During Watches & Wonders in Geneva this year, I met Teddy Florent, TAG Heuer’s new MD of its Connected Watch division, who is in charge of growing the business unit from its offices in Paris. Florent is one of the most charismatic people you’ll meet in the industry. His enthusiasm for new tech is infectious and his insights into our future engagement with it reassuring. TAG Heuer introduced its Connected watch in November 2015.
Presented in a Carrera-style case, it was the first smartwatch from a Swiss luxury watchmaker. Others followed, partly as a kneejerk reaction to the arrival of the Apple Watch, and with varying degrees of success. Five years and two editions later, my first encounter with one of these wearables came in 2020, when the South African agents introduced me to the Connected Calibre E3. It became my running partner for the better part of a month. But, as is the case with new tech, there is always something even newer just around the corner. During Florent’s presentation to me on the Calibre E4, we discussed the evolution of the device and the role of the metaverse in our future and that of the traditional watch industry.
“The Connected was launched at the same time as the Apple Watch, with the vision that three things would happen. First, there was a strong appetite among consumers to always be connected to their daily emails, notifications, and apps at a time when the phone was already quite developed. And that would happen through a device on the wrist: the birth of the smartwatch. The second belief was that something you wear every day would need to match your style and your elegance and not only be about technology. This is where our 160-year heritage in watchmaking applies. And third, something that came a little bit later was the belief that the watch was the best companion to help you achieve your goals. Health and wellness have now also become important, which is why we introduced the wellness app to help our customers track their steps and calories and achieve 100% of their goals. Our stats from our customers prove that we are right,” says Florent.
The original Connected watch was mainly design focused. The Modular edition, launched in 2017, allowed the wearer to switch the smartwatch module to an automatic watch module. With the arrival of new CEO Frédéric Arnault in 2020 came a new vision and the addition of the second pillar: sports.
“So, we have the [design] elegance with our first pillar and the second pillar adds sport, which is also in the DNA of TAG Heuer. This is where we enrich the watch with a good design and a good fit on the wrist, as well as [apps for] traditional sports such as running, cycling, and swimming. We also have a strong value proposition by adding golf as a premium sport that resonates well with our customer base. After the confinement people endured during Covid, golf was one of the first activities that they could do because of the natural social distancing. This boosted the sport quite a lot. But regardless of that, it’s still high on the agenda for our audience,” he says, highlighting how the golf app has become the “best partner on the green”.
A seasoned athlete himself, Florent introduced the third pillar of health and wellness “because we understand that our customers are willing to challenge themselves not only around sports but also [around] their wellbeing. We’ve seen 60% of our customers tracking their wellness daily — activities, heart rate, and calories.”
Something that will likely go unnoticed by users yet offers further proof that the Connected watch is best-in-class is related to the fourth pillar: seamless user experience. “We believe that technology should not be at the front but be a simple enabler of a premium luxury experience.” This happens effortlessly, from the watch interface to the new charging stand. Compared to the E3, the vision for the Calibre E4 was to add “more modernity” with softer, curved lines introduced through its case design and shape, adding to comfort on the wrist. “We also have two sizes in the E4: the 45mm is for people who have more passion for action sports and outdoor activities but who also like to be elegant and maybe wear the watch with a suit.”
With the quick-release mechanism, you can change from a leather to a rubber strap in “two seconds”. The 45mm E4 is available in steel or titanium with rubber added around the crown for easier use while engaged in sweaty activities. The 42mm model has an even more elegant and chic positioning, with a much thinner bezel, but is only available in steel. Another welcome upgrade is that Spotify has implemented an offline version of its app, so you can download your music and store it on the E4 before heading out on a run. I think it’s safe to say that the Connected watch is in a league of its own.
So, what did TAG Heuer do right from the start? “We identified that we can’t be about design only, there needs to be a value beyond that and a vision beyond that. It is not simply about replicating the design from mechanical to connected. There are plenty of examples where the mix of luxury and tech didn’t work. Just look at the smartphone segments. Design is key and people react to it positively, but you need to address your technology value proposition. From day one we outsourced the development because we were not a tech company [at the time] and so we had to learn from that. Today we have in-house expertise, with more than 60 engineers dedicated to the development of Connected hardware and software. We are now invested in technology and that investment was key for the differentiation and to be credible in the ecosystem.”
While there was some fear at first that the Apple Watch would attract sales away from the traditional watch industry, it instead sparked a renewed interest in mechanical watchmaking, particularly among the younger generation, as Florent highlights. “The two segments of watchmaking don’t cannibalise each other. From our stats, we see that when some of the younger generation go to buy a watch, they generally buy a mechanical watch first. We’re also seeing our traditional customers going after mechanical watches first, because it’s either something the parents give to their kids for graduation or a gift to themselves. Then they are also looking at the advantages of Connected, which they will use in different situations. They might use Connected during the day to track their steps and calories while being connected to their work agenda and notifications. When they go out with friends or to business meetings, they wear their mechanical watch. And it is also working for us the other way around, where we see the Connected in the premium offering in the smartwatch segment being a gateway to our mechanical collection. So, they complement each other.”
You can take a break with an intensive seven-minute workout
Florent says the vision for the future of Connected is twofold. “Remember the positioning of GoPro in sport? They were very focused on extreme sports or extreme adventure. What we want to do with the smartwatch is something comparable in the sense of premium ‘passion’ sports. We started with golf, at which we have been successful, and we plan to replicate this. In terms of identity, we believe that TAG Heuer customers are passionate about things, about watchmaking and about some sports. That is the common denominator in the brand DNA and our customers. They also want to stand out from the crowd and expect a high standard, so we are bringing a value proposition, meaning it’s not just a technological device, it’s [also] a high-end watch.”
With TAG Heuer as one of the headline partners of Formula E, and the popularity of motorsports, is there a motor-racing programme in the pipeline for Connected? The answer is “not yet”, but there is an Aston Martin Red Bull Racing-themed watch face. Besides the highly praised golf app, you can also track your running, cycling, swimming, indoor running, and indoor cycling. “And then you have the fitness programme, of course. This one is amazing. You can take a break with an intensive seven-minute workout.” Something I wished I’d discovered earlier at the fair, given the spread of deliciously rich fine dining on offer. There is much talk about the use of digital technology, particularly NFTs and blockchain, for the certification of new and secondary-market sales.
With sustainability a major concern in the industry, this would also be useful for transparency and chain of custody. I’m aware of initiatives within the LVMH group, but what is happening at TAG Heuer? “Last year, LVMH announced the Aura Blockchain Consortium [together with Prada and Cartier], which unites multiple luxury companies with the vision to provide consumers with a high level of transparency and traceability throughout the life cycle of a product. And, of course, we inherited this vision. There is also the infrastructure associated with that, because doing things on the blockchain requires technical aspects. We are serious about NFTs at TAG Heuer but, as with all technological revolutions, there is a lot of hype. Yet we believe that there are some structural things that are super-beneficial. With this technology, it is the first time on the internet that you can distinguish a fake from the original. Secondly, you can [assign] a value to multiple variants of the same work of art and, thirdly, you can [assign] a resale value, and the creator of the original content can also benefit from the resale. Those things have real, concrete value. We don’t want to be seen as opportunistic, but rather [as] being prepared to contribute to our vision of how we see the world eight years from now. This can add a strong value proposition for our customers,” says Florent.
TAG Heuer has demonstrated its commitment to the environment through its Connected trade-in programme, which sees older models and accessories being dismantled to reuse the materials. Florent’s stellar career in new tech spans over 20 years and includes being head of product for Amazon Alexa and the development of “a lot of connected smart devices” for the home. Having also worked in telecoms and virtual and augmented reality, Florent was the right choice to assemble and lead the Connected team into the future.
“We have people dedicated to software and hardware, but when it comes to the design of the Connected watch, we have included some staff from the traditional watch division. We believe that a hybrid team gives the best results.”
What does the metaverse of our future mean to Florent? “People wanted to be immersed in something that offered them escapism. In our modern society, this is important, and it’s not only through music or movies. It’s a profound thing. When you travel, it’s escapism. When you’re entering the virtual world, it’s escapism. Of course, we have to acknowledge the fear that people will lose themselves in all the pixels, but there is a strong need for people to escape their daily lives. And I think that makes sense. Now, we have the responsibility to make it right, through the way in which we create that multiverse, so that it is not chaotic, where we escaped into a digital world with no sense [of reality],” says Florent. As with anything, though, for health and wellbeing, there needs to be a good balance.