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Louis Vuitton goes upmarket in smartwatch fight with Apple

LiveMint logoLiveMint 12-07-2017 Corinne Gretler

Zurich/Paris: LVMH wants to sell smartwatches to well-off fashionistas, introducing a techy timepiece under its Louis Vuitton suitcase brand that opens a higher-end front in the luxury conglomerate’s fightback against Apple Inc.

Louis Vuitton’s Tambour Horizon starts at $2,450, about eight times the price of an entry-level Apple Watch and significantly more than many other connected devices from European watch and fashion brands, as well as more pedestrian gadgets from Samsung Electronics Co.

“We’ll see more luxury brands break up the smartwatch duopoly between Apple and Samsung,” said John Guy, an analyst at MainFirst Bank AG.

“It not only provides consumers with a luxury option, where the aesthetic is more in harmony with technology, but also provides a springboard for younger consumers to move into traditional Swiss watches at a later stage.”

Within two years, Apple has become the world’s second best-selling watch brand, outranked only by Rolex, disrupting sales of low-end makers and convincing LVMH that it needs to offer alternatives or risk falling behind.

While low-end Swiss manufacturers such as Swatch Group AG’s namesake brand have introduced intelligent timepieces, exclusive makers like Rolex and Patek Philippe have largely steered clear for fear of sullying their image.

Midrange Swiss labels like Breitling and LVMH’s TAG Heuer, specializing in sports watches, were among the first to recognize the disruptive potential of fitness bands that can monitor heart rates and track the wearer’s activities.

Now, fashion brands are getting into wearable devices. Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss each revealed models using Google’s Android platform at this year’s Baselworld watch expo in Switzerland, while Hermes started making leather straps for Apple Watches in 2015.

LVMH rival Richemont also recently dived into the market, offering a smartwatch under the Montblanc brand.

Its $890 price tag, like those of connected timepieces from Swiss brands such as Mondaine, is well below that of Louis Vuitton’s Tambour Horizon.

Last year, Apple discontinued its line of 18-karat gold Apple Watches, which sold for as much as $17,000, moving toward the fitness market and adding health functions.

LVMH, which is France’s biggest company by market value, has tried to speed up the embrace of technology in recent years—bringing in former Apple Music executive Ian Rogers as chief digital officer in 2015 and launching two multi-brand e-commerce sites this year for its fashion and beverage brands. Bloomberg

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