It's no secret to anyone that every once in a while, people find themselves fascinated by the expensive watches in the windows of jewellers up and down the country. Everyone's got a preference when it comes to brand, colour, and the overall look of an expensive watch, but as time passes, such items seem truly unattainable, and even then, if you do get one, they become a display piece. It should come as no surprise therefore that in 2019, the Apple Watch outsold the entire Swiss watch industry - Apple shifted over 30 million Apple Watches whilst the entire Swiss watch industry managed 21.1 million units. It would appear therefore that in this world where smart tech remains supreme that for every firm from Tissot to Swatch right up to Rolex that it'd be impossible to compete. However, now there's a new technological breakthrough that could save the Swiss' rather expensive bacon.
The idea of a hybrid smartwatch is nothing new. Everyone from Fossil to Breitling has made use of a hybrid - in other words, a watch that combines classic looks with smart technology. Even the likes of TAG Heuer have delved into the world of hybrids thanks to their Connected range that allows for the replication of a conventional watch through changeable designs on its OLED screen. Regardless of whatever technology or trickery that these watches make use of, the fact that they rely on smartphone connectivity means they're likely to be discarded by timepiece purists, or horophiles as they're better known.
Fear not, Rolex owners, as there is a solution. Fellow Swiss manufacturer Winwatch have developed a screen that, within the sapphire crystal, contains a small antenna and microprocessor that allows for contactless payments of up to £45 to be paid by simply swiping the watch past a card reader. Interestingly enough, as all of the technology is sealed inside the glass and hidden away, it doesn't appear to impact the look of the £230 MuchBetter Winwatch it's been implemented into. It's hoped that with the 12 patented features of the STISS crystal that allow it to function inside a metal watch that it could pave the way for usage inside high-end manufacturers' new or existing models.
The dream for them is that such manufacturers as Omega or IWC, who themselves shelved plans for a smartwatch originally teased in 2015, will realise the potential in the STISS crystal and begin to implement them in their new models specifically designed to hold the crystal. Its impact is really twofold - one, it appeals to those die-hard watch collectors as they can now have the look of a normal Rolex or Omega watch, but also with some smart elements to it, and two, it could enhance the usefulness and purpose of more traditional metal watches.
The £230 MuchBetter watch gets its name from Winwatch partner MuchBetter, a London based e-money issuer. E-money is, in a nutshell, the digital alternative to more traditional means of carrying money, with cashless payments on cards or phones a fundamental part. For the crystal, it relies on wearers downloading an app and activating a code that links the crystal's chip to a Mastercard account to make payments at contactless outlets wherever they may be, without being anywhere near a phone. In reality, think of it as a more flashy and expensive contactless debit card. Utilising a STISS crystal is apparently more secure than a conventional payment method such as a debit card due to the simple fact that a watch on your wrist is less likely to be stolen, unless you encounter a particularly nifty pickpocket who's able to steal a watch, such as illusionist Derren Brown in the video below. Even then, if the watch is stolen, much like more traditional means, the chip inside the watch can be deactivated through the app.
There's no question that this is a very niche market at this current moment, but with the right people on-board, it probably won't be very long till we see smart versions of the most desirable watches that appeal to both us normal folk and the watch purists of this world. It's certainly an interesting proposition, and who knows what might happen in the future? Maybe we'll see the Swiss firms outselling Apple again soon.