The Apple Watch Edition models with their 18k gold cases have proven to be one of the most widely discussed tech items of 2014 and 2015. Both provocative and controversial, the gold-cased version of Apple’s new smartwatch is an interesting product that nevertheless causes tension in both the traditional tech industry as well as the luxury industry. However, I posit that the Apple Watch Edition is one of the least understood technology/luxury products of today, and it fits nicely in an open niche that Apple has correctly identified. On April 10th, 2015 – “Apple Watch pre-order day” – I visited the Apple Store here in Los Angeles at The Grove, one of the select Apple Store locations around the world where customers will be able to actually purchase an Apple Watch Edition. Let me tell you more about this interesting product and what the experience buying it will be like in comparison to the steel and aluminum versions of the Apple Watch.
I first went hands-on with the Apple Watch back in 2014 here. There, I established that the Apple Watch was an excellent item from a hardware perspective and, in my opinion, would meet the expectations of not only Apple lovers and other consumer electronics buyers, but also of luxury watch fans. We’ve established that the Apple Watch wearing experience is very good, and the components that Apple uses are really top notch in the scheme of smartwatches. Apple is clearly trying to appeal to the highest-end of the demographic. With the Apple Watch Edition, they are further appealing to the higher-ends of the overall consumer demographic who are familiar with and accustomed to luxury products.
I’ve been asked dozens of times what I think about the Apple Watch Edition, and I have yet to say anything negative about it. Perhaps my time in the luxury space has softened my senses when it comes to the shock of prices and decadence, but I am familiar with why people want luxury and what they are looking for. Why does the Apple Watch Edition exist? I will tell you in one simple statement: so that people who are currently wearing a gold watch do not need “downgrade.” Apple is saying to consumers at the high end “we know you like luxury products, and we know you like Apple products. So rather than ask you to give up your preference for precious materials in order to wear our new wristwatch device, you can still have both.” It is just that simple, and if the Apple Watch Edition does not appeal to you, then you are literally losing nothing by purchasing an Apple Watch Sport in aluminum or an Apple Watch in steel.
Apple is the first one to remind people that the software experience with the Apple Watch Edition is exactly the same as that with the other Apple Watches. What are the differences? Well they aren’t really technological, but rather part of the buying and ownership experience. Perhaps most important is a special concierge service that Apple Watch Edition buyers will get which isn’t available to Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch steel customers. First, you are assigned a dedicated Apple Watch specialist who sticks with you throughout your process of learning how to use the Apple Watch, and who is available for technical questions. More so, you get access to a special 24-hour concierge support related to anything regarding the Apple Watch. This special service (as I understand it) comes with the Apple Watch Edition and is only available to those customers.
I don’t know the specific name of this Apple Watch concierge service, but I like to think of it as an exclusive extension of Apple Care. It is really about service, and one of the most important lessons Apple learned about the luxury buying experience is that the quality of human service available both during and after the sales process is key to customer satisfaction and retention.
Anyone can buy the Apple Watch Edition online. Apple has mentioned that they will use a courier service to deliver the Apple Watch Edition or customers can order online and pick up their products at one of the Apple Store locations that carries the gold Apple Watch Editions. At least at first, Apple has selected its better-situated Apple Store locations to carry the Apple Watch Edition – so, again, not all Apple Stores will have them next to the other versions of the Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch Edition also comes with a special box that doubles as a charging station. There are two colors of the box which are blue and a soft, light gray. The boxes are meant to be used as a way to protect your Apple Watch Edition while charging it, or perhaps while traveling as well. There is a Lightning cord port in the back of the box. Apple also includes the standard magnetic charging dock and cable with the Apple Watch Edition – so it basically comes with two charging options, while other Apple Watch models only come with the one charger.
The Apple Watch Edition further comes in either 18k rose gold or 18k yellow gold in both the 38mm-tall and 42mm-tall sizes. I found it interesting that Apple made both gold versions available, because in the watch world these days, 18k yellow gold is actually uncommon (compared to rose gold). As you likely know, Apple has created their own form of 18k gold alloy which they claim is much harder, and thus, more scratch-resistant than normal 18k gold. This really makes a big difference in regard to how the Apple Watch Edition case looks as the item wears over time.
Further, 18k gold is also used for the hardware in the straps which come with the Apple Watch Edition. In fact, the difference in prices between the Apple Watch Editions is entirely dependent on the amount of gold in the case as well as in the buckles. For that reason, the 38mm Apple Watch Edition with the Modern Buckle strap costs $17,000, which is $2,000 more than the $15,000 42mm Apple Watch Edition with the smaller Classic Buckle.
It is also my understanding that Apple is offering an enhanced warranty for the Apple Watch Edition as part of the premium price – and this is before purchasing AppleCare+. Rather than one year of hardware repair coverage and up to 90 days of complimentary support (which comes with the Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch), the Apple Watch Edition comes with two years of hardware repair coverage and up to two years of complimentary support. Want even more? AppleCare+ for the Apple Watch Edition adds an extra $1,500 to the purchase price (as opposed to $69 for the steel or aluminum versions of the Apple Watch) and gives the Apple Watch Edition a total of three years of coverage and additional “incidents of accidental damage coverage” for $1,000 each. Basically, if you smash up your Apple Watch Edition – up to a few times – Apple will repair or replace it for $1,000 if you have AppleCare+. Again, this service fee is $79 for the steel and aluminum versions. As you can see, there is a very real cost difference for gold.
So that all more or less explains what you get with the Apple Watch Edition in comparison to the other models. So changing topics a bit, why all the hate? With the Apple Watch Edition product available soon, Apple is now feeling the “luxury hate” which many brands who sell expensive items are subject to, because most consumers simply don’t like the idea of products being classist simply for the sake of classism. The Apple Watch Edition is just that, a version of the Apple Watch for people with more disposable income, and for that reason, it causes consumer resentment. Anything specifically designed for consumption by some, and not everyone gets that response. It is just part of human nature.
A lot of that consumer resentment is founded in logic and in some way is amplified when things appear on the outside to be “excessive.” Many people reason that “even if I save up for an Apple Watch Edition in gold, Apple will still release a new version of the Apple Watch down the road and I’ll be pressured to upgrade like everyone else.” The sentiment is that the Apple Watch Edition is a bad value, because it is likely to be an investment that does not appreciate or sustain. Frankly, that is beside the point when it comes to the Apple Watch Edition’s primary demographic, but let’s talk about this for a bit.
Traditional watch lovers become upset because, for them, getting a gold Rolex today is the investment in a product that they can wear today and tomorrow with more or less the same experience. The luxury watch industry has made an excellent point to consumers that because watches aren’t getting any more obsolete, there isn’t a worry of them losing functional value. Apple, in a way, can make a similar argument. True enough that with care, your Apple Watch Edition bought today will do the same thing years down the road. People say “it will be trash in two years.” Well, what they mean to say is that “everyone is pretty sure something more technically or functionally advanced will be available in two years, and because I will want that, and because Apple will want me to have that, I will be asked to spend another $10,000-plus, which is a lot more difficult to stomach than a few hundred bucks.”
So, as I have said, the traditional watch industry actually benefits from the fact that technological advancements in horology are merely modest and incremental, with their products remaining… more or less of similar salience in the future as now. The technology industry hasn’t had as much luck convincing consumers that anything they buy should be considered useful for more than 2-5 years… and for good reason. The Apple Watch Edition is really an intersection between the world of consumer electronics and luxury items, and this type of cognitive dissonance is to be expected, but it isn’t really something I think Apple needs to worry about. At the end of the day, the Apple Watch Edition is still actually a pretty cool object.
It sounds cliche, but the reality is that most people buying an Apple Watch Edition aren’t going to be terribly bothered by the notion that they will want to get another one 12-18 months down the line when an upgrade is available. Furthermore, there will likely be some third party willing to buy it for a few thousand dollars when they want to update, assuming they want to sell it. Gold is still gold, after all, and it has inherent value that will persist.
So if buying the Apple Watch Edition sounds like a terrible idea to you – then it probably is. Skip it and go with a steel or aluminum Apple Watch which will be functionally equivalent, and you won’t lose out on anything but the experience of wearing that really rare object which is a gold gadget. Nevertheless, a lot of people want the Apple Watch Edition – and isn’t that the point? I would bet that given the opportunity to wear an Apple Watch Edition, very few people would turn it down. Maybe they wouldn’t spend their own money, but deep down, they like the idea of wearing a gold wrist device that marries both technology and luxury in a way that says “I’m modern, and I don’t have to care about money.” Yeah, that is luxury – and it is meant to make people who have it feel good, and people who don’t have it feel a bit envious.
I am around cool expensive stuff I can’t afford all day long. It doesn’t upset me, and I just want those things to be solid products that aren’t scams or meant for totally ignorant consumers. The Apple Watch Edition isn’t even that expensive for gold watch. In fact, it is a rather fairly priced gold watch. Apple isn’t losing money on the Apple Watch Edition, but it isn’t exactly where they are recouping their Apple Watch R&D investment. If you buy an Apple Watch Edition, you probably know that sooner or later, there is going to be a new model you’ll want to upgrade to, but in my opinion, you aren’t being reamed on something which is, per se, “overpriced.”
Apple hasn’t mentioned what the production numbers for the Apple Watch Edition are, but we know that they are making far fewer of them than the Apple Watch Sport or Apple Watch. These aren’t just going to be more expensive Apple Watches, and they are going to have actual exclusivity to them. The question you need to ask is what you are going to think when you see that first person out in public wearing an Apple Watch Edition. You’ll know exactly what it is and what it costs. Will you hate them? Disapprove? Wonder at what other watches they own? I am actually excited to see how the Apple Watch Edition helps get people noticing luxury watches again – which I think will be a very real thing.
You’ve probably read that buying an Apple Watch at an Apple Store isn’t exactly like buying their other items, such as computers and phones. That’s true. People need to go one-on-one with a specialist who is trained in not only how to use the watch but how to size it and help people choose the one that is right for them. Not only are there something like almost 40 Apple Watch models, but things like the straps come in different sizes. For that reason, I think Apple is smart to at least try and funnel people into a personal conversation as Apple Watch customers. More so, the Apple Watch has a very real learning curve compared to something as intuitive as the iPad or iPhone. But honestly, it is just as fun to use and not that hard to figure out (thankfully).
I’ll say once again that I fully anticipate the Apple Watch to be slow on the uptake with consumers due to its price and complexity. With that said, once people start to learn more about the watch and how it works, I think consumer adoption will happen in larger numbers. Apple knows this and is cleverly using the less than typically massive numbers of new Apple product customers to carefully curate a learning and buying experience for the Apple Watch. With the level of hands-on attention, and having someone actually put the Apple Watch on your wrist for you (as they do in most luxury watch stores), I would say that buying an Apple Watch is very much an experience that is borrowed from both Apple’s own customs as well as from the world of fine timepieces.
I am not going to tell anyone to buy or not buy the Apple Watch Edition. Anyone interested in the 18k gold Apple Watch Edition fully understands the value proposition and what it means to buy an Apple product. The quality is excellent, and the experience is refined, but they will eventually feel inclined to upgrade. A lot of people have zero problems with this and are ready to put the Apple Watch Edition next to their other luxury products which they are already comfortable buying. What I don’t anticipate is people stretching themselves to buy the gold Apple Watch Edition when they aren’t people who normally buy gold things. This is the Apple Watch for the 1%, and that’s all there is to it.
Once again, price for the Apple Watch Edition with the Sport Band is US$10,000 for the 38mm version and US$12,000 for the 42mm version. The 42mm Apple Watch Edition with the Classic Buckle is priced at US$15,000, and price for the 38mm Apple Watch Edition with the Modern Buckle (not shown in this article) is US$17,000. store.apple.com