They actually did it.
Update: Read our Apple Watch review.
The Apple Watch Edition will start at $10,000 and will go all the way up to $17,000, Apple’s most expensive consumer-focused product ever. It’s undeniably pricy, but Apple is going after the high-end Swiss watch market, which is still thriving. The Apple Watch Edition will be available in limited quantities and sold in high-end stores like Collete in Paris and Selfridges in London next to traditional watches from Rolex and Zenith. Even though it’s priced to compete against high-end watchmakers, the Apple Watch Edition is missing many of the defining features most people who will drop five figures on a watch expect when spending that kind of cash. Here are some of the major hurdles Apple needs to overcome.
Yes, Apple will sell limited quantities of the Apple Watch Edition. But there are other Apple Watches, and the company will sell millions of them. Buying a limited edition Apple Watch Edition isn’t like buying a Rolex Cellini or a Patek Phillipe Calatrava — two of the watches Apple is competing against — it’s like buying an 18-karat gold iPhone. Yeah, it’s solid gold, but it’s still an iPhone. Millions of people have it. You can’t go a day without running into one. And that’s not great when you’re dropping well over $10,000 on a supposedly exclusive watch.
Let’s get one thing straight: the market for the Apple Watch Edition is not the same market as the Apple Watch or Apple Watch Sport. Is there some overlap? Sure. Some well-off early adopters and Apple fanatics will buy the Edition, but this is a blatant play for people who regularly pick up Swiss-made timepieces. If you want an Apple Watch Edition with a leather band, it’ll cost you at least $15,000, the same price as a Rolex Cellini. If you’re spending $10,000-plus on high-end watches on a consistent basis, you’re expecting to recoup most of that when you decide to move on and get a new watch. And that is likely to be impossible with the Apple Watch Edition.
The Apple Watch Edition won’t maintain its value
There are models of the Patek Phillipe Calatrava — which retails for $29,000 — from 1960 that are selling today for $17,000. Even in 10 years, no one expects the Apple Watch Edition to be worth anything other than its weight in gold. Despite having roughly the same amount of 18-karat gold as the Calatrava — valued under $2,000, depending on the price of 18-karat gold — the Apple Watch Edition won’t hold its value.
And that’s the problem with the current batch of smartwatches. Technology companies are entering an industry where time can add value, not decrease it. Pass down a Rolex from 20 years ago to your children, and it still has value. Give them a IBM ThinkPad from 1995, and they will think you’re punishing them. Watch valuations aren’t just about materials, either: it’s about how the watch was constructed, its mechanics, how many were up for sale, how prestigious the brand is, how good the watch looks, and how it will age. Watch valuations aren’t fully quantifiable, and Apple exists in an industry that attempts to put a number on everything.
You can walk down the street wearing a $30,000 Rolex Submariner Date — the company’s most popular watch — and no one would be the wiser. That’s because it looks just like this Omega, and this Steinhart, and this $180 Seiko, and this $86 Invicta. You would have to be into watches to notice a high-end watch from a distance. But the gold Apple Watch Edition is a flashing sign above your head screaming "I have money!" Owning the most expensive product from the most popular company on Earth isn't exactly keeping a low profile. And if you’re using the Watch as Apple intends, you’ll be glancing at it much more often than you would a traditional watch, which won’t help you stay inconspicuous. While some potential buyers will be just fine with that, many won’t want to draw the unneeded attention.
Apple is one of the most storied and respected companies in modern history. But that legacy does not extend into fashion, or more importantly watchmaking. There’s a reason the top watchmaking brands like Rolex, IWC, and Patek Phillipe have maintained their spots at the top of the industry for well over 60 years — it’s a tough field to break into. Upstarts have opportunities at lower price points, but the upper echelon is reserved for the accomplished.
Apple is leveraging its reputation as a legendary tech company to sell a gold watch
Apple is leveraging its reputation as a legendary technology company to sell a 18-karat gold watch, but it may not be enough. Even high-end fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and Burberry haven’t garnered favor with their attempts to make watches, and they came in with a deep fashion pedigree. Could Apple’s technology be the deciding factor? Perhaps, but that is a tall order, even taller than shifting into the phone market. These companies have been entrenched for over a century, and that time means more in watchmaking than just about any other industry.
What is it for?
Here’s the biggest problem with the Apple Watch Edition. Most people spend thousands on watches for one of three reasons: they either collect watches, want to acquire an heirloom to pass down, or they want to make a fashion statement. Outside of collectors, the Apple Watch Edition doesn’t check any of those boxes, and hasn’t provided a fourth reason. Notifications? Probably not worth $10,000. Taking calls from your wrist? Tracking your health information? Possibly, but rumored features like a blood pressure monitor and blood oxygen trackers which would make this a slam dunk were left out of the Apple Watch.
What you have is either a $10,000 watch that doesn't look as good as its competition, or a $10,000 notification center that you can also buy for a tenth of the price. It probably won’t be on the wrists of celebrities and all over Fashion Week in September, and it’s unlikely it will become a must-have luxury item. What does that leave us with? Who would buy a $349 device refitted with all-gold-everything and a price tag to match? The same people who buy products from Vertu. As a watchmaker told me, the guy who wears a Rolex every day may like the Apple Watch, but doesn’t like that the regular version "doesn't signal to the world what a Rolex will."
"The Edition takes care of that, or at least the monetary part."
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