Recognition of this also played a strong part in the decision of Ulysse Nardin to release the limited edition Chairman phone this year.
Made of 1,846 individual pieces, the smartphone can be customized to lavish bespoke specifications – a full pavé diamond and 18-carat white gold model retails for about $170,000.
Unsurprisingly, a significant proportion of sales so far have been in China, Russia and the Middle East.
“We have found that taste in luxury products tends to be more overt within the emerging markets,” says Bobby Yampolsky, co-founder of Scientific Cellular Innovations, which developed the Chairman under a licensing deal with Ulysse Nardin.
“While technology is a vital element to their choice of phone, our customers are driven by wanting to make a strong visual statement that sets them apart from the crowd.”
However, heritage is equally important to this new breed of client, hence the presence of numerous Ulysse Nardin hallmarks on the Chairman, including the brand’s emblem, an anchor and the iconic rotor that winds the watch automatically, harnessing the movement of the wearer.
Patrik Hoffman, Ulysse Nardin’s chief executive, says: “If this is the future, then we need to pave a way into collaborations such as this, while retaining ultra-exclusivity and preventing brand dilution.”
Both brands agree the “über-luxe” handset market was an opportunity missed by the phone sector and the history and tradition bought to the table by the watch industry could potentially change the stakes.
TAG Heuer’s Mr Babin says: “The most interesting thing about this sector is the vast price vacuum that exists between its two ends – 400 percent – and its dominance in emerging markets.
“Despite recent conservatism thanks to the downturn, the US and Europe still account for 60 percent of all luxury goods sales. It is crucial that we make this new product more relevant to consumers by targeting the right price point.”
He adds: “I believe the Racer will broaden the market and put this new luxury product more in line with luxury spending.”
The TAG Racer will cost about €2,800 ($3,520), aiming to eclipse the old world of the premium mass market and carve out a new niche: accessible luxury.
Whether it, or the eye-wateringly expensive Chairman is able to challenge the dominance of Apple and other smartphone makers in relentless and dizzying technological innovation, is an interesting question for luxury that remains to be answered.