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How one company made CES the best place for Wear OS watches

Diesel On Axial

Diesel On Axial Simon Hill / Digital Trends

The annual CES show in Las Vegas is often filled with new wearables, but ever since I started to attend, one company, in particular, always delivered the goods: Fossil. There was a genuine passion for the product, the way Fossil leveraged the styles of its varied partner brands and a deep understanding of the watches that made it so valuable to CES and the world of Wear OS.

You’ll notice I’m talking in the past tense, and that’s because the brand has not been as prolific as it once was, which is a real shame. Here’s why it’s sorely missed — and why it’ll always be a CES highlight for me.

Brand power

A person wearing the Fossil Gen 5e smartwatch.
Fossil Gen 5e Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Fossil is likely best known for its own-branded “Gen” smartwatches, with CES 2023 being host to the Fossil Gen 6 Wellness Edition smartwatch. But these models were never the ones that got me most excited, nor the ones I looked forward to seeing the most. What you may not know is that Fossil has many varied brand partnerships where it designs and produces watches (smart and otherwise) for big names like Skagen, Diesel, Armani, Micheal Kors, and Kate Spade.

CES has often been the launchpad for its designer brand smartwatches, and they were always special. In 2018, Fossil debuted the Kate Spade Scallop smartwatch at CES, and I still recall the wonderful phrase used by Fossil’s chief marketing officer when I interviewed her at the time. She said tech brands’ usual approach to women’s products was to “shrink it and pink it,” but this was not Kate Spade’s or Fossil’s approach at all.

The result was a smartwatch that followed Kate Spade’s design aesthetic, including clever and fun animated watch faces, which it then continued on for the sequel too. Fossil also worked with Tory Burch in the same way. Its Diesel smartwatches took inspiration from the designer’s highly recognizable ranges of traditional watches, integrating design trends such as knurled metal and transparent straps and cases for the look.

It followed Skagen’s minimalist style and brought its signature straps to smartwatches, just as it does with its other brands, and goes beyond all this by signing artists to make special editions and even coming to CES with a smartwatch made with a gaming brand. CES with Fossil has never been dull.

A watchmaker first

Fossil Retrospective
Fossil Group headquarters in Switzerland Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Fossil deals with its branded smartwatches in the same way it does its traditional watches, meaning they are watches and not simply pieces of technology made for your wrist. It understands the brands themselves and the reasons why people choose watches made by Diesel and Kate Spade over ones made by Swiss or Japanese watchmakers.

It wasn’t until I visited the Fossil Group’s European headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, that I understood not just the breadth of its portfolio but also its extensive history and understanding of watchmaking. From celebrating its first-ever smartwatch made in 2004 to showing how it brought the Zodiac brand back, it all helped show why Fossil’s smartwatches at the time stood out amongst the rest.

Fossil Retrospective
Fossil’s first smartwatch Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Fossil caters to all budgets, another reason it does smartwatches well and is a crucial part of the industry. Watchmakers like Montblanc and Tag Heuer bring their expertise to smartwatches too, but are in a far higher price bracket than the average Fossil watch.

Fossil ensures you can buy a smartwatch from a company that understands watches and watch design if you don’t have $1,500 or more to spend, which is incredibly important. It was also one of the hybrid smartwatch pioneers, and has been instrumental in pushing the technology forward too.

Where has Fossil gone?

Fossil Q Venture review arm
Fossil Q Venture Brenda Stolyar / Digital Trends

CES became the place where I would see what Fossil was doing next. Its new smartwatch collections usually included examples of trends I’d been seeing in traditional watches, from updated watch face colors to materials used for the latest straps. It was always fascinating to hear more about how they had been incorporated and also the trends it was setting. It was a pleasure to see a watch brand embracing wearable tech.

Much as I love the Apple Watch and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic — and appreciate the fact they come in different case sizes, colors, and styles — it’s not the same as being able to go out and buy a Kate Spade or Armani smartwatch to match your favorite jeans or accessory. Fossil provides this versatility, and its presence at CES showed everyone that smartwatches don’t have to be a unisex, one-style-fits-all thing. For me personally, the crazy, unique Diesel On Fadelite X Mad Dog Jones special edition will always be a CES highlight.

Sadly, these halcyon days seem to have passed, and Fossil has steadily lessened its smartwatch releases over the past years. The reasons are likely numerous, from the overwhelming popularity of the Apple Watch, to designer brands putting less emphasis on technology and wearables now the early excitement has passed — making investment in the space less attractive. It may also be the tech industry’s fault, after Samsung bagged an unofficial exclusive for Wear OS 3, and Qualcomm’s lack of urgency in getting the latest, faster processors out into the world.

Whether Fossil has a new smartwatch to show at CES 2024 remains to be seen, but the chances of it coming with multiple watches from several different brands seem slim. Wearables and the trade show itself will be much poorer without Fossil showing the world how, in the right hands, watchmakers, designers, and technology can all work so well together.

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