People have adorned their wrists for thousands of years.
Gold, silver, precious stones, leather, and yarn.
What you wore signaled to the world who you were.
Kings wore engraved gold with rubies.
Peasants wore simple bands made from inexpensive cloth and shells.
In fact – the modern practice of wearing something that is FUNCTIONAL, and not so much a signal of status, is relatively new.
So the decision of Apple to release a watch priced at 17K isn’t really surprising.
What is surprising is why it took them so long.
The announcement of a $10,000 base model 18k gold Apple Watch (with a final price tag ranging as high as $17,000 depending on your band and other options) has mostly prompted derision in the tech world.
But that’s to be expected from people who are concerned entirely with function.
If you want a smartwatch that synchs with your iPhone and does the various nifty electronic tasks promised (fitness tracking, messaging, scheduling, etc.), then the $350 base model will do the job.
It will, in fact, do the exact same job as the top-of-the-line $17,000 model.
People who eat, sleep, and breathe tech gadgetry are not going to be impressed by the solid gold Apple Watch—and that’s because they’re not the target market.
What Apple’s doing here is a first for the company: they’re selling some of their models as luxury products, rather than tech gadgets.
The luxury market is not like most consumer markets. While a high quality product is certainly expected, it’s not the be-all and end-all of value.
Look at traditional luxury watches: give or take a few imperceptible fractions of seconds, a $60,000 Breguet doesn’t keep time any more accurately than a $6,000 Rolex—or a $60 Timex.
The utilitarian function is not a big deciding factor. Anything in the luxury price range is assumed to already work well enough to satisfy demanding owners.
What you’re paying for may be partly the aesthetics—the value of a design that looks good on your wrist—but the bulk of the cost is pure status. It becomes almost dogmatic: a $60,000 watch is worth $60,000 because it’s a $60,000 watch.
You pay it because you want people to know that you own a $60,000 watch.
It’s not a utilitarian decision. It’s a display of status through wealth. That may be off-putting to techheads who always want a better corkscrew, but it’s the bread and butter (excuse us, pain et beurre) of luxury brands.
The Apple Watch Opportunity
The gold Apple Watch (demurely named the Apple Watch Edition) offers a unique value above and beyond its technological capabilities.
The tech is very good, of course. An Apple Watch Edition isn’t any more functional than the base model, but it isn’t any less functional, either. Wearers of the luxury version aren’t sacrificing anything in terms of performance.
But the real appeal lies, as with any luxury item, in the price itself. A $17,000 Apple Watch does everything a $350 Apple Watch does, plus it tells people that you had $16,650 to drop on a purely cosmetic upgrade. It says it instantly, and it says it at a glance.
Even more importantly, for the time being at least, it makes its status statement more recognizably than any other watch. A high-end A.
Lange & Söhne watch might cost a hundred times more than an entry-level Rolex, but the average Joe on the street isn’t going to look at it and see $100,000 worth difference. It just looks like a fancy watch to him.
A Rolex, or even a knockoff, could make the same basic impression on everyone outside a small set of connoisseurs.
The gold Apple Watch has the unique distinction of being the only luxury smartwatch in the world, with a very recognizable design.
Anyone can see at a glance that an Apple Watch is an Apple Watch, and if it’s an Apple Watch with a gold frame, they know it cost a minimum of $10,000. Nothing else looks like that right now.
That will change over time, as imitators crowd the field and traditional luxury watchmakers grudgingly edge toward computing-capable offerings.
But it’s going to take the competition a long while to engineer something that can perform smartwatch functions in a luxury frame, and until then Apple owns the brand-new “luxury smartwatch” market segment.
All of that’s an interesting market phenomenon, but it’s not necessarily useful for someone who’s debating an Apple Watch purchase and at least eyeing the Apple Watch Edition high-end models.
So here’s the real question: what do you want out of your smartwatch and/or your luxury watch?
If you want the basic functions of a first-generation smartwatch with the snob appeal of a luxury watch, you’re in. The Apple Watch Edition is the product for you. In fact, it’s the only product for you.
If you’re excited about the tech and want to stay on top of it as it develops, you’ll be better off waiting a generation or two.
Realistically, there will be a newer, better Apple Watch within two to five years (at the outside), and that will almost certainly come in gold too.
But on the flip side, by waiting that long, you’ll be giving more people the chance to flaunt their Apple Watch Editions, reducing the impact and snob appeal of yours.
And if you’re thinking, as some people do, of a luxury watch as a long-term investment, forget it—the fast pace of digital innovations means that the Apple Watch will almost certainly be obsolete within a generation.
The Future of Smartwatches
Ten years from now we’ll be using smart who-knows-what, and there’s no guarantee that any of those products will synch with the first-generation Apple Watch.
It will probably still keep time (assuming the charging cords don’t become obsolete or hard-to-find), but it’s not going to be the same kind of family heirloom that a high-quality clockwork watch can become.
There’s also the basic style question: if you’ve got a hip, modem, edgy style, the big screen and digital glow of an Apple Watch fits right in. But if your wardrobe is built around a classic suit-and-tie kind of look, even the more sedate Apple Watch
Edition options are going to stand out as something not quite in keeping with your usual style. And for that kind of money, are you really willing to tolerate an outlier?
What Apple has made is, unsurprisingly, a disruptor. It’s a redefinition of the luxury watch (and you can bet that traditional luxury watchmakers will be fighting tooth and claw to dismiss it as gimmicky, ugly, and unlikely to last).
Even its price, which seems staggering for a tech gadget, is aggressively low for a luxury watch.
That’s not a reason for everyone to run out and buy one.
But it is a unique new offering—and for people with the right style and the right overlapping interests (tech and luxury), the Apple Watch Edition is a good product for a good price, all the more so because it’s the only product like it in the world right now.