Mr. Lambert, this is your last watch as CEO of Montblanc. Why make it a smart watch instead of a mechanical one?

JL: It was not a choice in that way. Until November I had no clue that I was going to become Head of Operations for the Richemont Group and this launch was planned long before then. Montblanc is made up of 3,000 people, it is not an extension of the CEO’s personality. It is a maison with a strong personality and passion for innovation, which makes it receptive to new technology. This will continue long after I have left my current post as there will be no change in the team – indeed the new CEO Nicolas has been there for four years already. The team will bring the company to a new stage of development and renewal of top management will bring new initiative and ideas.

So, this sort of technology is a good fit for Montblanc?

JL: Absolutely. I love mechanical watches. I have been involved with fine watchmaking for a long, long time but due to my work I also carry a lot of gadgets with me. I have been testing Summit for the past six weeks and having access to all the functions that it offers made me see that it is a great second watch for lovers of haute horlogerie because there are times when you just need something else. I am very sporty and the heartbeat monitor in Summit is so simple – unlike the chest monitor I used to use, which was restricting and awkward.

The notifications function is also great. Before, if I was in a meeting and expecting an important email, I would be watching my phone all the time, which meant I wasn’t focused and could be interpreted as impolite. Now, through vibration and three words on the screen, I know what a message is about. Previously, when I was with my family, I would always have my phone in my hand, but the watch is so much less obtrusive.

Perhaps more than any smart watch before it, Summit looks like a traditional watch. Was this important to you?

JL: The main objective was to provide the latest technology in a beautiful way – to create something that is a pleasure to own. It is not a case of technology coming in to watches, but watches moving in to technology, retaining the quality and aesthetics that we see in fine watchmaking. We have approached Summit in the same way we approach the rest of our products. To us, luxury means treating clients as unique individuals rather than a homogeneous mass, and our mission is to conceive products that fit in to people’s lives.

You mention beauty and functionality. Is that why you decided Summit should be part of the 1858 Collection?

JL: We chose 1858 for a number of reasons. Firstly, the dial is large and open and we needed this for the touch screen. But importantly, 1858 has a vintage style combined with a modernity that unites a depth of history and contemporary elements. This is the same for Summit, although here it is a case of a very modern watch with traces of tradition. It is yin and yang: the further you jump into the future, the more you need to reconnect with your life.

JHK: In the beginning our tech partners at Google expected something state-of-the-art and couldn’t understand why we had chosen such a vintage style. But that is exactly what we wanted to do – to make Summit different from other smart watches.

How did you find the process of working with an external technology company?

JHK: We had the perfect link through our internal technical department – our “Q” as we call it. You need to have people within the company who know the subject and who can connect the elements, it cannot be done by gut feeling. The department was set up in 2013 when we first started working on our Samsung S Pen and Extreme Cover for Galaxy Note 4. Then we had the e-Strap in 2015 and the Augmented Paper in 2016. At the time we first met with Samsung, we had already discussed the requirements for a smart watch and looked at why they didn’t really work in the luxury arena. For us it was because they did not adhere to the codes of watchmaking, so it was clear what we had to do.

What else have you done to make Summit feel like a watch rather than wrist-worn technology?

JL: In the six weeks that I have been wearing Summit, it didn’t feel like I was wearing a smart watch – at least not until the notifications came through with their vibration. It is a big watch, but it is only 13.5mm thick and the lugs are long, so the fit is really great.

In terms of straps, we have traditional leather and then there is our NATO strap, which was 12 months in development. When we created the e-Strap, we played a lot with the NATO style and found that we were limited by the material. So, for Summit, we created something in rubber. It has all the style and characteristic of fabric but it has much greater resistance to wear and tear – it is light and flexible and extremely comfortable. From a distance of three metres or more, you wouldn’t know it is a smart watch thanks to the incredible quality of the straps and case.

Our mindset is to make you feel like you are wearing a watch not just a high-tech device. We refer to functions as complications and the sapphire glass is curved, which caused technical difficulties for the touchscreen function but was important for the huge difference it made in terms of reflection, which is the life of a watch.

JHK: Our key priority was to develop a product that incorporates fine watchmaking codes. The sapphire glass is curved at 0.8mm. You don’t automatically see the curve, but in fine watchmaking it is not so much about the conscious and here it is the reflection that matters – it creates a totally different depth to a normal smart watch dial. That is the difference.

It is so much more than another high-tech device on your wrist. It has a style that has surprised even the hardest-to-please watch connoisseurs. I have both the mechanical 1858 and the Summit and for the past four weeks I have been wearing both, alternating which wrist I wear them on. As time went on I came to rely more and more on Summit. I think there will always be an appreciation for mechanical watches, but for daily life I see great advantages in smart watches.

Why did you choose now to launch the watch?

JL: The date has been fixed for a long time. We wanted to do it before Baselworld but we would never have pitched our tent in Basel during the fair because for us it is not an ethical thing to do.

JHK: When it comes to new technology, you can’t wait for half a year. You need to be fast and with the new Android coming out at the end of February, we wanted to embrace it as soon as possible. We didn’t want to launch at SIHH as it was important to keep it separate from the mechanical watches and we wanted to focus on TimeWalker in January.

We definitely did not want to encroach on Basel week – there is a certain sense of fair play that we adhere to. But, we wanted to launch before Baselworld because we have total faith in the product. If we had any doubts we would have avoided the possibility of the world’s watch experts coming together and discussing.

And why in London?

JL: Digital activity is at a high in London and it has an uncanny ability to blend modernity and tradition at a high speed. It is one of the rare truly international cities. And in terms of time zone, it is ideally placed between west and east. There was no question that we would launch in Europe and it had to be London.

JHK: Summit was very much a global launch and we needed a global city. When our ambassador Hugh Jackman talks about Montblanc he says that we have one eye on the past, and one eye on the future and I think this is what London does, too. The city is very conscious of its heritage but it does not blindly stick to the rules; it embraces new technology and absorbs it with style and this is a combination that we think Summit is expressing with the codes of fine watchmaking absorbing features the make life easier.

When will Summit be available to buy?

JHK: The watch will be available from next month. We will launch it exclusively with Mr Porter for two weeks and then it will go into our boutiques. For this product, the e-commerce makes perfect sense. This launch is very much in the digital world and Mr Porter customers embrace this sphere. For 10 days before the launch we were showing the yellow triangle symbol that represents Summit on our social media. We even replaced our regular logo with it – which in traditional marketing is utter madness – but it created an incredible buzz. For Summit we are looking to people that are digitally connected and care about style and, of course, Mr Porter is one of the key sites for those interested in both.