• Switzerland's news in English

Fancy phones force watchmakers to innovate

AFP · 25 Mar 2011, 12:58

Published: 25 Mar 2011 12:58 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

With the younger generation opting to use their smartphones to tell time, the watch-making industry is being forced to get smart and high-tech to recapture consumers, AFP's Hui Min Neo discovers at the Baselworld watch and jewellery fair.

On show at the industry's biggest watch and jewellery fair Baselworld this year are not only diamond-encrusted mechanical watches with complex movements, but an increasing number of timepieces that combine with the smartphone.

Some watchmakers unveiled luxury phones that incorporate mechanical watches, others were featuring watches with touchscreens. Japanese digital watchmaker Casio premiered watches that are able to communicate with smartphones.

"Many young people don't wear watches anymore these days. They use their mobile phones to tell time," Fabrice Gonet, designer from Slyde Watch SA, told AFP.

Gonet and his business partners decided to create an electronic wristwatch with a touchscreen, which "lets people download photos, personalise their watch face," although it does not have the telephone function.

"We thought of making this watch to recreate the link between horlogery and young people," he explained.

Asked if Apple could be a potential competitor, Gonet said that his company has taken out a patent for a virtual mechanic movement.

"The first thing we did was a feasibility study, and we found that there was no patents for this. It was surprising but it convinced us to go into it," he added.

His company is not the only one tapping the smartphone market.

Ulysse Nardin, a Swiss luxury watchmaker, launched what it claimed is "the world's first luxury hybrid smartphone," integrating a mechanical watch rotor into the mobile phone.

The automatic rotor also creates energy to provide additional power to the phone.

Bobby Yampolsky, co-founder of UN Cells which make the phones for Ulysse Nardin, admitted that it is insufficient to act as the sole power supply for the phone.

"If you wind it for four, five minutes you can make about a 30 second phonecall or a few texts," Yampolsky told AFP.

Nevertheless Yampolsky believes that such hybrid phones are the way forward.

"I feel this is the future. The watch world is over 300 years old. Cellphones are 30 years old. Before cellphones, watches were mobile technology. this is now mobile technology," he said, holding up the phone, each of which costs between $12,800 and $130,000.

Mobile phones are "never going to take over completely, but it's going to take up a huge part of the marketplace," he added.

"The philosophy for us when we made this phone is, we asked ourselves, what do men have as a status symbol? We have our watches and we have our cars.

"This is basically the Ferrari that you can bring into a restaurant and put on the dining table," said Yampolsky.

But Casio, a long-term player in the watch industry that championed the quartz technology which almost brought about the demise of the mechanical watch, believes that there is still a place for the wristwatch.

This year, it introduced a watch that communicates with the mobile phone.

Casio's managing director Hiroshi Nakamura explained that if the mobile phone rings during a meeting, a tap of the watch would stop the ringing.

Story continues below…

Likewise, an email arriving on a smartphone would also prompt a message on the wristwatch that a mail has been received.

"You don't always keep a mobile phone in your hands, you'll put it in your bag. So it's easier when you're receiving a call to just tap on the watch," Nakamura told AFP.

"We don't think that the iphone will take the place of a watch. We see more possibilities for the watch," he added.

"If you have a bluetooth watch and a smartphone then you don't have to adjust the time when you're travelling," he noted.

Casio's latest watch will be available by the end of the year, with a launch due in the domestic market before broadening to other markets.


Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Inside Switzerland’s largest nuclear bunker – 40 years on
Designed to house 20,000 people, the bunker was built in and over two motorway tunnels. Photo: Unterirdisch Ueberleben

The Local takes a tour of the Sonnenberg bunker in Lucerne, opened 40 years ago at the height of the Cold War.

Ten Swiss ski resorts named most expensive in Europe
File photo: Renato Bagattini/Swiss Tourism

Skiers in Switzerland pay the highest prices for their ski passes of anywhere in Europe, according to research.

Eco group fights Bern over wind farm plans
There are currently more than 30 wind farms in Switzerland. Photo: Alpiq

Wind turbines are “gigantic and destructive” machines, says Paysage Libre Suisse.

Vegan wins battle to be accepted by Swiss army
Antoni Da Campo will now carry out his military service. Photo: Antoni Da Campo

A Swiss man who was told he would not be accepted for military service because of his strict veganism has finally succeeded in making the army change its mind.

Geneva terror suspects to receive compensation
File photo: Emran Kassim

The Swiss public prosecutor has dropped the case against them.

Ticino firefighters rescue cow from swimming pool
File photo: The Local

The cow was at risk of drowning after falling into the private pool.

Uefa Champions League
Basel 'ready for battle' in Champions League clash
Basel training in Paris. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

Swiss champions Basel fancy their chances of springing a surprise when they face Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

Burst pipe causes major flood in Lausanne
The water flooded Place de la Riponne in Lausanne. File photo: Swiss Tourism/Christof Schuerpf

Water rushed down the streets after a pipe burst in the city centre.

Outcry after ‘neo-Nazi’ music festival held on Swiss soil
The village of Unterwasser was the tranquil location for the festival. Photo: Swiss Tourism

Should police have intervened?

Seven things you’ll miss about Switzerland if you leave
Switzerland: what's not to miss? Photo: Christian Perret/Swiss Tourim

Former expats in Switzerland tell The Local what they miss about living here.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
Photo: file
Some deodorants could cause breast cancer: Swiss study
Photo: Royal Savoy
In pictures: Inside the latest Swiss luxury hotel
Photo: AFP
Geneva airport bomb hoaxer faces 90,000-franc bill
Photo: Schaffhausen police
Mother leaves toddler son alone in car to go clubbing
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Swiss populist attacked by knife-wielding pensioner
Photo: File
Bern argues over passports for 3rd generation foreigners
Photo: Broad Bean Media
Muslim pupils must shake hands – ‘no ifs and buts’
jobs available