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TAG Heuer lines up challenge to Apple Watch

Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer has announced a partnership with US technology giants Google and Intel to develop a smartwatch. The luxury watchmaker says its timepiece is meant to compete against the new Apple Watch.

TAG Heuer Chief Executive Jean-Claude Biver told the Baselword watch fair on Thursday that his company had teamed up with Google and Intel to build a timepiece that would combine "Swiss watchmaking know-how with high-end technology." The smartwatch was expected to hit stores by the end of the year, he said.

"Silicon Valley and Switzerland are going to conquer the market of the connected watch," he told a news conference at the world's largest trade show for timepieces, in the northern Swiss city of Basel.

Biver, who also leads the watch division of TAG Heuer's owners luxury group LVMH, did not reveal how much the watch would cost or which functions it would feature. "We don't want the competition to know what we are going to do," he said, "we want them to be surprised."

'Technology revolution' to take on Apple

The three companies said in a joint statement that their partnership signified a "new era of collaboration" that would bring together "each company's respective expertise in luxury watchmaking, software and hardware."

Guy Semon, TAG Heuer general manager, added that the alliance would mean the "launch of a technological revolution in our industry."

Google's head of engineering for Android Wear, David Singleton, was also "thrilled" about the project, telling the news conference that the three companies were ready to "imagine a better, beautiful, smarter watch."

Though the companies didn't explicitly mention Apple Watch, the project is clearly aimed at posing a challenge to the US tech giant's newest category gadget unveiled on March 9.

Up-market customers in focus

While TAG Heuer's smartwatch is still on the drawing board, Apple Watch will be available in nine countries from April 24, at a starting price of $349 (328 euros), although there is a limited edition gold watch for $10,000.

According to market research group Strategy Analytics, the global smartwatch market is expected to grow from 4.6 million units in 2014 to 28.1 million units this year.

Apparently, the Swiss-led alliance is aiming for wealthier customers willing to distinguish themselves from Apple Watch buyers.

"The collaboration with TAG Heuer and Google brings us closer to realizing the vision of wearable technology with a distinctive smartwatch that elevates the category," Intel representative Michael Bell told the news conference.

And TAG Heuer CEO Biver added that the difference between a smartwatch from his company and one from Apple was "very important" because: "That one is called Apple and this one is called TAG Heuer."

TAG Heuer watches are available from around $1,500, with prices for the more exclusive models exceeding $10,000.

uhe/pad (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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