So, Apple has released a $10,000 watch. It's one of the most expensive products Apple has ever produced and the brand's first attempt at creating a real luxury good. Apple didn't divulge too many details about the watch and where it will be sold, and the questions remain who’s going to buy it and why?
The big rub with the Apple Watch Edition is that the watch is technically identical to its lower priced siblings. Unlike with a traditional mechanical watch, where an increase in price is also typically accompanied by more complex mechanisms and more hand-craft, the Apple Watch Edition is simply shrouded in gold. If you set that case aside, it has the same sapphire glass display, sensors, and electronics as the $549 Apple Watch. That's a mark-up of eighteen times the lower price.
Some people will think the gold is beautiful; the yellow doesn't photograph well, but looks better in person. (I personally prefer the look of the fake gold on the new Macbook.) There's also rose gold, and both make the watch much heavier and less practical for daily wear. Compared with the aluminum Apple Watch Sport, it feels like a brick. Sure, you're not running a marathon with the thing, a la Christy Turlington, but you don't want your wrist to tire before the battery.
Apple is careful to point out that the 18k gold used is a proprietary alloy that's between two and four times harder than typical gold. According to a patent filed last June, this special gold is created by impregnating a gold matrix with ceramic particles for added toughness. In the same patent, Apple also alludes to future cases made of silver and platinum, so this might not be the only Apple Watch Edition we see.
A hardened gold alloy isn't an innovation unique to Apple. Since 2012, Swiss watchmaker Hublot has been using a proprietary alloy called Magic Gold that is also a mixture of ceramic and gold certified as 18k. However, Magic Gold scores close to 1000 on the Vickers scale, making it more than twice as hard as Apple's gold, using a ceramic matrix to support gold particles (the opposite of Apple's method). Apple has also taken other materials from traditional watchmaking like aniline-dyed leather and sapphire crystal, which have been used for decades.
The Apple Watch Edition will see limited production, though there's no word yet on what exactly counts as limited. Distribution will be restricted to select retail locations, though Tim Cook was careful in today's presentation not to limit this to Apple Store locations. There has been speculation that the Apple Watch Edition could be sold alongside tradition luxury watches in jewelry and watch boutiques, though this is yet another detail that will not be revealed until closer to the launch next month.
The has been no mention yet at all of the biggest elephant in the room: what do you do with a solid gold watch when it becomes obsolete? One would hope for some kind of trade-in or recycling program that prevents all that gold from sitting unused in a drawer, but it will likely be a while before we know of anything real. (Many $10,000 mechanical watches actually rise in value after you purchase as the years go by.)
Ultimately this signals a small shift in Apple's identity. Apple's mobile devices have always been the attainable luxury products for the everyman, but these are true luxury goods much closer to a Gucci clutch than an iPad.