Watchmakers enter the information age with new high-tech options

With consumers becoming more accustomed to carrying around personal gadgets like cell phones or BlackBerries that store phone numbers and addresses, these days it’s not enough for a watch just to tell time. It also has to have the ability to sound an alarm, reveal the hour in at least five time zones, share the latest boutique sales and, if it’s not too much to ask, even cook dinner.

Well, the latter might be out of the question for now, but otherwise watch vendors are listening to today’s multitasking consumers and providing them with styles that were once only available to super sleuths like Dick Tracy.

The cell phone is in your purse or in your backpack, but a watch is always on, always available and always on the periphery of your attention. Therefore, I think what will be common is that you’ll seeĀ watches offering more than time,” said Bill Geiser, vice president of watch technology at Fossil. “The challenge is in simplicity. Watches have small displays, and lots of buttons just aren’t conducive.”

Fossil recently created a $249 Wrist PDA watch that stores up to eight megabytes of information such as addresses and phone numbers. This information can then be transmitted back and forth to the wearer’s Palm Pilot or any other Palm Pilot-powered device.

Swatch is also understanding the value between the marriage of technology and style. In October, the brand held a star-studded press conference, including the unlikely trio of Mischa Barton, Denis Leary and Bill Gates, to unveil its Paparazzi watch. The $150 digital watch was created in collaboration with MSN Direct, a division of Gates’ Microsoft Corp. MSN Direct transmits information like weather, news, sports scores, movie times and horoscopes to the watch. Courtesy of Time Out magazine, the watch also shows information on clubs and shopping and can even tell the wearer, for example, when a local boutique has a sale.

G-Shock’s G7500, in addition to the more common features like being waterproof and working as a stopwatch, can display the time in 38 cities and hold 30 contact numbers. Its colorful and geometric face looks a little like a robot as well, which, while not technological in itself, certainly helps to suggest such. The G7500 retails for $120.

Freestyle, a license within the Geneva Watch Company, is a sports brand that caters to surfers. It’s Shark Tide style for $100 displays current and future tide heights and directions for 128 beaches worldwide.

Zucca, a French brand, also took cues from sports in its $266 Competition style. The dial, cased in an anodized aluminum frame, glows in the dark so that it’s visible regardless of environmental conditions.

Fossil’s Geiser said in the future consumers may see even more advanced bells and whistles in theirĀ watches. “I think we’ll see watches start to solve customers’ specific problems,” he explained.