For fashion brands looking to get involved in the smartwatch category, it’s better to join Apple than to try to beat it.
This is the idea behind the new collection of fine jewelry from Lagos, called Smart Caviar, a take on the brand’s popular Caviar line. Its bracelets double as bands to be worn with the Apple Watch. Lagos founder Steven Lagos said the genesis of the collection was his desire to synthesize the functionality of an Apple Watch with the elegance and style of fine jewelry.
Last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the Apple Watch had become the No. 1 selling watch in the world, beating out brands focused exclusively on watches such as Rolex and Swatch.
“I have friends who have been in the Swiss watch industry their whole lives,” Steven Lagos said. “They wear the Apple Watch on one wrist and a Swiss watch on the other because they don’t want to go without the functionality of the Apple Watch. I love the design of the Apple Watch. It has a sporty feel, but I saw the opportunity to transform it into a fine jewelry piece.”
Lagos believes wearables are the future and that in a few more years, their ubiquity will grow. But it’s also pointless for fashion brands to try and compete against established tech companies like Apple and Google by creating their own tech to power a smart wearable device.
“I wouldn’t even know where to start,” he said.
Wearable technology truly came into its own at the beginning of the 2010s when Fitbit released its first fitness tracker, followed by Samsung’s Gear watch in 2013 and the Apple Watch in 2015. Now the total smart watch market has the potential to reach more than $30 billion by 2020, according to Allied Market Research. While Apple is tight-lipped about the actual sales numbers for its Apple Watch, a report from IDC found that Apple is at the top of the wearables market with 4.7 million watches sold in the second quarter of 2018.
For fashion brands to cash in on this opportunity, they should focus on what they do best – designing fashionable things to wear – and leave the tech side to the experts.
“Where brands have failed in the past is they have made something, and the technology aspect wasn’t as good or it hasn’t been as practical or as seamless as the original,” said Erica Russo, vp and fashion director for accessories and beauty at Bloomingdale’s, where the Smart Caviar collection was launched and is now available. “In the case of a brand like Lagos, they are accessorizing the product rather than trying to make it themselves.”
Aside from Lagos, whose Smart Caviar collection was designed and produced independently of Apple, Apple has an impressive list of high-fashion brands designing accessories for its products. The original Apple Watch shipped with a band designed by Hermès.
Since, Apple has cultivated a number of similar partnerships: Fashion brands from Toms to Bucardo Collection to Sacai have all designed bands for the Apple Watch, and Hermès has released several iterations of Apple Watch bands over the last few years. The Apple-owned audio brand Beats by Dre worked with Balmain last year to create a limited-edition collection of jointly designed headphones.
While it is clear that fashion brands need the technical expertise of tech brands, the reverse is also true. Apple’s attempt at making a “luxury” version of its Apple Watch, costing more than $10,000, was met with crickets and was quietly canceled soon after its announcement. When it comes to wearables, tech needs fashion’s expertise just as much as fashion needs tech’s.
For other fashion brands, stepping onto Apple’s turf means partnering with its competitor. Watch brands from Kate Spade to Fossil to Michael Kors have all worked with Google to create smart watches powered by Google’s Wear OS. One of the most prestigious of these Google-powered luxury watches is Louis Vuitton’s Tambour Horizon, which was unveiled last year. The smart watch has the classic look and feel of a Louis Vuitton piece with the processing power of a Google smart watch.
The robust operating system Google has maintained for wearables has lent itself to the creation of all kinds of watches based around it. While fashion brands leave the technological heavy-lifting to the pros at Google, they can focus on their own area of expertise: intriguing designs, comfort and craftsmanship.
As wearables’ popularity grows, Lagos believes the crossover between tech companies and fashion brands will only deepen.
“I don’t think jewelers are going to become technologists; I think technologists are going to become jewelers,” he said.