I have a modest watch collection that includes about eight analog watches. I haven't spent more than $300 on any of them. Three hundred dollars is already a lot of money, but for the past week, I've been wearing a smartwatch that costs $1,750: the Tag Heuer Connected. It has pushed me into a state of delirium. Should anyone ever spend so much money on a smartwatch?
Yes, the watch is very nice. It sits elegantly on my wrist, with delicately carved out pushers on the sides of the stainless steel case. The gentle curves of the lugs ensure a comfortable fit, and while the rubber strap doesn't feel as pleasant as I'd like, I've never felt an urge to loosen it or take it off. The screen is beautiful too, and protected by sapphire crystal, though it smudges up quite easily.
Montblanc is also making a luxury smartwatch, the Summit 2 Plus, which looks gorgeous but also costs a lot of dough—$995 to be exact. Even if I sat within the ranks of the wealthiest people in the country, I can't fathom dropping that much money on a smartwatch. It doesn't help that I feel just as happy (if not more) wearing affordable smartwatches like the $295 Skagen Falster 3 or the $495 Movado Connect 2.0.
Smartwatches provide enough utility to be worth few hundred dollars. They monitor your heart rate, connect you with voice assistants, let you control apps from your wrist, handle phone calls, and of course track your daily fitness goals. But while a $200 or $300 wearable does all of those things, you don't get any extra features with a watch that costs hundreds or thousands more. All of these watches run basically the same software.
So I keep asking myself, who are these $1,000 watches for? Are the same folks who paid $1,400 for the Apple Watch Series 5 Hermès Edition going to go out and buy a fancy Montblanc or Tag Heuer?
It took chatting with a few watch experts for me to realize that with watches, it doesn't matter if they're smart, expensive, or if they'll be obsolete in a few years. Their value depends entirely on the perception of the wearer.
I can see myself one day spending nearly $4,000 on a Nomos Glashütte watch. That's despite the fact that this watch will only be able to tell me the time and date, and nothing more. It distinctly appeals to my sense of style and I know it will last generations, and that's more or less what it all boils down to: luxury timepieces are beautiful, complex pieces of machinery that look and feel good on wrists, and will keep ticking long after you and I are gone.
"The mechanical timekeeper is one of the greatest inventions in the history of the world," says Nicholas Manousos, president of the Horological Society of New York. "They are historical, intellectual, technical, useful, amusing—there are all of these different qualities in one object. I don't think there are many objects like that in the world."
When such an object exists, it's difficult for me to consider spending a similar amount of money on a smartwatch. They may be more utilitarian, but they feel ephemeral. These devices typically use lithium-ion batteries, which quickly degrade over just a few years. You can usually reach out to the manufacturer and have the battery replaced for a fee, but the rest of the hardware will age as well. Within four or five years, these watches will likely stop being able to accept software updates. At that point, they'll become obsolete.
The original Moto 360 smartwatch from 2014 is stuck on an old version of Google's Wear OS (technically still called Android Wear on the watch). Similarly, the original Apple Watch from 2015 stopped getting watchOS updates two years ago. Without updates, the watches' capabilities deteriorate and the hardware becomes less secure.
I expect my analog watches to last a lifetime, and they will. I can't say the same for any smartwatch.
Manousos agrees that while their limited lifespans make luxury smartwatches a difficult proposition, they're just like wristwatches in that they can be used to connote style or individuality. More importantly, he thinks they're a "great introduction" for people to get into the world of mechanical watches.
"I'm really happy when anyone wears a smartwatch because later on, they may develop a deeper appreciation of horology," he says.
I didn't expect those words to be spoken by the president of a more than hundred-year-old organization dedicated to traditional timepieces. I regretfully assumed Manousos would be anti-smartwatch. He says he gets that a lot. But accepting the fact that these smartwatches will be obsolete in just a few years, Manousos says there's still a market for these devices among fans of analog watches.
"A lot of these watch brands are very good at making exceptional mechanical objects, exceptional cases, dials, and straps," he says. "So they're attempting to translate their skill in design and construction of a traditional wristwatch into a more modern approach. It's up to the consumers to see if they're going to agree with that premise and ultimately purchase luxury smartwatches."
Stephen Pulvirent agrees. He's the managing editor at Hodinkee, a website that covers all things horological. He thinks the obsolescence argument of pricey smartwatches is a valid concern, but at the end of the day, anything we wear on our bodies is a way of expressing ourselves: "It's a piece of jewelry as much as a functional item."
"If the reason you're buying a luxury wristwatch is to have it forever or as an investment, then a higher-priced smartwatch isn't for you," Pulvirent says. "But if you're buying it because you enjoy the experience of wearing it, you enjoy how the case feels on your wrist, the fit and finish of it, the brand affiliation that it has and all of the connotations that come with those things, I think a luxury smartwatch could do some of those things for you."
I like wearing the Tag Heuer Connected, but I do wish it offered a more robust set of features like the ones found on the Apple Watch (that's largely Google's fault, but that's a whole other argument). Still, if you put the Tag Heuer watch next to the $295 Skagen Falster 3, which runs the same exact operating system, I'd pick the latter. I'm more attracted to its design, and I don't have this pang in my mind about how much more expensive it is.
It's true that I may be putting too much of an emphasis on the longevity problem, but just consider how much more you get for money when you go analog.
"I'm wearing a watch on my wrist today that's almost 60 years old," Pulvirent says. "It was born the same year one of my parents was born, which is insane. It's crazy to think of the life this thing lived before it got to me, and I really hope it continues to live an amazing life long after me. I think a lot of the pleasure I get out of it does derive from that sort of longevity—that I'm only acting as a part in this thing's story."
Smartwatches don't share that mystique. Pulvirent suggests the people eyeing these devices are likely owners of luxury timepieces from the same brands. Buying a smartwatch allows them to have a modern and connected timepiece with similar levels of craftsmanship and design they already appreciate. To their eye, it may be worth spending the extra money over the more affordable alternatives from brands like Fossil, Skagen, or even Apple.
Still, I don't think I'm ready to recommend a smartwatch that costs more than $600. I just can't get over the fact that it'll be a useless piece of tech after only a few years of use, and there are so many other, more worthy things you can spend your money on. But don't let my logic stop you. If there's something about the new Tag Heuer or Montblanc smartwatches that leave butterflies in your stomach, then my recommendation doesn't really matter.