An elegant smartphone covered in sumptuous alligator skin, with gold buttons and embellished with diamonds, giving access to a high-end concierge service, 24 hours a day, wherever you are in the world: this was the promise of Vertu, a luxury telephone brand launched by Nokia in 1998. First prize: 4,100 euros for the model adorned with just a few crystals, and up to 350,000 euros for the device with the most luxurious finishes.
If, at the beginning, the company seduced some rich people and personalities, like Paris Hilton who did not leave hers at the beginning of the 2000s, she finally did not manage to impose herself. After being sold by Nokia, the brand went bankrupt and then disappeared in 2017. It must be said that in the meantime Apple had released its iPhone, a smartphone that has become very popular (2 billion phones sold worldwide since 2007 ) while maintaining a hyperpremium positioning (1,259 euros for the latest iPhone 13 Pro Max).
Why has a luxury brand failed to make a name for itself in the high-end smartphone market, when these devices cost as much as the bags of major brands and their users renew them at the same rate? than their wardrobe, or almost? First, because the big names in luxury do not master technology, whether on the software or hardware side.
But above all because there is an opposition of values between these two universes. “Luxury has built its narrative around transmission and timelessness, which may never be reconcilable with the planned obsolescence of technological products,” explains Joël Hazan, associate director at the Boston Consulting Group. In fact, the skills of artistic craftsmanship are ancient and are passed on from generation to generation.
Conversely, high-tech products have the essence of always being at the forefront, which implies being regularly replaced by new, more efficient devices. “Emotionally, it’s not the same strings that vibrate,” continues Joël Hazan. As a result, the historical luxury players are content to be present only in the segment of covers and other accessories for smartphones. You can thus afford a Louis Vuitton monogrammed protective shell for 305 euros, a cover signed Saint Laurent with a chain shoulder strap for 545 euros, or even a mobile phone case with a houndstooth pattern and crystal ornament created by Jimmy Choo, for 1,658 euros. A few months ago, rapper Drake even ordered a white gold case covered with blue diamonds from jeweler Jason of Beverly Hills, for the record sum of $400,000!
Only Hermès is firmly established in the world of technology, thanks to a partnership with Apple. Indeed, the luxury saddler has unveiled a new calfskin accessory, the Apple AirTag. This small Bluetooth beacon attaches to his bag to make it easy to find him using the Locate application on his iPhone or iPad. The gadget is sold for 299 euros, against 35 euros for the tag alone at Apple. This collaboration follows the exclusive leather strap imagined by Hermès at the time of the launch of the Apple Watch, while other prestigious brands, in particular watchmakers, treated the arrival of connected watches with contempt. “Initially, the leaders of the big houses did not believe in the deployment of this market”, recalls Bénédicte Sabadie, Deloitte partner in charge of the luxury sector.
How could these high-tech products, which still looked like gadgets, compete with their very qualitative creations? Finally, the big names in luxury had until then used to place their sense of innovation in favor of materials, mechanisms or design, rather than functionality.
Since then, the smartwatch market has grown significantly. According to the latest Deloitte study on the Swiss watch industry, 45% of respondents wore one in 2021, compared to 37% the previous year. “Today, luxury players therefore approach the question with different strategies,” continues Bénédicte Sabadie. From Louis Vuitton, with its Tambour Horizon collection, to Breitling and its Exospace chronograph, via Hublot and its Big Bang, everyone wants to be present in this buoyant market. They still have to learn to master previously unfamiliar technologies.
For its first smartwatch, the Tag Heuer Connected born in 2015, the Swiss watchmaker, owned by the LVMH group, had to build a team of 40 people from scratch, mostly computer engineers, who worked for months. to finalize a product worthy of what their company was doing in the mechanisms before them. A colossal investment, but which has since paid off: the 2,000 copies of the limited edition of its Connected Super Mario watch, released last July at a price of 2,000 euros, sold out in just a few minutes on the Web, and during the day in the few shops authorized to market it.
For other brands, the marriage between luxury and technology works despite everything. This is the case, for example, of Montblanc: the manufacturer of luxury pens already has a loyal clientele of businessmen and women who travel a lot, who need concentration, but also efficient and reliable tools. They therefore had no trouble following the release of its Augmented Paper – a connected notebook that digitizes handwritten notes –, its wireless headphones and, in the process, its connected watch, the Summit 2. Certain brands hi-fi companies have also succeeded in establishing themselves in the luxury techno and design niche, such as Bang&Olufsen in the past or Devialet more recently.
Finally, another track could allow the very high end and digital to find themselves: that of NFTs, these digital art tokens that have become highly appreciated works in their own right. “We are starting to see them frequently on Apple Watch”, underlines Joël Hazan. With an additional positive effect: intangible, they cannot be stolen, even with a snatch.
Connected watches: from gadgets to trendy accessories?
Louis Vuitton: TAMBOUR HORIZON
The entirely digital and tactile dial of this watch allows it to be personalized and to adopt the new wallpapers offered by the brand over the seasons.
Breitling: EXOSPACE B55 YACHTING
At Breitling, the watch is not an extension of the smartphone, on the contrary: the telephone is used to make settings (time, time zones, alarms, etc.) and to read the results of measurements and timings carried out on the watch, such as the time flight or regatta.
Tag Heuer: TAG HEUER CONNECTED TITANIUM
On this model, you can opt for a classic or more modern watch face. But its main asset is its app dedicated to sport, which accompanies the practice of swimming, running, cycling, walking, fitness and golf.
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Connected watch, NFT… how high-tech plays the luxury card
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