The smartwatch market is huge, and those looking to add some intelligence to their wrist have plenty to choose from. Some luxury brands have released their own version of the smartwatch and put a price tag to match. But is the concept of a “luxury smartwatch” actually pretty stupid?
Tech giants like Samsung and Apple have a lot of quality, high-end parts, but in terms of price and prestige, they’re not what you would call ultra-high-end. In this category you will find names like Rolex, Omega and Montblanc. Along with standard features like sleep tracking, step counting, and GPS, they promise to add a sense of prestige and collectibility to your new device. Yet despite their decades of success and exclusive client list, these brands offer an overlap that no one wants or needs.
Why people collect luxury watches
A luxury watch is both an investment and a display of wealth. With its multitude of tiny moving parts and amazing accuracy, it is both a work of art and an amazing feat of engineering. While a Rolex has no more practical uses than something like a G-Shock, it does have a pedigree; it’s a ticking little piece of history.
Because of scarcity, longevity, and the prestige that comes with it, luxury watches tend to appreciate in value. It’s something you can pass down through your family or sell for a large amount of money when times get tough. Although certain electronics can fetch a high price, you’re talking about items of historical importance in great condition. An Apple 2 in the box would fetch a hefty price tag, but if you go out and buy a brand new MacBook, it probably won’t be worth much in 40 years. It’s similar with a smartwatch. Open the case and you’ll find a circuit board, not a hundred precision-machined parts. No matter what brand name is printed on it, your smartwatch will not increase in value.
There are several luxury smartwatches available
Several well-known companies make high-end smartwatches and sell them at a premium. Montblanc, a German company known for making expensive pens, is one of them. Surprisingly for a company that charges several thousand dollars for a pen, their contributions to the smartwatch market aren’t so outlandishly priced. While still about twice the price of an Apple Watch, the Montblanc Summit and Summit 2 can be had for under $1000.
Established Swiss watchmakers like Tag Heuer have dipped their toes in the smartwatch pond. Its “Caliber E4” seems geared more towards style than substance – you can have a Porsche-branded display on the front, but nothing under the hood makes the watch stand out. If you want to spend closer to $10,000, Breitling has an odd mechanical/smartwatch hybrid aimed at “pilots and sailors.”
The B55 will pair with your phone, but outside of the cockpit it doesn’t seem to be of much use. It won’t track your steps, but it will record flight and lap times. The display is a combination of a traditional watch and the kind of digital readout you would see on a Casio. And there’s an app that’s the easiest way to access the watch’s very specific features.
Luxury smartwatches offer nothing beyond perceived status
They might justify the price if brands like Montblanc and Tag Heuer offered something innovative – but their efforts are nothing special. Arguably they can’t compete with established smartwatch brands, so you get less for more money.
While the reality of the product doesn’t match its headlines, Garmin is at least pushing some innovations with its “unlimited battery” solar smartwatch. It’s an attempt to address the smartwatch’s biggest downside – the fact that you need to charge it regularly. Likewise, Apple has a high quality product (as they usually do) that integrates seamlessly with the rest of their catalogue. So if you are an iPhone user, this is the obvious choice.
To put things in perspective, one feature that makes Tag stand out is the ability to display the NFT, which you undoubtedly overpaid for, on the face of the smartwatch you overpaid for. The problem with this feature is that nobody cares about your NFT or fitness tracker.
Electronics have a shorter shelf life
While in some families items like clocks have been passed down through the generations, similar things are unlikely to happen with electronics. Electronics have a shorter shelf life, things like smartphones only last two to three years on average. Then there is obsolescence; Products in the tech world improve quickly and often. A top-of-the-line smartwatch today will most likely be a primitive piece of junk ten years from now.
Yes, a mechanical watch is technically an obsolete object. Some clocks are linked to atomic clocks, which are more accurate than a purely mechanical device could ever hope to be. But like classic cars and retro consoles, they’ve found a niche with collectors and are still marketable.
Even luxury watches need care, and that gets expensive. Ideally, you should take the watch to a certified professional every three to five years. This professional will inspect the watch, perform standard maintenance tasks such as lubricating parts of the mechanism and replacing badly worn or defective parts.
This is extremely delicate, specialized work that can cost hundreds of dollars. So could you replace the internals of an aging luxury smartwatch in the same way? Probably. But as I mentioned earlier, part of the appeal of a luxury watch is the intricate mechanism. Chips and circuit boards are also incredibly complex, but they don’t have the same prestige.
An Apple Watch is as high quality as you want it to be
Apple as a brand has a lot of prestige. If you’re looking into the hands of a billionaire answering a call, chances are you’re looking at the latest iPhone. This iPhone may be clad in gold and covered in precious gems, but beneath the overpriced display of wealth, it’s still the same type of phone that the majority of people in the US use.
Still, even the biggest name in tech has learned the hard way that luxury smartwatches are a non-starter. Seven years ago, the company offered an 18-karat gold edition of the first Apple Watch. This luxury edition cost around $17,000, putting it on par with brands like Rolex. Unlike Rolex, the ultra-premium Apple watch was a huge flop. Since then, the company has ditched the precious metal case, adjusted its prices, and achieved incredible success in the smartwatch market.
If you want to show off, no one will look down on you presenting an Apple product, while you might get a sideways glance at an Android-based piece of tech like the Montblanc Summit. Apple’s technology also works seamlessly together, and while it plays with others, it’s not always too happy about it. So if you’re currently using an iPhone, opting for something outside of the Apple ecosystem can limit both your expensive watch and phone.
If you’re an Android user, there are likely cheaper options available that will impress the same number of people as any other Android watch. So there you have it. If you want to show off, buy Apple. If you don’t, you’ll pay more, likely have a worse experience, and be bullied by the more superficial elements of the tech community.
It’s an overlap nobody needed
For the above reasons, a luxury watch collector most likely has no interest in a smartwatch. While people who are genuinely tech-savvy might have no problem shelling out four-figures for something truly market-leading, I doubt they’d pay a 100 percent premium for a Wear OS device with a pen manufacturer’s name on it over a standard one. Apple Watch will pay.
So there’s the problem. These devices theoretically appeal to two large, affluent markets, but they don’t offer anything that either of them want. And along with everything else, it comes with charging a huge premium when you run a luxury brand. So you can’t even price these watches to a point where they could theoretically compete with Apple, Samsung, Garmin and others. Luxury smartwatches are a stupid idea. The client base is probably limited to three middle-aged guys at an Austrian ski lodge who don’t know anything about tech but are interested in how much REM sleep they’re getting.