At first glance, high-end watchmaking and video games seem to belong to vastly different worlds. The former is a handcrafted tradition centered on making mechanical timepieces using laborious techniques that are often centuries old.
The latter is, well, its polar opposite: A subculture born in the 1980s, gaming is a fast-paced digital pastime that has grown in popularity with the internet, and went super mainstream in 2020, when pandemic-induced lockdowns led millions of people around the world to discover the social connections enabled by gaming online.
Now, these seemingly contradictory worlds are coming together. On Tuesday, Tag Heuer introduced a limited edition of its Connected watch produced in partnership with Nintendo, whose beloved Super Mario character, a staple of video gaming culture since the company released Super Mario Bros. in 1985, appears on the dial, encouraging and rewarding users every time they achieve their activity goals.
Frédéric Arnault, Tag Heuer’s CEO, said the decision to incorporate a gaming element into the brand’s Connected watch was top of mind when he led a brainstorming session with his team at the Baselworld fair in 2019.
“It’s a digital product—there are so many things we can do with the screen,” Arnault told Robb Report on a recent video call. “And it’s a product that lives with the user. It could afford some gamification.”
After surveying the video game world, Nintendo’s Super Mario franchise seemed like the perfect fit.
“We felt the Mario character was super iconic and had a lot of ties to the brand,” Arnault said. “He’s a super active character, always reaching for a goal.”
Limited to 2,000 pieces—and available starting today for $2,100 at select Tag Heuer boutiques and at tagheuer.com—the first model in the brand’s long-term collaboration with Nintendo transforms Mario, in his trademark red cap and blue overalls, into something of a wellness champion. As users increase their step counts, Mario appears on the dial to mark and reward their progress (along with animations that become livelier as the activity level increases).
“Whenever a user reaches a daily goal, he unlocks some animations,” Arnault said. “It’s a way to gamify the step counting.”
The gamification system works like this: In the morning, Mario salutes you. As the day, and your step count, progress, you unlock rewards at each stage of your daily target (25 percent, 50 percent, 75 percent and 100 percent). With each reward, a different animation plays out on the dial.
“These take the form of Super Mario’s famous objects,” according to a brand statement. “At 3 o’clock the Super Mushroom that makes Mario grow, at 6 o’clock the Pipe that allows him to travel fast and at 9 o’clock the Super Star that makes him invincible lights up! And when you reach 100 percent of your daily step count target, Mario climbs the Goal Pole, another iconic feature of the video game.”
Tag Heuer has created four special dials of its Connected watch faces featuring Mario, including a timekeeping dial using retro elements from the original 1985 version of Super Mario Bros.; two versions of the Heuer 02 watch face, one decked out in Super Mario’s signature red and blue colors, and a subtler style bearing a sly reference to Mario’s red cap; and the orbital face, whose neural network has been replaced by a rotating array of Super Mario’s iconic elements (the mushroom, the pipe, the star).
But the dial isn’t the only place where Super Mario fans will find allusions to the character. His lacquered red color decorates the watch’s bezel, push buttons and crown logo; his iconic symbols appear on the bezel at the three, six and nine positions; and the steel case comes on a choice of two interchangeable straps, an elegant style featuring black leather on red rubber and a sporty version in matching red perforated rubber (Mario’s M symbol is engraved on the strap buckles and crown).
Arnault, who admits to being a big Super Mario fan (“I geeked out when I was younger on many of the Mario franchises,” he said), believes the audience for the limited edition spans a wide swath of watch lovers.
“Mario was born in 1985, the same year that Heuer became Tag Heuer,” he said. “For the nostalgic community that used to play video games in the late ’80s and early ’90s, we have a vintage watch face inspired by the two-dimensional Mario world. But Mario is still relevant today, and that speaks to a young audience.”
Indeed, the market for Super Mario memorabilia reached a pinnacle on Sunday, when a pristine sealed copy of Super Mario 64 sold for $1.56 million at Heritage’s Video Games sale, making it the most expensive video game ever sold at auction.
But it remains to be seen whether the growing interest among younger gamers in metaverses, or digital environments that offer virtual experiences and assets analogous to those in the real world (think Fortnite and Roblox) will tempt Tag Heuer to create digital-only watches.
“The world of gaming is increasingly important. We are already present through e-racing and through digital products, and we could build purely digital products,” Arnault said.
“These are untapped territories. Tag Heuer as a brand is legitimate and relevant to enter this space to be avant-garde. But nothing has been decided on that topic for now.”