TAG Heuer enlists partners in smartwatch plan and may make acquisitions

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TAG Heuer is pushing ahead with plans for a smartwatch to more directly compete with the likes of the Apple Watch and may make acquisitions to help drive the strategy, its head said on Tuesday.

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Swiss watch makers like TAG Heuer, the biggest brand in luxury goods group LVMH's watch portfolio, had until recently largely dismissed the threat of "smart" gadgets, but LVMH watch chief Jean-Claude Biver says he had changed his mind on the subject.

Biver, who had already outlined plans for a smartwatch, said he had struck several partnerships and was mulling purchases to help come up with an original upmarket offering.

Switzerland's watch industry is facing competition from these wearable gadgets that allow users to check email or make phone calls. Swatch Group, the world's biggest watchmaker, said in August it planned a launch next summer.

"We started on the project about four months ago. We have done several partnerships and might also do acquisitions," Biver, head of LVMH watches and TAG Heuer interim chief executive, told journalists at the brand's headquarters at La Chaux-de-Fonds in western Switzerland.

Asked whether the likes of Google Inc and Intel Corp were among the partners, newly appointed general manager Guy Semon declined comment but said there were many partners involved.

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Media reports have said the company plans an Intel microprocessor-driven design featuring a mechanical action supplemented with electronic sensors monitoring things like calories burnt.

TSUNAMI COMING

"Smartwatches represent a challenge to the Swiss watch industry that is comparable to the appearance of quartz technology. We cannot ignore this tsunami that is coming closer," Semon said.

Biver said TAG Heuer, which promotes its upmarket sporty image with models such as the Carrera which it describes as inspired by motor racing, would make an announcement once it had a good product to present, or late 2015 at the earliest.

"We'll only do it if we can be first, different and unique," he said. He would not say how much the brand would invest in the project, part of a drive to refocus on accessible watches appealing to a large customer base.

Biver, who took over as head of LVMH watches in March, has initiated a restructuring to tackle slowing demand, dismissing 46 employees and placing 49 on temporary leave, as the development of a new mechanical movement was put on hold and the brand pulled out of leather accessories and luxury mobile phones.

Chief Executive Stephane Linder last week stepped down after a year and a half in the role, so Biver also took on the CEO post.