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TAG Heuer reveals highs and lows of watch brand collaborations

By on 8 June 2012 in Gadgets

TAG Heuer reveals highs and lows of watch brand collaborations
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In a recent survey 43% of Apple users would consider moving their savings to Apple if they launched a consumer bank.  That’s not overly surprising considering the staggering loyalty that exists with their brand, but it does raise the question – should they even try?  How far should a company diversify before it runs the risk of exiting its field of expertise?

This all came about as I started to review a beautiful creation which represents the work of three companies – TAG Heuer, Pinel & Pinel, and SwissKubik.  In this example, TAG has commissioned the fine French trunk maker Pinel & Pinel to produce a showcase for their Grand Carrera Chronograph and Meridiist mobile phone.  A wise choice of partner because Fred Pinel is truly a leader in hand-crafted leather accessories.  Always colourful and contemporary, his pieces are sought after by initiated individuals and prestigious brands alike.

The special edition case manages to encompass some of the best and worst aspects of partnerships in today’s watch industry.  The unit itself is a miniature 1930s steamer trunk with integrated winder and USB charger.  The top section opens to display storage space, and there is also a sliding drawer below the winder unit.  The winder is a reliable and slick mechanism supplied by SwissKubik.  This is a good choice for the Pinel brand; it matches their high quality workmanship and sense of functional style.  In this sense, Pinel & Pinel and SwissKubik are partnering to create something better than either could produce alone.

The Carrera is an excellent example of Heuer at their very best; well built, functional, unashamedly masculine, and steeped in sporting heritage.  Which makes it all the more frustrating that they bundle the Meridiist into this otherwise appealing package.  The Meridiist is TAG Heuer’s attempt at taking on the ethereal ‘high-end’ phone market.  This is a segment which probably looked very appealing during a PowerPoint-fueled boardroom presentation, because phones seem to be a perfect luxury product line: they’re personal, portable, and visible.  What’s more, the market is relatively untapped.  Sure, Vertu has got there first and has some corpulent examples of über-expensive phones – but that just proves there’s demand.

The glaring oversight is that phones don’t share any of their core characteristics or technology with watches.  They might both display the time, but that’s where the similarity ends.  Brands like Cartier and Harry Winston may have begun in diamonds and then moved to include watches in their line-up, but that is a natural progression because jewelry production shares a lot in common with watch manufacturing.  Phones, on the other hand, are at the opposite end of the technology spectrum.  The consumer focus tends to be on higher speed, more functionality, and smaller size.

The overlap is purely branding – TAG are selling their image.  For the same reason that Versace and Prada have dipped their toes into the mobile market, Tag Heuer believe they can grab a slice of the pie.  But by selling their brand alone they are bringing nothing to the party.  When Yamaha, for example, realized they could repurpose their metallurgy machines to make bikes they evolved the company and adapted.  Nokia grew from a paper-mill into a power supply conglomerate before evolving into telecommunications.  The unifying factor is that they brought with them some relevant expertise.

Could Apple become a significant player in banking?  Possibly.  It’s probably more appropriate to monitor the relative newcomers from eBay: PayPay.  Their evolution from online auction site to global payment mechanism is just as unexpected, but they bring relevant experience and useful technology to a complacent industry.  If TAG are only bringing ‘luxury’ to the phone market they are representing the very worst of the watch world.  They may argue that they are bringing style and design, but their clunky low-spec Meridiist doesn’t back that argument up.

The real winners from this presentation box are the partner brands – Pinel & Pinel and SwissKubik.  In this small unit they have demonstrated exactly how a good partnership can benefit both companies by showcasing the different value that each represents.  One is the pinnacle of Swiss watch winding technology with their quiet, reliable cubes.  The other is one of France’s premier luggage designers which has managed to find refreshing and stylish avenues in a staid market.

However, the unfortunate truth about this winder is that it simply isn’t available on its own. Pinel & Pinel would love to create a bespoke version of this in your own choice of cut and colour (if you have to ask at what price you certainly couldn’t afford it); but this particular example was purely designed to house the 150 limited edition TAG watches and their sadly miscalculated sibling, the Meridiist phone.


TAG Heuer reveals highs and lows of watch brand collaborations

TAG Heuer, Pinel & Pinel, and SwissKubik teamed up for a collaboration that brought out into the open the very best, and worst, aspects of partnerships in today’s watch industry.

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H-Bomb (yes, that really is the name he's going with) has had aspirations of Prodigal foolery for many years. However it was only after moving to Tokyo that he truly discovered the excesses of watch buying. With eyes bigger than his wallet, he now has a modest collection which just about justifies a watch winder. The pain he experienced in buying said winder drove him to create He also likes to zip around the countryside on his motorcycles; just don't ask what's in the saddlebags.

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  • Chris I

    hat phone is pretty much a joke. What could they have been thinking? Has anyone gone to the site and seen the specs? The key feature appears to be a digital clock embedded in the edge. No mention of OS as far as I can see. The specifications section begins with a discussion of fit and finish type stuff. Great you have a good looking phone that does nothing useful what so ever. I assume you are wearing your tricked out TAG so why do you need a phone with a clock?

    What they might have done is worked with some Taiwan OEM to produce an Android-based phone with a nifty leather case and TAG button…which I think is used for blowing off your friends with a polite “piss off” call rejection. I don’t really get it.

    Most of the world has figured out that you need to have a phone platform that supports a large and active multi-sided app ecosystem. Well, except RIM. They think have some 1980s RTOS under the hood (QNX) will drive sales. How is that working out? Even Nokia is on board…just with the wrong partner.

    The lux mobile phone market has potential but it will really take off when someone uses a modern OS platform. I assume Vertu will build and MS-based phone at some point. They may have one already, I don’t know. I don’t really care. The iPhone is the best mobile design from both the point of view of the device (UI, components, etc.) and ecosystem . And it has a great form factor as well. I could glue some diamonds on it to make is lux. Maybe some alligator.

    I am sure some billionaire is going to have that big box sitting in their 2000sq foot dressing area. Right. But I am sure someone will buy this stuff. There is one born every minute.

    I am in India for two weeks for work…I think I am cranky, since I am only halfway done. I am ready to get back home. Sorry for the rant.

  • RSG

    PayPay? PayPal, perhaps?

  • H-Bomb

    Sure, yes PayPay. Keep your eye on them: they’re one of the largest cigarette paper companies around.
    Not sure they’re owned by eBay though – that might be a blooper.

  • Dan

    I agree, that phone was a terrible choice for Tag, and only detracts from their brand. The only way they pull a move like this off is if they partner with someone like Samsung and simply make a pimped out “special edition” type version of an already successful phone like the GS2. In that regard, it’d basically be all about making a fancy case and that’s about it.

    • belligero

      Making “a fancy case and that’s about it” has been TAG Heuer’s raison d’ètre ever since the 1980s. Meaningless fluff like this actually fits in perfectly with the company, along with the sunglasses and other trinkets. Heuer was great, but ever since a marketing company named TAG bought their nearly-bankrupt carcass, they’ve been all about hype over substance, and LMVH’s ownership hasn’t exactly helped.

      What’s next, cologne? Oh wait, Omega’s already done that, which is one of many reasons I wouldn’t consider any modern Omega – or anything TAG.

      On the other hand, Straight-Six must love this type of announcement, since it makes his decision to go vintage look better and better. Whenever I see someone wearing a new TAG Heuer (or most new Omegas and many others), I think to myself: “Man, for that money, you could have almost bought yourself a half-decent watch.” Of course, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

      • Straight-Six

        Look, I won’t pull any punches here: I’d pick any vintage Heuer over any modern TAG Heuer in a heartbeat. I too don’t connect with where TAG have taken things.

        But they have, of late, been putting out some decent retro pieces, while their watch technology can be fairly impressive – witness the MIkrotimer:

        But in truth? All of this isn’t a patch on a tasty vintage Autavia. Or Siffert. Or, well, you get the message.