Fossil's first Android Wear smartwatch, the Q Founder.
Courtesy Jason Cipriani for Fortune.
By Jason Cipriani
November 24, 2015

When I unboxed the Q Founder, Fossil’s first Android Wear smartwatch, I saw an unsuspecting smartwatch that looked not all that dissimilar to Motorola’s Moto 360. It’s metal, has a button to the right-side of the screen, and features the same black bar along the bottom of the otherwise circular display that Motorola fans have long complained about.

“Great,” I thought. “Yet another Android Wear watch that looks just like the rest.”

It wasn’t until after I charged the smartwatch, connected it to my iPhone, and began wearing it that I realized just how impactful Fossil’s watch design experience was to the Q Founder’s overall appeal.

The Q Founder has a more refined finish than its Android Wear predecessors, though I can’t quite put my finger on a singular detail or feature that makes it stand out from the pack. From the leather band’s stitching, to the overall design of the watch’s housing, you’re left with a different impression than that of the Moto 360 or Huawei’s Watch. The only explanation I can come up with is that it fits more traditional watch’s mold.

Fossil’s Q Founder is the culmination of a partnership first announced in March 2014, involving Fossil (FOSL), Intel (INTC), and Google (GOOG). Intel provides the chip that powers the watch, while Google provides Android Wear, its wearable operating system.

Associate creative director Ryan White has been designing watches for Fossil for the past 10 years. He recently talked with Fortune about the design process of the Q Founder.

White and his team took inspiration from the rest of Fossil’s product line, aiming to create a smartwatch that utilized the most successful design elements found on the company’s traditional watches, into the Q Founder.

“We tend to do really well with products that have a nice balance of polished and brushed finishing, and we thought we represented that really well with the Q Founder,” White said.

The sample I received features a polished stainless steel housing, with an interchangeable metal link bracelet or brown leather strap. More designs are set for release in the spring, and additional watch bands are currently available from Fossil.

Designing the box the Q Founder ships in was another area of focus for Fossil. White wanted the experience to mimic opening a high-quality timepiece, and not an electronic gadget. For example, instead of the watch being wrapped around a piece of plastic or foam inside the box, the Q Founder is wrapped around a “charging cuff.” This cuff doubles as a wireless charging station, and a means to put your watch on display. Competing smartwatches typically ship with a cable that features a circular adapter at the end, where the watch is placed to charge.

Fortune also spoke to David Singleton, vice president of engineering for Android Wear at Google about the search giant’s approach when partnering with fashion brands such as Fossil.

Singleton told Fortune, “Fashion is really important because it is about how you express your own personality and style. We thought it was really important to work with fashion designers from the start [of Android Wear].”

Fossil was one of the first fashion partners Google met with during the development of the Android Wear platform. “[Fossil] helped [Google] understand what a customer cares about, and also what the Fossil team thinks about in terms of style,” Singleton said.

Despite Fossil’s early involvement with Android Wear, White explained the company was waiting for the size of internal components to shrink down to a size they were comfortable with building a watch around.

While I haven’t had enough time to form a complete opinion about the Q Founder, I do think the company’s approach can stand on its own amidst its Android Wear competitors.

That’s important because Fossil Group’s overall performance has struggled as of late, with reported third-quarter earnings down 45% compared to the same time last year according to Market Watch.

In a bid to get the company back on track, Fossil is turning to connected devices. In early Nov., Fossil announced its acquisition of wearable company Misfit for $260 million. Misfit’s small devices can be worn on the wrist and are used to count steps, track sleep, and other fitness metrics.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see just how much the acquisition impacts Fossil’s approach to wearables.

The Q Founder will be available for $295 in select Fossil stores and online starting Nov. 25.

Can smartwatch makers such as Samsung and Motorola remain competitive? Check out this Fortune video for an entertaining debate:

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