Can Montblanc Beat Back Silicon Valley With a Smart Strap?

Can a luxury watchmaker have its tradition and a future too?
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Can a luxury watchmaker have its tradition and a future too?
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As Silicon Valley continues to get smarter, Switzerland’s esteemed watch brands are being forced to chase tech trends or give up on the millennial market altogether. It’s an uncomfortable position for clockwork thinkers, but Montblanc seems to reasoned its way out. Rather than creating an unwieldy hybrid, the brand is taking a closer look at its straps.

The 109-year-old brand has thrown down ahead of the SIHH watch fair in Geneva, releasing details on its TimeWalker Urban Speed e-Strap, which will hit stores in June. Visible only on the underside of the wrist, the digitized strap was designed to complement, and not compete with the traditional timepiece. It offers not only connectivity via Bluetooth Low Energy with Android and iOS smartphones, but the practical convenience of an interchangeable strap for times when the wearer simply wants the appeal of a classic watch.

Watch people are, as a rule, uncompromising, but they’re hailing Montblanc’s move as a masterstroke.

“Montblanc’s offering provides the best of both worlds: One can wear their real, mechanical watch and still have the digital gadgetry hidden away in the back,” says Reginald Brack, senior vice president and the international head of retail for watches at Christie’s.

Adds Michael Groffenberger, senior category director of fine jewelry and watches at The Real Real, "The release of the e-Strap is an attempt for Montblanc to stay ahead of the curve by appealing to a new tech savvy audience, while still catering to their classic luxury customer.”

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The simple app that interfaces with the e-strap.

The NATO-style e-Strap is fashioned from a carbon treated leather band from Montblanc’s new, and well-received, Extreme collection made within the confines of its own pelleteria in Florence, Italy: resistant to abrasions, water, heat and fire. The heart of the electronics sits subtly in a gasket-sealed interchangeable stainless steel case that doesn’t detract from the beauty of the TimeWalker timepiece itself. In fact, turning the watch around reveals not just the e-Strap, but also the see-through case back and its intricate mechanisms.

Technology-wise, the device tracks physical activity, can send and receive most major forms of messages and phone notifications and offers “find-me” functionality and music control. Battery life is five days, at which the user will recharge it using a standard micro-USB connection. While Montblanc announced its e-Strap along with a trio of new watches in the TimeWalker collection, it may be purchased separately for around $410.

Whether collectors young and old will adapt to this new technology remains to be seen. As Groffenberger, and other experts, have pointed out, what watch manufacturers may not be realizing is that consumers want—and are willing to pay for—both wearable devices and classical mechanical watches.

Giving buyers everything they want is a bold move that could pay off huge. It could also be a very public bust. All eyes are on that strap.