislation that will come into force on 1 January 2017,” he concludes.
All that remains is the price and the design. The first examples shown are in the very understated Slimline collection. It has widespread appeal and remains risk-free, which is the whole idea: to offer a watch that has all the hallmarks of a classic watch. And, as always, the price has been carefully considered: less than 1,000 Swiss francs. 

All that remains is the price and the design. The first examples shown are in the very understated Slimline collection. It has widespread appeal and remains risk-free, which is the whole idea: to offer a watch that has all the hallmarks of a classic watch. And, as always, the price has been carefully considered: less than 1,000 Swiss francs. 

An expanding business model
With this very aggressive positioning, Frédérique Constant hopes to seduce customers “between 30 and 45 years old,” according to Peter Stas. A new advertising campaign will target them with the slogan “Linked to Motion”.
The 39mm case size will be unisex for the Frédérique Constant models, but sister brand Alpina will get its own horological smartwatches, with a bigger 44mm diameter for men and smaller, diamond-set versions for women. 

 

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La version Alpina de l’Horological Smartwatch, en 44 mm. © Delos Communications

But Frédérique Constant’s smart universe could grow even more. “The joint venture that we have set up is open to licensing all our development,” concludes Peter Stas. “We have fixed a relatively modest price that will allow other brands to joint this open ecosystem and help it to evolve.” 

The CEO said that a first agreement had already been signed. Will others follow? “Out of 28 million Swiss watches exported each year, 21 million are quartz. If the horological smartwatch can take just ten per cent of this market, we will already have plenty on our plate,” Peter Stas smiles. The first deliveries, to his traditional sales network, are planned for the end of May.