The luxury of the Apple Watch Edition

Apple Watch Edition

Seems like everyone’s getting their fancy iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus shipments today—I know I’m waiting for mine—so what better time to talk about the Apple Watch, which won’t arrive until 2015?

Last week I got to hold the Apple Watch Edition—that’s the 18-karat gold model. As you might expect from anything made of gold, it’s heavy. (In contrast to the Apple Watch Sport, which is made out of aluminum and glass in order to be as light as possible.)

And what gold! My favorite moment of Apple’s entire presentation was a nearly throwaway line about how, on the Apple Watch Edition, Apple’s team of metallurgists had developed a gold formula that is “up to twice as hard as standard gold.”

I know what you’re thinking. You’re a jeweler. You’re looking at Apple and thinking, “Technology guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.” But here’s Apple, fresh to the watch game and claiming they’ve fixed gold.

I don’t know whether it’s funny because of the idea that Apple could improve on a material that’s been used in jewelry for millennia, or because we’ve got to add metallurgy to the list of areas Apple is now disrupting. Or both. Could it be both?

I have no idea how expensive the Apple Watch Edition is going to be. During the event, John Siracusa phrased the question perfectly:

How much does it cost? How much you got?

But this is a product that’s aimed at the high-end luxury market, so I imagine it will be shockingly expensive to techie types who might not even own any luxury goods. (Like John Siracusa, I drive a Honda. Ours is not a luxury-goods household.)

Here’s one sign just how luxe the Apple Watch Edition will be: When I was in Cupertino I got to handle the box that it will come in.

Yes, there’s a special box. It’s covered in leather. Inside is a magnetic charging cradle, and on the back of the box base is a slot into which you plug a Lightning connector. That’s right: The Apple Watch Edition is so fancy that the box is its own accessory.

While Apple has, up to now, targeted the affordable-luxury market—better products for which people are willing to pay higher prices—it knows full well that there’s a halo of super luxury surrounding it. In a world where weird luxury phones like Vertu exist, there are also third parties giving the oligarchs what they really want: iPhones with their parts removed and replaced with pure gold, wood, and other luxury materials.

(There’s plenty of speculation that this is where so many leaks in Apple’s supply chain come from. If you provide iPhones to the super rich, what are the chances that your clients are going to want new iPhones immediately? Pretty high, I’d wager. To turn things around fast, you pay to get access to the parts, so you can manufacture your high-end replacements as quickly as possible.)

It’s actually kind of amazing Apple hasn’t released an iPhone 6 Edition yet, but that day may yet come. (It comes at the risk of making its loyal non-rich users feel uncomfortable—if you push your brand into the economic stratosphere, it can make some consumers question their connection to you.)

But with the Apple Watch Edition, Apple is going full bore into this market. This is a world of $34,000 Rolexes, as John Gruber wrote. On one level, this strikes me as Apple recognizing that there’s a huge market in outfitting Apple products with extra luxuries, and wanting in on the action.

Apple’s been co-opting third-party accessory markets for ages. This is why Apple makes its own iPhone and iPad cases, for instance: If someone’s going to buy an accessory at the Apple Store, the reasoning goes, why shouldn’t Apple take all of that money too? But this line of thinking also led to the iPod Hi-Fi.

The Apple Watch, and the Apple Watch Edition in particular, is uncharted territory for Apple. It’s going to be fascinating to see how this plays out in terms of final features, pricing, and sales. That’s something to watch closely for in 2015.