WT_2006_06 PROFILE SUUNTO by wuxiangyu


									  Conceived as a
  computer for the
  wrist, sold as a
  wristwatch: the
  Vector is a cult

                                A VIEW
                                Suunto, originally a compass maker for athletes
                                in Finland, didn’t set out to become a watch
                                brand, but its versatile “wrist computers” have a
                                devoted following.                   BY LUCIEN F. TRUEB

  The Suunto factory
  in the 1940s

196   WatchTime December 2006
                   Finnish Line
     f you have friends who have never heard of     and durable yet lightweight. Vohlonen spent
     Suunto, and stare blankly when you ex-         his free time constructing his prototype fluid
     plain to them that it is a Finnish watchmak-   compass from a Vaseline container and the
ing company, try not to get too upset with          transparent plastic cover of his wife’s face-
them. After all, even though Suunto has been        powder tin. Testing it, he found that the com-
around since 1936, it doesn’t really make con-      pass needle’s trembling could indeed be sub-
ventional wristwatches. Its wide spectrum of        stantially reduced by suspending it in a mixture
wrist-worn sport instruments, though                of water, alcohol and antifreeze.
equipped with quartz crystals and digital dis-          Vohlonen’s fluid compass was not the first;
plays, have a lot more going on than just show-     others had existed in the past, but were diffi-
ing the exact time. They look like wristwatches,    cult to manufacture and had never become
but the more accurate term for them is “wrist-      very popular. While he couldn’t patent the in-
top computers.”                                     vention itself, he did secure a patent on the
    Rather than catering to the mass market,        method he had devised to build it, which in-
Suunto prefers to concentrate its efforts on a      volved filling the capsule with liquid and seal-
niche market of professional athletes and           ing its opening under vacuum conditions. He
sportsmen. The company’s target audience in-        used the procedure again when he began seri-
cludes yachtsmen, track-and-field runners, bi-      al manufacture of his model M-311, a compass
cyclists, mountaineers, skiers, golfers, and        that could be worn affixed to the wrist by a
divers (for whom a Suunto instrument on the         leather strap, like a wristwatch. Vohlonen’s first
wrist is a matter of course, and sometimes a        “factory” was the living room in his own
lifesaver). A rule of thumb among “extreme”         home. His first customers were his friends,
mountain climbers states that the percentage        most of whom were fellow surveyors and ori-
of Suunto wearers increases exponentially with      enteers. The firm of Suunto was born in 1936.
each additional meter above sea level.              The brand’s name comes from the Finnish
    The Suunto story begins in the 1930s with a     word “suunta,” which means “direction.”
Finnish surveyor and orienteering enthusiast            Word soon spread that there was now an
named Tuomas Vohlonen, born in 1878.                ingeniously simple compass that would work
Vohlonen became annoyed at the common               reliably, even under the toughest conditions.
dry-capsule compasses of his day, whose mag-
netized needles constantly jiggled back and
forth. It should be possible, he reasoned, to             Golfers have recently begun reaping the
build a liquid-filled compass with a magnetized           benefits of Suunto’s high-tech G6 model
                                                                   (right, top). The M3 (right) is an
needle that would gradually stop in a north-
                                                           instrument for yachtsmen. Large digits
south direction without shuddering. At the                   count down the time remaining until
same time, the device must be user-friendly                                          the race starts.

                                                                                                         December 2006 WatchTime   197

  A high-tech training instrument        Compass, barometer and chrono-          An ideal instrument for divers: the    Altimeter, barometer, local time and
  with laptop connection                 graph: Suunto’s Mariner                 Suunto’s Model D6                      time in a second zone: the Altimax

  The Finnish army ordered these compasses in         0.5 degrees, whereas their electronic counter-         unto’s first diver’s compass was the world-
  increasingly large numbers, but Vohlonen did-       parts are typically accurate to within only five de-   renowned underwater explorer and filmmaker
  n’t live long enough to witness the M-311’s         grees, or to within two degrees at best. The           Jacques Cousteau. In the 1980s, Suunto devel-
  true baptism of fire. He died in 1939, just a few   much-touted GPS (Global Positioning System)            oped its first mechanical measuring instru-
  months before the Soviet Union attacked Fin-        functions only marginally well (or not at all) in      ments for divers, following them up with elec-
  land to start the Winter War. His widow took        jungles and caves, whereas magnetic needles            tronic versions soon afterwards. These devices
  over the business, which delivered tens of          have no problems in such environments.                 measured the pressure in a diver’s air tanks, the
  thousands of compasses to the military during           Suunto was sold in 1952 to a ski-wax man-          depth of the water, and the direction of the
  the war, thus making a vital contribution to Fin-   ufacturer who was looking for products to sell         dive numbered, among various other values.
  land’s successful struggle to defend itself         in the summer months. The number of motor-                 Suunto’s 1987 launch of the SME Stinger
  against a numerically stronger opponent.            boats and sailboats was increasing rapidly at          diving computer was a genuine breakthrough.
      Finnish soldiers defending the flat plains,     this time, so Suunto began making ship’s com-          In addition to displaying the water’s depth and
  dense forests and 190,000 lakes of their            passes. The company’s development of the K-            the direction in which the diver is swimming,
  homeland had a decisive advantage against           161 tactical compass enabled professional              this instrument’s built-in microprocessor can
  their enemy. Thanks to their Suunto compass-        yachtsmen to take advantage of even the                also calculate and display the sequence of the
  es, the Finns always knew which direction they      slightest changes in the wind’s direction. The         decompression interval that must follow a deep
  were marching and in which direction to shoot       late 1950s brought hand-bearing compasses,             dive. The decompression-time calculator could
  their cannons. Demand inevitably dipped after       clinometers, and a hypsometer (a device to             even be individually adjusted to correspond to
  the war, and Suunto had to resize itself from       measure the heights of trees) to Suunto’s              each diver’s personal physiological characteris-
  20 down to 10 employees, but orienteering           growing product portfolio.                             tics. These innovations did away with the need
  runners, hikers and mountain climbers from                                                                 for cumbersome tables, and contributed to a
  around the world continued to rely on Suun-         Diving Into Watchmaking                                rise in the popularity of diving as a sport. Suun-
  to’s M-311 fluid compass.                                                                                  to, which naturally benefited from the sport’s
      Suunto’s latest fluid compass bears the mod-    After a professional diver from England had re-        higher profile, currently exports its divers’ prod-
  el name M-801. Even though electronic com-          ported on his successful underwater use of a           ucts to over 100 countries around the world.
  passes with digital displays have long since ap-    Suunto compass that had been built for orien-              The SME diving computer was also the
  peared on the scene, they’re still far less accu-   teering runners on dry land, the firm found a          product that established Suunto in the wrist-
  rate than the good old magnetic needle. Thanks      new niche that would prove to be one of its            watch arena. As the company’s first instrument
  to individual and manual calibration, these mag-    most important: namely, instruments designed           with a built-in quartz watch, the success of the
  netic compasses are accurate to within 0.15 to      specifically for divers. Among the users of Su-        “wristtop computer for divers” prompted Su-

  The Suunto story begins with the invention of the fluid compass. Diving computers came later,
  and eventually the “wrist computer.”

198   WatchTime December 2006

  unto’s engineers to develop a similar instru-            fordable for people from all walks of life. Suun-       Measuring an athlete’s heart activity is im-
  ment for land athletes. The Vector, released in          to has been regarded as a watch manufacturer        portant no matter what his sport. But truly reli-
  1998, displays the altitude above sea level (in          since this product’s debut.                         able and accurate measurements of cardiac per-
  either meters or feet), barometric pressure and                                                              formance are only possible if the measuring is
  changes, direction, and time of day or night on          Vector Victorious                                   done directly above the heart itself. Acquiring
  a large, digital LCD screen. The device is                                                                   reliable data (corresponding to a conventional
  housed in a futuristic-looking, bicolor plastic          Olympic athletes and other sports figures           electrocardiogram, or EKG) requires the person
  case attached to a rubber wristband.                     called many of the shots in the further devel-      to wear an elastic belt on his or her upper body.
      It was logical for Suunto to add timekeeping         opment of the wristtop computer. Based on           The belt is equipped with a sensor system and a
  to the Vector’s array of useful functions. The           feedback from these extremely demanding             small transmitter that conveys the information
  company had already mastered the technology              users, the Vector became an entire series of        about cardiac activity to the instrument on the
  for its pressure sensors, electronic compass, and        devices, addressing the specific needs of a         person’s wrist. The microprocessor extracts from
  microprocessor, and it was easy to obtain the            broad spectrum of athletic disciplines. More        the EKG seven important factors relating to the
  components needed to make a quartz digital               emphasis was placed on the exact monitoring         cardio-circulatory system, and uses them to
  watch (quartz resonator, dividing circuit, and de-       of physical performance. The Vector and the         monitor the athlete’s health during a workout.
  coder to guide the display bars). But Suunto had         newer augmented models (the X-Lander and                The data is digitally encoded, so there’s no
  no idea at the time that the decision would es-          the Observer) with their aluminum, steel or ti-     danger that one climber’s Suunto X3HR or Ad-
  tablish it as a specialty watch brand in the eyes        tanium cases offer mountain climbers a simple       vizor might receive information about the ac-
  of many timepiece connoisseurs. The Vector               method to monitor their rate of ascent or de-       tivity of a companion’s heart. The Advizor com-
  looked like a wristwatch; it had an appealing,           scent (in vertical meters or feet per minute).      bines the cardiac-activity monitor with an al-
  extra-large dial, and a water-resistant case with        Furthermore, these measured values can be ac-       timeter. If the user sets upper and lower limits
  four user-friendly push-pieces. The Finnish wrist-       cumulated stretch by stretch in a logbook func-     for pulse beats per minute, the device will visi-
  top computer became a cult favorite and a                tion, stored in the device’s built-in memory,       bly and audibly signal whenever the user’s
  lifestyle statement; at a cost of just $219, it is af-   and accessed and displayed whenever desired.        heart rate strays above or below the prede-

  Juha Pinomaa, 45, became Suunto’s CEO last                 The electronics, the software and the de-
  fall. Pinomaa specialized in industrial man-             signs for Suunto’s instruments are devel-
  agement while studying business adminis-                 oped at the firm’s headquarters in Vantaa,
  tration in Helsinki. He worked 17 years for              near Helsinki’s airport. The components and
  Nokia, the Finnish mobile-telephone com-                 parts are produced at the concern’s own
  pany, where he rose through the ranks from               firms in Malta, Switzerland and the USA, or
  product management through sales to                      purchased from third-party suppliers; 95%
  brand development in Southeast Asia. He                  of the assembly and quality-control tasks
  then spent four years at Nokia’s U.S. head-              are done in Vantaa.
  quarters in Dallas. During this time he made               Suunto instruments are primarily sold in
  50 flights to Philadelphia to attend classes             sporting goods stores. Only a few watch re-
  at the renowned Wharton School of Busi-                  tailers carry them. Suunto’s marketing
  ness for his MBA degree.                                 focuses on special-interest magazines for
    After returning to Finland and accepting               divers, yachtsmen, mountain climbers and
  another promotion at Nokia, Pinomaa                      track-and-field athletes, and the company
  couldn’t resist the opportunity to take over             relies greatly on word-of-mouth advertising
  the leadership at Suunto. His job descrip-               and the internet (www.suunto.com).
  tion is similar to what it was at Nokia: to                Suunto employs more than 500 people
  use the most modern technologies to de-                  worldwide, including 300 in Finland, and
  velop new products in accord with cus-                   generates annual sales in excess of 70
  tomers’ needs. To this end, he harnesses                 million euros ($88 million). The business is
  Suunto’s expertise in the software sector,               currently a subsidiary of Amer Sports, the
  which enables it to develop numerous                     Finnish sporting-device group, which also
  functions and fit them into a container the              owns the Atomic, Salomon, Mavic, Wilson
  size of a wristwatch’s case.                             and Precor brands.                                  Juha Pinomaa

200   WatchTime December 2006

  Surveyor and orienteering enthusiast: Suunto’s founder Tuomas                    The firm’s history began with compasses. This photo shows how com-
  Vohlonen (1878-1939)                                                             passes were calibrated in the 1950s.

  fined values. A logbook function, an electronic       GPS receiver (the most compact one currently         rection, expresses the skier’s speed in kilometers
  compass, an altimeter, and a time display aug-        available) with the classic array of Suunto in-      or miles per hour, and calculates the overall dis-
  ment the Advizor’s equipment.                         struments: electronic compass, barometer, al-        tance skied as well as the total number of verti-
      The X3HR model has all of the classical Su-       timeter and thermometer. In combination with         cal meters traveled. It includes a clinometer to
  unto functions (altimeter, compass, barometer,        a topographical map, its user can set up to 500      measure the steepness of a slope and a built-in
  and thermometer), but its most important              checkpoints along a given stretch. The GPS will      watch with an adjustable alarm function. The
  component is the microprocessor. It calculates        then lead the user from point to point until he      device stores all measured data, which can be
  and graphically displays heart activity in real       or she reaches the programmed destination,           uploaded to a PC. The S6 served as the basis for
  time, making it easy to compare the results           and then guide the user back to his or her start-    the Altimax models, which indicate both home
  with the desired goals during each workout.           ing point. It displays the user’s speed, distance    time and local time when their owners travel
  The device can store the results measured dur-        between the present location and destination,        from one time zone to another.
  ing 10 different training sessions. The watch’s       estimated arrival time, and distance traveled.           Suunto’s M9 sprang from its wealth of ex-
  electronics also support a stopwatch function         The built-in quartz watch (with chronograph          perience in the field of instruments for sailors.
  and a countdown option.                               and alarm functions) periodically synchronizes       Armed with GPS, this model is very useful for
      The Suunto X6 family of instruments (avail-       itself with the cesium atomic clocks aboard or-      navigation in yacht racing. To assure a perfect
  able with plastic, steel or titanium cases) was       biting GPS satellites. The GPS receiver uses a lot   start, the M9 uses the wind direction and the
  created specifically to measure the performance       of energy, so the built-in lithium battery can be    speed to calculate the current distance from
  of joggers, bikers and alpine hikers. Not only do     recharged after every five hours of operation        the starting line. Yachtsmen can determine the
  these devices measure momentary and average           by an ordinary nine-volt battery (assuming that      shortest course to the next buoy by reading the
  cardiac activity; they also depict this information   no electrical outlet is available to plug in the     slight changes in the wind’s direction. Another
  in graphic form on a liquid-crystal display. A set-   recharging device).                                  feature is the three-dimensional compass,
  table timer even reminds the wearer to drink to                                                            which always shows the correct course, re-
  avoid dehydration. All of the data stored inside      From Mountains to Seas                               gardless of the sensor’s momentary angle. The
  the X6 can be uploaded to a PC, where special-                                                             GPS makes it possible to preset 500 check-
  ized Suunto software can analyze it.                  Suunto developed the S6 Snow Sports model            points and 50 routes. The watch and the chro-
      Suunto’s model X9 is a high-performance           specifically for downhill skiers and snowboard-      nograph function automatically synchronize
  navigational instrument. The X9 combines a            ers. This model indicates the altitude and the di-   themselves with ultra-accurate cesium atomic

  Time display was only a minor feature on the wrist-borne Vector computer, but this product
  unexpectedly evolved into a cult watch.

202   WatchTime December 2006
At work producing Vector instruments

clocks. The simpler models (Yachtsman, Regat-        D6, a new model with a stainless steel case,
ta and Mariner) are not equipped with GPS,           calculates decompression times for two mix-
but they include a variety of useful functions       tures of breathing gas, both for deep and shal-
thanks to their built-in compass, barometer          low dives.
and chronograph.                                        Suunto recently became involved in golf, as
    Suunto uses ultramodern sensor and micro-        well. The G9 model is equipped with move-
processor technology to help meet the needs          ment sensors that can count a duffer’s strokes
of divers, whose loyalty to the brand is leg-        and measures their length and power. It can
endary: they remain the brand’s most devoted         store this data alongside a description of the
customers. The Suunto Stinger is an electronic       club chosen for the stroke so a golfer can ana-
compass uniquely suited for underwater use.          lyze his game after it’s over. The built-in GPS in-
It has a titanium case and offers a variety of op-   dicates the position of the next tee, and shows
tions on its sky-blue LCD screen, which can be       the distance to the next obstacles and to the
set by push-pieces. The decompression time al-       flag at the next hole, making it easy to navigate
ways remains in the center of the display. This      the course. Like every Suunto instrument,
central positioning is also used on the ad-          model G9 also contains an electronic compass,
vanced Vycor model, crafted from titanium            a barometer, and — assuring the brand’s con-
and plastic. Its truly gargantuan liquid-crystal     tinued place in the hearts of watch lovers — a
display continually shows six parameters. The        quartz watch.                                    ■

                                                                       December 2006 WatchTime     203

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