By Michelle Graff
Members of the press crowd into the TAG Heuer booth at Baselworld Thursday, where brand CEO Jean-Claude Biver, shown here speaking, made what he called his “biggest announcement ever.” This is the watch industry veteran’s 40th Basel fair.
Basel, Switzerland—Just hours after the official opening of Baselworld 2015, TAG Heuer announced that it was partnering with Intel Corp. and Google Inc. on a Swiss-made smartwatch that will be out by the end of the year.

Though TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Claude Biver revealed no details about the device--including price, functionality, design or compatibility with iOS devices--at a press conference held at 2 p.m. local time at the brand’s booth, Reuters reported prior to the official announcement that it will be a digital version of the brand’s classic black Carrera.

Joined on stage by employees of both Intel and Google, Biver did say when asked how his company’s device would differ from Apple Watch that, “Apple Watch looks like Apple. TAG Heuer will look like TAG Heuer. TAG Heuer will have the DNA of TAG Heuer.”

He also confirmed that enough of the watch will be assembled in Switzerland to receive the “Swiss made” label.

TAG Heuer’s early-in-the-show announcement comes amid much smartwatch buzz at Baselworld this year, which kicked off little more than a week after Apple unveiled the Apple Watch in Cupertino, Calif.

There is a new smartwatch from Fossil, which also partnered with Intel; Vector is slated to launch one at an event scheduled for Thursday evening in Basel; and Breitling has the new B55 Connected, which the brand confirmed to National Jeweler is just a concept piece at this stage. 

In addition, Swatch Group just unveiled a Swatch watch that connects with a smartphone and will roll out near-field communication chips for other brands--one of which is said to be Tissot--in the coming months, though it doesn’t seem the Swiss watch giant is interested in going head-to-head with Apple. Chief Executive Nick Hayek has said, “We don’t want to produce a mini mobile phone on your wrist. Others can do that.”

While brands scramble to answer the smartwatch question, Swiss industry leaders seem to think that smartwatches and traditional wristwatches can co-exist, the same claim many in the diamond industry make when asked about lab-grown diamonds.

There is room, they said, for both smart devices and those who appreciate the craftsmanship of a mechanical watch.

The industry’s latest sales data seems to support this claim.

Jon Cox, an analyst for Kepler Cheuvreux who follows the watch industry, said the bulk of the Swiss watch industry’s sales are in high-end, complicated models. While devices like Apple Watch pose a threat to lower-priced brands, “It’s hard to believe an Apple Watch is going to take away share from a $17,000 watch. If you can afford a $17,000 watch, you can get a $500 smartwatch (too).”

Show organizers also noted at the Baselworld opening press conference held Wednesday that these new devices could raise the profile of watches, both smart and not, among members of the younger generation, many of whom now just pull out their cell phone when they want to know what time it is.

RELATED CONTENT: A watch from Apple could lift the bunch

It is a boost the modern watch industry badly needs.

Baselworld Executive Director Sylvie Ritter acknowledged at the opening press conference that there are a number of challenges facing the industry, including slowing growth in markets like Russia and China.

According to figures shared by François Thiébaud, president of the Swiss Exhibitors’ Committee, Swiss watch exports inched up only 2 percent year-over-year in 2014. While the industry recorded a 4 percent year-over-year increase in January, forecasts for 2015 have been revised downward due to the deteriorating global economic environment.

Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.