By Arthur Touchot
on 4.8.14
Photo by A. Touchot / O. Bakke

When it comes to high-end mechanical watches, racers, pilots, and divers are all spoiled for choice. Unfortunately, skiers can’t say the same. One brand though, has been giving them a taste of what could be. Launched by two Danes in 2002, Linde Werdelin went straight after the skiing niche by introducing mechanical timepieces with digital clip-on devices meant for the snow. But today, the technology that made the brand stand out faces major questions.

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The two digital devices on offer, the Rock for skiers and the Reef for divers, give customers the best of both worlds: both digital watches assimilate technical details on the slopes or depths, clipping atop Linde Werdelin’s analog watches, which are protected underneath during adventures to be later showed off après-ski or at the tiki bar. The idea dates back to a life-threatening skiing accident that Jorn Werdelin, one of the brand’s co-founders, suffered in 1996: the skiing instrument was designed to provide data to skiers to avoid such incidents.

When it came out in 2006, Linde Werdelin’s hybrid concept was a welcomed addition to the watch industry, and demonstrated the potential of mechanical and digital combinations. Unfortunately, customers seem keener on the classic option, and the brand, built around in-house instruments, is now being carried almost exclusively by mechanical watches with sourced movements.

Tick List (SpidoLite Titanium Red)

SpidoLite-Titanium-Red

Movement
Calibre: LW04 (by Concepto)
Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)
Jewels: 25
Power reserve: 42 hours

Functions
Hours, minutes, small seconds, date

Case
Material: Titanium (constructed with 19 components)
Diameter: 44 millimeters
Crystal: Sapphire

Dial
Two-part skeletonised red and black upper dial with Côtes de Genève lower dial
Red and Luminova indexes
Skeletonized date wheel
Diamond-cut galvanic treated hands

Strap
Black textured calfskin with red stitching and ardillon buckle

The original Rock did everything you would expect wearable technology to do, and then some. It featured an alarm, a stopwatch, and a digital face, but also had a 3-axis compass, an inclination sensor with avalanche warnings, and a frostbite alert when temperatures fell below -12° C. Skiers could finally wear their high-end watch, while feeling safe and knowledgeable about their snow-capped adventures.

The latest version of the Rock ($1,400), released in 2009, comes with even more memory, more logging functions, a GPS device for greater accuracy, and a built-in restaurant recommendation guide written by the founders themselves, so you can go eat in their favorite spots. Ridiculous, but a lot of fun, just like fixing fiberglass blades to your feet. Too bad skiers can’t add their own recommendations for resorts that haven’t been included.

The Rock interface is very user friendly, and it’s easy to scroll through the functions while wearing skiing gloves thanks to large and cleverly separated buttons. But the battery life hasn’t been improved, so the device must be recharged every night. It’s also a very expensive piece of technology. Prices start around $1,400 with the gold line running several times that, meaning other combinations of high-end watch plus cheap smart watch become attractive alternatives.

Tick List (The Rock)

SpidoLite-the-rock

Functions
Temperature including frostbite warning alarm
3-axis compass / inclination sensor with avalanche warning
Altimeter
Barometer with weather trends
Chronograph
Logbook
Freeze level and temperature at various altitude
Power-save mode
Trend indicator (arrow) for all parameters

Case
Material: Solid anodized aluminum
Dimensions: 50 x 53 millimeters
Crystal: Hardened mineral glass
Full graphical LCD with EL backlight

In the end, the Rock’s greatest asset isn’t the information it offers, but the protection its tank-like shell gives the watch, which is great news when it comes to the SpidoLite Titanium Red ($11,900). Being able to ski with a watch of that caliber, without having to worry about falling down and scratching it, is a fantastic feeling.

The watch, introduced in 2012 as part of the second generation of the Spidolite collection, features the brand’s signature skeletonized case, but adds a much needed dash of color to a formerly monochromatic line-up. As you would expect from any Linde Werdelin watch, it’s bold in size, too. But despite measuring 44 millimeters wide and 15 millimeters thick, it wears comfortably on the wrist because the strap streamlines into the case. In fact, the 19-piece case, specially made to attach to the Rock, is made entirely of lightweight titanium and feels as unobtrusive as a snowflake on the wrist.

The only disappointment comes from the date complication that, while cleverly displayed through a cut-away view at three o’clock position, is still difficult to read. Another common criticism of the watch is that it houses the LW04 Cal 2252, a custom made automatic movement from Concepto, a Swiss movement maker. But even if it wasn’t developed in-house, like the instruments, it remains a beautiful piece that can be viewed through the sapphire crystal case back. But the brand hasn’t left it up to the case back to draw admiration and attention.

Since 2007, Linde Werdelin has been giving watch enthusiasts the chance to try watches privately by sending them a timepiece for a non-committal five-day period. Last year, professional skier Jon Olsson tried a gold version of the much-coveted SpidoSpeed and showed it off online. He bought a model from Linde Werdelin after his trial, but the professional skier didn’t purchase the Rock. In fact, Linde Werdelin sells around 80 percent of its watches without the instrument.

There’s definitely interest for the Rock, but the price tag is a real issue given the quality of alternative smart devices on the market. It might be time for the brand to repackage its concept if its wants retain the extreme sports image, or risk becoming just another mechanical watchmaker.

Arthur Touchot covers timepieces for the Financial Times and the International New York Times.