In 1999, Tissot debuted its first collection of touchscreen timepieces. Nearly a decade before haptic displays started facilitating everything around us (the iPhone launched in 2007), the Touch line of watches were a unique vision of what a “tool watch” could be. While they were not the first watchmakers to integrate tactile features, the T-Touch watches were and are specialized instruments, each tailored to a specific user — divers, navigators, mountaineers.
Sixteen years later, and the sui generis nature of touchscreen technology is gone. When you talk about “touchscreen watches”, most assume you’re talking about a “smartwatch“. And yet, even as this haptic landscape changes — including some from the Swiss old guard entering into that fray (like Breitling’s B55) — Tissot continues with its T-Touch line. This made me wonder: Is there still a place in our market for the Tissot T-Touch Expert Solar ($1,150), the world’s smartest “dumbwatch”?
That price point is Tissot’s biggest problem – at least at first glance. At approximately the same price as not one, but two 42mm Apple Watch Sports, and people with a penchant for the forefront of tech will think that there, they’ll have an infinitely more capable option. And, with thousands of apps at their disposal, they do. Most will toss the traditional timepiece aside. But the smartwatch and all it’s beautiful hordes of information misses the point. The Tissot T-Touch Expert Solar is a tool watch, made for a very specific buyer. It measures specialized data, crucially important to its intended user. It operates on power from the sun, not a USB. It doesn’t need a smartphone to maximize capabilities. Most information your smartwatch can tell you isn’t pertinent when negotiating Bryce Canyon or when you’re trying to locate your dive buddy. That is the Tissot’s domain.
Unpacking the T-Touch Expert Solar, I noticed first the lightness. With a titanium case sitting on a silicone band, this watch weighs in at only 89 grams. Since I am used to strapping stainless steel to my wrist, I usually associate this lack of heft with cheapness, but the Tissot is beyond such common impulses. There is an inherent toughness to the titanium that gives the watch an air of preparedness — it will go anywhere and likely outlive me. The fact that this precious metal trades for around $7/g also makes the pricing seem thrifty. The dial is comprised of photovoltaic cells that keeps the watch charged — a feature T-Touch owners have been clamouring for for years. The checkerboard layout looks exquisite at any angle and, despite the 45mm case size, the Expert wears much smaller than the size sounds.
There is an inherent toughness to titanium that gives it an air of preparedness — it will go anywhere and likely outlive me.
The silicone band is both comfortable and pliable, but its design leaves a little to be desired. To size the watch properly, the band must be cut. That may not be a deal breaker for most buyers, but it seems like a wasteful oversight to me. The band’s orange coloring — a Tissot staple — is bright and commanding, making this version more in tune with weekend warriors than boardroom brawlers (the braceleted version would do better there). The hands (only hour and minute hands appear) and indices are bold and easily perceived. The fact that they match the band coloring so perfectly speaks to Tissot’s attention to detail.
It should be noted that the Expert line of T-Touch watches (and their only solar powered version) were designed with mountaineering in mind. Regardless of my urban location, I started playing with the Expert’s added features right off the hop. With a tap of the main pusher, located where a crown would typically reside, the sapphire crystal awakens and wearers can choose what exactly they want to measure. Stabbing at the 12 o’clock position, Meteo reveals the barometric pressure in both relative and absolute displays. While this feature (and the onboard altimeter) would surely come in handy before attempting passage through K2’s bottleneck, it was largely forgotten traversing through Toronto’s gridlock. The compass and its azimuth display (located at 6 o’clock), on the other hand, was greatly appreciated when negotiating an interconnected underground pathway. The remaining options: multiple timers, alarms and chronograph with split timing were all easy and intuitive to use, combining taps with use of the secondary and tertiary pushers. I came to enjoy the minor interactions with my Expert’s face.
The Tissot T-Touch Expert Solar is made with near bulletproof premium materials, and it is the most clever version of old world wrist-wear ever to hide under my cuffs. The smartwatch will undoubtedly find its place on the wrists of the masses, but the smartest among them will continue to outfit themselves with the right tool for the job — and for me, that’s one that doesn’t come with a small fruit embossed on the back.