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Keeping in touch with the times

Tapping lightly on the screen of the T-Touch enables you to choose one of six electronic functions.
Tapping lightly on the screen of the T-Touch enables you to choose one of six electronic functions.
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It was bound to happen — others had somewhat similar designs, but now there’s a high-quality, touch-screen wristwatch being produced in Switzerland — and I can report that it’s very, very cool.

On a normal day I receive a dozen or so e-mails and phone calls asking me to take notice of some new breakthrough of some sort, asking me if and when I’m willing to test some new version of the world’s better/best mouse-trap or thereabouts. All requests are read, evaluated and processed, but most go unanswered.

But when I received a note from Tissot asking me if I’d like to know more about their new T-Touch watch, I jumped at the chance.

I am a watch fanatic, a watch freak. I love ‘em, I collect them, I wear them. If someone started a twelve-step program for this sort of thing I’d be a charter member. So, in a very dignified manner I said I’d love to discuss this new watch technology.

I keep track of watches I lust after, not the companies that make them. So I was very surprised to find out that Tissot was part of the Swatch Group, the world’s largest watch producer and distributor. I think everyone knows about Swatches — colorful, affordable, and chic — but not everyone is aware that Swatch also owns some other Swiss brands: Flik Flak, Endura, cK, Certina, Mido, Hamilton, Pierre Balmain, Tissot, Rado, Longines, Omega, Leon Hatot, Jaquet Droz, Glashutte-Original, Blancpain and Breguet. You may not recognize all the names but aside from the ones you’ve heard of, some of those brands are the among the most exclusive (and expensive) on the planet. Swatch is also a huge manufacturer of watch movements and components, electronic systems and more.

Best of all, Swatch’s U.S. offices are 5 minutes from MSNBC’s offices in Secaucus, New Jersey. So when I was asked if I’d like to see the T-Touch in person I drove directly there. I think I stopped for all the red lights, but I’m not sure.

What fun! I got to see lots of incredible watches and got to try on a few spectacular ones; but more about those in a minute.

As for the T-Touch, I wasn’t expecting such a solid device. Honestly, most of the high-tech watches I’ve played with in the past are housed in light-weight black plastic (they might also have a coat of silver paint). Not that there’s anything wrong with that — it keeps weight and thus cost down.

But, the T-Touch is solid — a stainless steel case and bracelet — and it’s smart too.

As for the features, with a touch of the screen the T-Touch can tell you the time (obviously), date, temperature, barometric pressure, altitude, direction (compass) and it also controls alarm and chronograph (stopwatch) functions. My favorite function is the compass. I’ve seen watches that rotate hands when you press a button, but the T-Touch rotates then combines hands into a straight arrow pointing device, then the arrow floats on what seems to be a cushion of air as it points north. You also see your exact bearings readout on the LCD screen. Really neat.

There are a lot of watches that can do some of these things, but none I’ve seen can do them with such finesse. Touching the screen is a light tap on the sapphire crystal, not a heavy push (or two) on a small button hidden somewhere on the side of other watches. The T-Touch is the kind of electronic device you’d expect from Swiss craftsmen without giving away the complexity inside. You have to try it for yourself to understand what I mean.

Personally, I don’t need a watch to tell me all these things, but I understand that there are readers out there who can put this watch to good use. These days, I’m just happy I can still see the hands on a watch so I can tell the proper time. The Tissot spin doctors say it best on their Web site — “the T-Touch can appeal equally well to adventurers of the great outdoors needing a precision instrument just at their fingertips, or an object of desire for hedonist city-dwellers wishing to remain ahead of their own time.”

My big problem with the T-Touch? They’re charging too little for it. I even told the Tissot folks so. Tissot has set the U.S. retail price at $595. I realize that is quite a sum for a timepiece, but a not for a technologically-advanced Swiss device. I told Tissot it could easily double the price because of what’s inside. But Venanzio Ciampa, who is the head of communications for the Swatch Group U.S., told me that $595 is a fair price for a Tissot. I can’t argue, but will counter with the fact that Swatch is now marketing a beautiful see-through watch, the Diaphane One made out of aluminum, plastic and diamond for $2,995 and it is only available from the Swatch Boutique in Place Vendome in Paris. If they can ask 3K for a Swatch, they can raise the price of the T-Touch.

Or maybe not. Maybe the T-Touch is a relative bargain. If you’re looking for a watch that can do all these things and look stylish when you wear it, and know it reeks of Swiss craftsmanship, then $595 is the right price. Check it out!

On my visit to Tissot I got to see a lot of the new spring collections from a number of their lines, including Swatch’s very cool looking James Bond/007 40th Anniversary collection piece. During my tour I was allowed into the Swatch Group lab, where they repair all those top-drawer watches I named above. They let me touch a few off them and even try on a Blancpain, a Glashutte and a Breguet. When you place one of these on your wrist you know you’re wearing something special. For a watch freak it was heaven. I hope I’m invited back.