A 21st Century Tool
Garmin’s recent resurgence as a smartwatch provider might take some by surprise. Since smartphones displaced standalone car GPS systems, had the brand not faded from relevance? But it is not as if a few years of in-car ubiquity was the only thing propping up the brand. Garmin was founded in 1989, and for the last 30 years has proven itself time and again as a cutting-edge engineering company and manufacturer of top-flight professional-spec equipment across a range of demanding industries, including those of aviation, marine and automotive. Today it counts over 13,000 employees in operation across in 37 countries.
In fact, Garmin was an early adopter of wearable technology. In 2003, GPS navigation technology had been miniaturised enough to be implemented as personal wearable technology, leading to the launch of the first Forerunner—a wrist-worn device primarily meant to log running routes and times. Over the years, the brand kept pace with advancing technology, and today Garmin has an extensive range of smartwatches that cater to a wide variety of sports and hobbies, including diving, golf, cycling and trekking. They also extend beyond that, becoming an intrinsic part of its users’ lifestyles. For some, being able to monitor their daily step count, calories burned, stress levels and heart rate leads to a data-driven philosophy of constant self-awareness and self-improvement. These users become quite attached to their wrist-worn devices.
But, as any watch fan would know, it is not just function that is important to a daily accessory —aesthetics and emotion matter as well. “The one thing which we started hearing was that as much as they loved their Garmin, they wanted a product they could wear throughout the day, and sometimes what was good for their active lifestyle wasn’t good for their professional lifestyle," explains Brad Trenkle, Global Outdoor Segment Leader for Garmin. “They essentially stated to request for something that works as well in the back country as it does in the boardroom."
And what do you find on wrists in boardrooms? Diving watches perhaps, or diver’s watches, or chronographs — old-school mechanical watches derived from a bygone era. And hence, this year, Garmin introduces a collection that, for once, looks to the past instead of the future. The new Marq collection (from RM7,999 to RM13,500) includes five models: Driver, Aviator, Captain, Expedition and Athlete — and, as suggested by the names, have taken inspiration from classic tool watches.
“If you look at what those traditional tool watches were, there’s an almost perfect overlap with the kinds of customers that Garmin serves," Trenkle says, noting that Garmin has an extensive involvement in all five fields. “We’re then able to focus on how to blend that with something that’s true to the tool watch heritage."
The specifications would read familiar to fans of luxury timepieces: sapphire crystals, cases and bracelets in stainless steel and titanium, ceramic inlays on the bezels. Some of the details rival that of high-end watch brands – for instance, the sailing-themed and regatta timer-equipped Captain is equipped with a jacquard-weave nylon strap sourced from a specialist weaver in the south of France, and has an exceptionally tight knit which fares better in saltwater environments.
The bezels in particular are highly reminiscent of their inspirations, from the tachymeter scale on the automotive-themed Driver, to the compass markings on the mountaineering Expedition and to the GMT bezel of the Aviator. They are functional in the sense that they work with the analogue watch face options but do feel a little superfluous when one remembers that these watches are little powerhouse computers on their own. But still, they do look the part.
And that is what sets the Marq apart from other Garmin smartwatches: instead of a sole focus on function, it is tapping into the aesthetic and emotion of traditional tool watches. Function is there, of course — in addition to the standard suite of metrics and GPS mapping, the Marq watches have some impressive specialist capabilities. For instance, the Driver is preloaded with 250 of the most famous racetracks in the world, while the Aviator sports an aeronautical database and an emergency navigation feature. But the enjoyment of the Marq is not limited to those who fly planes or go sailing.
“It isn’t about selling this product to people that own boats. It’s about selling this product to people who are inspired by that lifestyle," says Garmin CEO Cliff Pemble. “The most popular themes of every kind of luxury watch is aviation, sailing, exploration. And these are exactly the things that Garmin has been good at for 30 years."
In a sense, the smartwatch is carrying on the tool watch’s legacy. After all, a traditional chronograph or pilot’s watch was meant to be a precision instrument that addressed a particular need and delivered the best in available technology of the time—just like a Garmin wearable would do today.
Ultimately, a smartwatch is becoming a more popular and intrinsic part of modern living. We may as well have one that also puts a premium on looks, feel and personality.