In January 2015,Montblanc came up with what some might call “The Peacemaker”: a harmonious hybrid of smart technology and the mechanical wristwatch.
At that stage in smartwatch history, the threat to traditional timepieces loomed large, with manufacturers of “normal” wristwatches imagining a catastrophic replay of the arrival of quartz in the 1970s. That event decimated the industry, which took a couple of decades to recover. And it didn’t turn out badly: wristwatches are back, big time. But would Apple and its fellow travellers rob the watch industry of its future?
As it turns out, smartwatches made little or no difference to the real state of the watch business after the dust settled. TAG Heuer, Montblanc, Breitling, Frederique Constant and others chose to offer both, with TAG Heuer hedging the customers’ bets: if one grew tired of the battery-powered smart watch, you could send it back and have its innards replaced with a mechanical movement.
It also seems unlikely that Patek Philippe or Rolex or Omega or Cartier or IWC ever lost a sale to Apple, Casio, et al. People bought either, or both, while exclusive prices kept luxury watches safely cocooned from the digital onslaught. No customer shopping for a £399 Apple watch had a £50,000 Lange & Söhne on his or her list.
But still there raged the torment of choice: What did you do if you wanted both a traditional model and a smartwatch for its communication capabilities, but felt that you couldn’t wear one of each at the same time? At that year’s Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva, Montblanc demonstrated utter genius: it showed the E-Strap, which placed all of the elements of a smart watch into the buckle.
First, we were told it would only be offered with Montblanc watches, and would not be made available as a standalone, retrofit purchase. That burst the bubble of those who wanted to be able to look at a health app to count their steps or read texts, all while wearing some cherished vintage chronograph.
Then it went quiet. It looked like the e-Strap was a concept and nothing more, especially after Montblanc launched the Summit last year, a full-blown, dedicated smart watch.
Now it seems Montblanc has heard those pleas from watch lovers such as I, who would rather lose an arm than sully it with a smartwatch, or anything powered by electricity. Renamed the Montblanc TWIN Smart Strap, this argument settler completely dismisses the dilemma, provided one’s watch accepts a 20mm or 22mm strap.
As the company succinctly describes it, the TWIN Smart Strap “allows classic timepiece lovers to enhance their watch with digital features including notifications, step tracking and a new Montblanc payment solution”. Crucially, Montblanc’s exact words include a phrase we so wanted to hear back in 2015: the TWIN “transforms any mechanical timepiece into a connected companion.”
As one requires of a smartwatch, the TWIN conveys notifications, tracks fitness and, as mentioned above, accesses a payment platform. It consists of a 47x26mm case which is only 6mm at its thickest point, with a curved display and a specially-designed strap that allows the user to fit it to “almost any timepiece.”
Installation requires no special tools and the TWIN can be adjusted for any wrist size, the limitation being the aforementioned choice of only two sizes, though they are, admittedly, the most common for contemporary men’s watches.
Montblanc chose a rubber composite as the strap material, with structural blocks designed simplify fitting. As for the electronics, the module is made of stainless steel and covered with scratch-resistant curved glass; it functions, too, as the strap’s clasp.
The glass protects a monochrome OLED display showing the notifications, with an LED for visual notices, supported by vibration alerts. Two buttons perform the functions and Bluetooth connectivity enables the TWIN to operate with iOS via an NFC chip with Secure Element to allow easy contactless payment (there’s no word yet on an Android version). The module is water resistant and runs for up to a week on a single charge.
Montblanc Pay allows the user to deal with up to five credit cards in the companion app, which was developed with Visa and MasterCard. Security sensors deactivate the payment function in case of theft or loss, with state-of-the-art data encryption to prevent hacking of credit card data and other personal information.
As for the time, the TWIN conveys the user’s daily activities with a ring pattern. Its “Memories” feature automatically synchronises the TWIN with the user’s iPhone, copying and showing all the calendar events in the app. It also automatically copies any picture or video taken from the phone into its respective calendar event.
“With the new TWIN Smart Strap Montblanc has further narrowed the gap between the analogue and digital watchmaking worlds. The idea of a Smart Strap is rooted in the growing desire for digital functionalities to be added to classic timepieces, which are emotional objects with deep history and meaning to their owners,” says Montblanc CEO Nicolas Baretzki.
“That is why we developed a smart solution that can be attached to most timepieces of any brand. The timepiece remains untouched, while Montblanc TWIN Smart Strap is the innovative companion that elegantly enhances this relationship,” Baretzki adds.
“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” – not a bad philosophy when it comes to solving tech dilemmas. The only analogy I can make to the TWIN is this: imagine what would have happened to the hundreds of millions of now-dormant film cameras had the dream of a film-to-digital converter ever materialised.
By ensuring that watch aficionados need no longer be forced “to choose between mechanical beauty and digital functionality,” Montblanc has performed a service for watch lovers that cannot be undervalued.