For true watch fans—those who obsess over movements and complications and reference numbers—the smartwatch is maybe not the most appealing option. While the technology is impressive, the fact that most of them are made just like any other consumer electronics device—with cost-effective and functional, albeit occasionally sleek, construction—meant that they were never high on the list for serious watch collectors.
But seeing that connectivity is rapidly becoming the way of the future, TAG Heuer took up the challenge of creating a connected watch that lived up to the high standards of Swiss watch lovers. And the result is the brand's first Swiss-made luxury smart watch that looks, and in many ways functions, like a mechanical: the Modular 45.
"In 1990 I bought my first car," says Guy Semon, manager director of TAG Heuer. "The only electronic parts inside were the radio. Now you buy a car and there are how many computers inside? For connected watches, we are just at the beginning of the story."
And it was this feeling of being in at the beginning of something that inspired TAG Heuer to tread where no Swiss watchmaker had before. But knowing that it would be a prohibitive task for traditional watchmakers to develop the technology necessary for a top-of-the-line smart watch, TAG turned to the experts at Intel.
"When TAG first approached us, we knew we wanted to start building forward-thinking devices, because we wanted to be at the edge of collecting data," says Jerry Bautista, vice president and general manager of Intel. "And there are few devices that touch your body for as many hours of the day as a watch. But we needed to find the right partner, because the pressure is to go down to these lower devices—but we wanted to go the other way. And TAG Heuer was perfect."
Operating on Google's Android Wear 2.0 OS, the Intel-powered 45mm Modular 45 does everything you'd expect from a smart watch—from bio-tracking to email to voice texting to checking the weather. But courtesy of its Swiss construction, this watch is also water resistant up to 50 meters, and its elements are fully interchangeable with Heuer-02T Tourbillon and Calibre 5 mechanical modules. So if one day you feel like going analogue, you can simply swap your Modular 45 out and be on your way.
"While there is no future where the world is not connected, it doesn't mean a smartwatch is the best choice for every occasion," says Tom Foldesi of the focus on interchangeability. "Which is why we offer our mechanical timepieces as part of the collection."
By combining the quality of a Swiss-made watch with the utility of a smartwatch, Foldesi is confident that the Modular 45 will become a regular choice for many. Of course, the question is, how does Swiss watchmaking actually converge with digital technology? To answer that question for themselves, TAG and Intel brought their two worlds together at TAG's Swiss factory.
"I told [Intel], 'Don't worry, we are watchmakers, so we are very accurate with our fingers, and we know technology,'" Semon says. And he turned out to be right. While there was a bit of a learning curve over the course of the development, in then end the engineering elements turned out to be a common language. "We have many engineers," Semon continues. "And it's very easy for engineers to work together. It's not watchmaking against engineers, it's engineers and engineers."
Within the core range of the Modular 45's elements—lugs, straps, and buckles—there are 11 different designs, with 45 more to come. And TAG Heuer will be releasing 30 traditional watch faces with the collection as well. And with TAG Heuer Studio, the digital face of the connected watch has a dial configuration option to allow customers to create their own dial. So with all the interchangeability, there will be 4,000 different options of personalization.
And, as mentioned, the Modular 45 will be water resistant up to 50 meters, even with the watch's microphone open. This is accomplished by using a series of concentric cylinders with gaskets between them that are then pressed together. Most consumer electronics are made by using pressure sensitive adhesives to glue the display down to the frame instead, "So this watch is incredibly robust, and the sealing characteristics are phenomenal," says Bautista.
Featuring 4GB of storage memory and a new lithium battery that provides more than a full day of power, the watch can basically replace your handheld phone. And, thanks to it being equipped with Google Assistant, everything can be voice operated.
The connected Modular 45s will retail at $1,650. And a deluxe box set—which includes a connected watch in grade 5 titanium, with titanium lugs and a brown leather strap, as well as a COSC-certified chronograph Heuer-02T Tourbillon mechanical module, plus an additional black rubber strap—will be available for $17,000.