The Band That Can Turn Any Timepiece into a Smartwatch

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 Courtesy Montblanc

In a bid to marry the worlds of traditional watchmaking with the surge in wearable technology, Montblanc's announcement of a TimeWalker Urban Speed e-Strap piqued the interest of horologists and techies alike.

Inspired by the 109-year-old brand's recent collaboration with Samsung on its Starwalker line of stylus-pens for the latter's tablets, this hybrid smartwatch — the first Internet-enabled watch to be produced by a Richemont-owned brand — would appear to be an ideal product, as envisioned by brand chief Jérôme Lambert.

Not necessarily designed to compete with the Android Wear or the upcoming Apple Watch, but, rather for the lifestyle of its current clientele who value the aesthetic of a classic timepiece but like to indulge in technology on occasion, the e-Strap is essentially a Bluetooth accessory that tracks the wearer’s physical activity and monitors calories burned. In addition, via a black touchscreen easily visible in daylight, it will also notify the wearer of incoming messages to his or her smartphone, which it links to via Bluetooth.

Shown to media over the weekend in Geneva ahead of the SIHH watch fair, at first glance it would appear the electronic component is somewhat bulky and may pose an issue of comfort for the wearer. Mated, however, to a NATO-style carbon treated leather strap made by Montblanc’s own leather factory in Italy — resistant to abrasions, water, heat and fire — it can be interchanged onto any 20 or 22mm strap of the wearer’s choice. As for the device itself, it’s encased in rubber-coated stainless steel and has a battery life of five days, at which point it may be recharged using a standard micro-USB connection. What’s more, it may be purchased separately from the trio of timepieces it was announced in conjunction with for around $410.

"The e-Strap is an interesting attempt to give watch lovers the best of both worlds: true mechanical craftsmanship, coupled with a dose of 21st-century connectivity," says Adam Craniotes, a collector and founder of the watch enthusiast group Red Bar. "For guys who are into the casual look conferred by NATO-type straps, it'll resonate; but for traditionalists who hew to a narrow vision of how a wristwatch should be presented, it's a non-starter."

As for downsides, it's hard to think of any in the short-term; if you buy into the functionality, then the only potential issue down the road is that the hardware may not be able to be upgraded like the software can — so after a point, an expensive e-Strap risks becoming obsolete. "This applies equally to all smartwatches, though," Craniotes points out. "Do you really think that five years from now folks are going to be wearing Apple Watch v1.0s?"