The Swiss Smartwatches Making Apple Nervous

Everyone wants a smartwatch, but many men also want a timepiece that looks like timepiece.

With less than a week to go until the Apple Watch is revealed, a few of Switzerland’s best-known watch brands, led by Frederique Constant, are showing the world how they intend to win horology-meets-technology schematic. The big unveiling was held in San Francisco, the spiritual if not actual home base of Manufacture Modules Technologies, a partnership between Silicon Valley-based Fullpower Technologies—their tech powers the Jawbone Up and Nike Fuelband—and Union Horlogère Holdings, which owns Frederique Constant and Alpina. The three watches announced all look like rebukes to the techno-futurism of Jony Ives.

The watches are – to put it another way – remarkable precisely because they look like watches. The “smart” parts, which support both iOS and Android, run two concencentric subdials, one of which shows the date and monitors sleep rhythms while the other counts to either 100 (as a smartwatch) or your daily number of steps. The Helvetica No. 1 Horological Smartwatch is essentially an older model with smart tech tacked on. If that sounds haphazard, you better believe it isn’t.

“The beautiful Swiss watch that you love to wear is now smart and connected,” says Peter Stas, CEO of MMT and Frederique Constant, who adds, tellingly, “The word ‘beautiful’ is important.”

While the three smartwatches are differentiated aesthetically by their intended purpose of function—the Frederique Constant Horological Smartwatch’s gold-plated case and brown leather band, for example, is designated as the “business watch”—they all offer the same technological capabilities. Each watch can track your movement, steps, calories burned and sleeping patterns, displayed on a companion app. What’s more, with a battery life of two-plus years, there is no “range anxiety” to be had.

MMT will present 10 models for both men and women at the Baselworld watch fair later this month, where the organization’s overarching message will be made clear to all: the introduction of a platform capable of being licensed by many smaller and lower-priced brands for many future smartwatch designs. That means that the new Swiss watches aren’t just unique products, they are the beginning of a sort of Swiss insurgency marching under the banner of having cake and also eating it.

It remains to be seen if MMT’s approach will reap a handsome ROI in the long run. There is plenty to respect from their approach to what is a multi-billion dollar industry—no recharging, accessible technology, familiar style—but is it enough to sustain long-term? With more than 6.5 million Swiss Quartz watches expected to become “connected” annually, only time will tell.