The Kairos Mechanical Smartwatch Blends Tradition And High Tech

As a watch fan I’ve seen them all: the Fossils, the Rolexes, the Omegas, and now the Kairosii. Created by a team of engineers, designers, and entrepreneurs, these watches feature a standard automatic mechanical watch (the kind you wind) behind a tinted crystal that can show notifications right on the surface.

How does it work? The mechanical portion is a standard Miyota Japan 82S7 movement, a manual-wind/automatic mechanism that you can find in many mid-range non-Swiss mechanicals. The crystal, however, uses a semi-transparent TOLED QVGA screen to display notifications and icons right on the crystal. Another simpler display system will show dot matrix letters along the bottom and light up bright icons that will help maintain battery life.

“The functions are very similar to Samsung’s smartwatches or Pebble’s,” said Sam Yang, one of the founders. “You can see notifications, remote control functions, fitness tracker, etc. The major difference is that it comes with the transparent display.”

Yang started his first company at 17 building remote starters for cars and then built a fashion brand management business in Korea. This is his latest venture and marries his love of hardware for his passion for fashion.

“As a watch enthusiast, I wanted to create a smartwatch that other watch enthusiasts would want to wear proudly,” he said. The other three founders include Ken Yoon who worked at Renault, Kyo Young Jin, late of Samsung and LG, and Gabriel Gonzales, a firmware programmer. Frederic Weber built the mechanical parts of the watch. Weber is a Patek Philippe trained watchmaker and marketer with roots in the Swiss watch industry.

Thankfully Yang and team decided to go mechanical with this watch, thereby shattering the single complaint I have about most analog smart watches: a ticking seconds hand isn’t very cool, and most watch fans prefer the smooth sweep of an automatic.

But why put a mechanical movement into a smartwatch? Because Yang can.

“So we actually started out by saying ‘Ok, we’ve got this fancy Swiss Watch. How can we make this into a smartwatch?’ That’s how it started,” he said.

He also sees watches a huge business.

“In terms of numbers, last year alone, it was reported that 1.9 million smart watches were sold. In contrast, 1.2 Billion units of regular watches were sold worldwide. 77% of them were mechanical movements, and 29 million of them were Swiss Made,” he said. By connecting the old and the new world, Yang and team hope to change the way people think about wearables.

The company raised a seed round with investors from the banking industry and are doing a Series A with companies based in Singapore and Hong Kong. They’ve pre-sold 500 watches and they start at $499 for preorders.

These sorts of projects often fizzle out, but given the experience of the management team and the simplicity of the design, I foresee this thing actually coming to fruition. While most watch manufacturing is actually watch marketing, there’s a lot of cool tech in here and I could definitely see a market for this sort of clever hybrid watch.