March 3, 2015
by Ariel Adams
One of the most remarkable announcements we received prior to the SIHH 2015 watch trade show was the upcoming release of Montblanc’s e-Strap (debut article here), a smart wearable device option that would be first available on the upcoming Montblanc Timewalker Urban Speed watch. Precious little was known about how the e-Strap would behave in real life – and the actual models are not ready for real-world testing, but at SIHH 2015 with Montblanc, aBlogtoWatch got a hands-on look at one of the luxury industry’s first major entrants into the world of smart electronic wearable devices.
I don’t want to reiterate everything that I previously discussed when explaining the details of the Montblanc e-Strap, so I recommend you reference the article above – which has been highly commented on and shared around the internet. I will, however, briefly explain the device and what it is meant to do. The advent of the smartwatch market poses a threat to the luxury watch industry, because many consumers will be faced with a choice of whether to wear the high-end mechanical timepieces they love or an electronic smartwatch they may need or prefer in terms of functionality. While the smartwatch right now does not pose too much of an attractive threat to traditional watches, that time may come in the near future.
Nevertheless, the luxury watch industry has every motivation to seek out legitimate ways for people who want to benefit from modern technology to also continue enjoying the ability to wear mechanical watches. Options for this include wearing a smartwatch during the day hours and a mechanical watch at night, wearing a smartwatch on one wrist and a traditional watch on the other, or wearing a traditional watch case attached to some type of smart-strap. This latter approach is the closest to what Montblanc has in mind with the Montblanc e-Strap.
The black-colored steel unit is a module that slides on to a specially made tough but very thin NATO-style strap sitting under your wrist while your traditional watch (a Montblanc Timewalker, in this case) sits on the top of your wrist. The module has a screen, includes built-in sensors, and communicates with your mobile phone. It offers the ability to receive phone notifications, track fitness activity, and perform other standard “smartwatch functions” that are becoming more and more popular. The move is clever and simple and the monochromatic OLED screen is neither distracting nor unwelcome.
My biggest worry about the Montblanc e-Strap was that it was going to be too large. It is a legitimate concern to believe that some item attached to the bottom of your watch might feel like an unwelcome tumor. In fact, the clever design of the Montblanc e-Strap in terms of its dimensions as well as how it attaches to the strap make it not feel nearly as thick or “extra-on-the-wrist” as it might appear in images at first. I further found wearing it on the specially made watch strap to be rather comfortable. The actual dimensions of the steel Montblanc e-Strap are 40mm long by 14.2mm wide and just 9mm thick.
Even though Montblanc intends for the Montblanc e-Strap to fit on a variety of straps (eventually) they created a special leather NATO-style strap for it to work in tandem with the release of the Timewalker Urban Speed watch collection. Note that it isn’t the only strap option available for the Timewalker Urban Speed watches. In a technical looking carbon-fiber pattern leather, the strap meant to hold the Montblanc e-Strap is very thin and has a buckle on the side. In all, I’d say the strap and Montblanc e-Strap combo work nicely.
The actual Montblanc e-Strap unit available to put on and wear was a non-functioning dummy, but the brand did have an early functioning Montblanc e-Strap device attached to a base with constant power connection. There I was able to view the e-Strap user interface in action and appreciate more-or-less what the smart device would do. The screen doesn’t offer a lot of space for text but the characters are crisp and the system does seem to relatively straightforward. Things like activity tracking data and missed call or new text message notifications are there to greet you without being in the way.
I also had the chance to speak with Montblanc’s CEO Jerome Lambert about the Montblanc e-Strap – a project that for him is an important part of where Montblanc is going. You need to understand that SIHH 2015 in general was about appealing to the narrow market of the ultra wealthy, with mostly big ticket new watch releases. In fact, aside from other Montblanc products, the Montblanc e-Strap is far and away the only item from the show with any chance at mainstream acceptance and consumption.
Mr. Lambert makes it clear that Montblanc is a brand that appeals to both exclusive high-end collectors as well as aspirational and mainstream buyers looking for luxuries in their life. Montblanc isn’t trying to take the smartwatch world by storm with the e-Strap, but is rather looking for ways some consumers may want to incorporate smart wearable tech into their lives. The Montblanc e-Strap, for example, is extremely non-committal; you can take it on and off your watch, and decide to use or not use it without much effort. Need the Montblanc e-Strap for your work day but want it off after hours? That isn’t a problem and doesn’t require watch aficionados and style lovers to have to divorce themselves from traditional timepieces – even if for small amounts of time.
It’s clear that the Montblanc e-Strap is still in beta form without a ready-for-action prototype that Montblanc is willing to share. Having said that, Lambert is confident production will begin soon. Montblanc is also fortunate enough to have a relatively wide network of dedicated brand boutiques where people coming in to look at Montblanc watches, pens, leather goods, and more can come to view and experiment with the Montblanc e-Strap.
On the the new-for-2015 Montblanc Timewalker Urban Speed watches (a really handsome collection, by the way), the Montblanc e-Strap feels natural and, at the least, interesting. I still have to experience wearing a functional model, but if what Mr. Lambert says comes to pass, I won’t have to wait long before that happens. Of course, the Montblanc e-Strap will connect via Bluetooth to a companion/host smartphone, to be operated via a dedicated app.
Montblanc has previously announced a price of 250 Euros for the e-Strap as a separate option if purchased without a timepiece, and it is further possible that the Montblanc e-Strap will come standard on certain Timewalker Urban Speed watches. What we have yet to discover is how well the e-Strap works as an electronic smart device (of course Montblanc used technology partners to design and build it), and how people integrate them into a larger watch-loving lifestyle. montblanc.com