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Apple Watch Ceramic Edition Review

The original Apple Watch Edition launched in 2015, was crafted out of yellow or rose gold, and cost $10K and up. It was for people who stay in 6-star hotels, fly in cabins, wear couture—maybe only once—and would certainly buy something as trendy as an Apple Watch but only if it came in gold. It was also for the fashion and watch worlds, a substance to get attention beyond the silicon.

I had several opportunities to see it at and around Apple events and it was legit gorgeous. But a market used to affordable luxury doesn't like even the idea of luxury they can't afford: While the original Edition generated attention, it also generated more than a little resentment.

So, in late 2016, Apple replaced it with an all-new Edition. Gone was the gold and the gobsmacking price tag, and in its place a still pricey (starting at $1,249) but much more attainable ceramic white.

I didn't get one at launch but I managed to get my hands on one a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I've worn the new Apple Watch Edition Series 2 full-time, and here's my review.

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The Watch

Apple Watch Edition Series 2 is different. Apple Watch Nike+ is a variant of the standard anodized aluminum Apple Watch Series 2. Apple Watch Hermès Series 2, a variant of the standard polished stainless steel. Apple Watch Edition Series 2, though, has a material all its own — ceramic.

Ceramic isn't unusual for a watch. There have been ceramic watches for several decades, from IWC to Rado to Omega. Not many have been as fully ceramic as Apple Watch Edition, though, which uses it for pretty much everything on the casing that's not sapphire glass.

According to Apple, the company's particular blend of ceramic uses a high-strength zirconia powder combined with alumina to produce the desired white color. It's compression molded and "sintered" — a process that uses pressure and heat to turn a powder into a solid without liquefying it. That solid is then polished with — get this! — a diamond "slurry" that makes it smooth and shiny. The end result is perhaps the ultimate extension of the look that Jony Ive began with iPod: A perfect-seeming capsule of deep, rich white.

And it takes days to make, because of course it does.

Ceramic is incredibly hard. Harder even than stainless steel. Combined with the sapphire glass, the new Apple Watch Edition is the most scratch and scuff-proof product Apple's ever made.

There are different kinds of toughness, though. And, with ceramics, the worry has always been less about hardness and more about brittleness: The almost cliched image of a plate falling and shattering across the kitchen tiles.

As much as Apple's materials team worked to amplify the benefits of ceramics, though, they and the design team also worked to minimize the drawbacks. That involved both the precise type of ceramics Apple used, but also the design, and especially the curves, of the case itself.

I spoke with watchmaker Jon Edwards about the new Apple Watch Edition, and he said:

Apple's chosen a flavour of ceramic that is relatively robust, to help guard against breakage. In addition to this, though, the form of the case plays well to the ceramic's strength. If the design team had ceramic in its sights for the Apple Watch from day one, the form of the case is pure genius.In my experience working with ceramic watches, most damage tends to occur along sharp edges or where the ceramic is thin. The round curvature of the Apple Watch case will distribute the force of an impact and/or allow objects to easily glance off of its glassy, smooth surface. Edges that might pose a weakness are protected by the crown and strap.The subtle step in the case where is meets the sapphire crystal, I imagine, was introduced, in part, to offer an extra bit of protection for the sapphire, which would be more susceptible to cracking if impacted along its edge where it meets the ceramic case than the ceramic itself would be.

While tougher than metal, the ceramic is also slightly heavier weighing in at 45.6g compared to 28.2g for the aluminum and 41.9g for the steel. In practice, though, I don't notice it much. I've worn steel for most of the last eighteen months. Nike+ was breezy when I switched to it for a few weeks, but there's a substance to the steel — and now ceramic — that I enjoy.

The digital crown and side button are made the same way as the case and in the same color. Though the cap on the crown is black, matching the ceramics on the heart rate sensor. At first, I thought a white cap would have been better but the contrast, which also matches the darkness of the display, has grown on me.

So has the text on the back. It's not simply etched around the sensor the way it is on the metallic Watches, so you have to tilt it to see what it says. It uses a different process rumored to involve lasers and resins. The end result, though, pops. It looks like black ceramic embedded in white. Which is trippy.

That yin and yang, dark and light, bright and shadow, plays out at different scales across the casing and, depending on the band, the watch in general. It creates a look that's stunning but not overly fussy about it. It's obviously not metal, even at a glance, and that in itself stands out.

It's gorgeous on its own but also works as a canvas to set off whatever strap you pair it with.

Apple Watch Series 2 + watchOS 3

Previously, on iMore, Serenity Caldwell and I took a look at the aluminum and stainless steel Apple Watch Series 2, Apple Watch Series 1, Apple Watch Hermès Series 2, Apple Watch Nike+, and watchOS 3. Rather than recapitulate the standard hardware and software features, I invite you to check out:

The Bands

I may have an Apple Watch band problem. Or, an Apple Watch band solution, as I prefer to tell myself. Either way, I've bought a wide assortment of straps over the last eighteen months and I like to switch them up to suit the occasion and my mood.

Watch

Watch (Image credit: Rene Ritchie/iMore)

Apple Watch Edition Series 2 ships with a white fluoroelastomer sport band, which is underwhelming. I get that it's probably the only way to pair whites that are close to a perfect match, but the Edition brand, to me at least, demands something more in the box. The similarly priced Apple Watch Hermès, for example, comes with an orange fluoroelastomer sport band — but also Hermès leather.

The ideal, of course, would have been a white ceramic single deployment (deployant). It would have made the package much, much more expensive but as an option, I'd have taken it. Not only would it look stunning — several other watch makers have ceramic bands on the market, so image search away! — but it's safer as well. A band you don't have to fuss with to loop around your wrist is a watch you're a lot less likely to drop.

Hopefully, something like that is on Apple's roadmap.

Likewise, ceramic lugs. I love the way many of my straps look with Apple Watch Edition, but all the leathers have stainless steel lugs and I can never unsee the connection class. I'm wary of third-party lugs, especially in ceramic, so if Apple could start selling swappable lugs the way they sell replacement links for the bracelet, I'd be in band heaven.

The leather loops don't have that problem, of course. Their lugs match the straps. I have the brown and midnight blue versions and both look great.

The sport bands are the same. I particularly love the red sport with the white ceramic. Because Canada. Woven Nylon makes for especially great pairings as well. The coffee and toasted caramel makes the white ceramic look like the froth atop a latte. I know some people with the full set and they color coordinate with their dress shirts to unsurprisingly terrific results. (Pro tip: The Numerals face has options to both color and pattern match the woven nylon bands.)

The black stainless steel Milanese loop is something else. It makes Apple Watch Edition look like a tux. Like Bond in a tux. It's just retro gadget high contrast cool in a barely contained way.

I'll stop there and point you to my Instagram if you want to see more. Lots more. Suffice it to say, bands and pairings is what makes Apple Watch not just so fashionable but so flexible and so personal.

And Apple Watch Edition in that deep, rich white really makes all the straps pop.

The Conclusion

When Apple first announced Watch Series 2, the Edition is the one I wanted to get. I like when Apple experiments with new materials and manufacturing processes. Some might care only so far as what it may or may not portent about future iPhones. But Apple ceramics make for an incredibly cool Watch right in the here and now.

Because of the way it looks, I imagined Apple Watch Edition Series 2 would be lighter. Certainly lighter than the stainless steel I was used to. There's only a slight difference, though, and I barely notice it. Aluminum is much lighter than both, and much as I enjoy that freedom, I love this substance.

And I love how Apple continues to not only drive the computer to ever-more personal, ever-more portable places, but now the watch industry as well. There have been link bracelets for years but it took Apple to jumpstart making them easier to use, size, and swap. Likewise, there have been ceramic watches for decades, but Apple is applying their considerable resources to the material now, and in really clever, robust ways. It's the definition of raising all ships.

That said, I really hope, though, that Apple works out a way for us to have our casings and matching lugs too. As it currently stands, Apple Watch in polished stainless steel has the most, best pairings available to it. But the ceramic has a look so distinct I'm willing to accept a little clash around the edges, at least for now. You know, while I wait for the ceramic white deployant...

Yellow and rose 18 K gold were certainly extravagant but ultimately failed to resonate with Apple's existing market or really catch on with a new one. White ceramics is a better balance. It's exotic enough to sound enticing and look sensational, but broadly in line with the other high-end watches in Apple's collection, including Hermès.

In that sense, Apple Watch Edition Series 2 isn't just better affordable luxury, it's a much better bridge between Apple and the premium watch market. And that's who Apple's competing with now.

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Rene Ritchie
Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

9 Comments
  • The original Apple Watch Edition in gold was meant for no one to buy. It was a promotional piece. They got almost as much free advertising with that marketing stunt as Drump got during his presidential campaign with media idiots fawning all over the "superstar" products.
  • Having been a watch collector for most of my life I tend to appreciate what they call in the industry "exotic materials".... such as carbon fiber, high strength ceramic and now even bronze for some very high end brands. Of course this type of ceramic isn't your everyday coffee cup ceramic, but a high strength, industrial material highly suitable for watch cases, bezels, crowns, bracelets and pushers. Rado made ceramic very popular back in the mid-to-late 1990's with their highly polished black-silverish square cased watches. They were not cheap... running around $3,500 at the time.
    I do agree that ceramic is a perfect material for the Apple Watch. I would like to see them make it in a variety of colors however. A highly polished black would look awesome... as would a dark blue and even a parchment color. I would also like to see an all ceramic bracelet for the watches as well. I suspect that would add another $1,000 or so to the price however. But if you are going all out... then go all out!
    All that said... consumers need to understand that industrial ceramic, like many other materials, such as titanium, have varying grades and qualities. Knowing Apple this is a very high end formulation and should last for years and years. The white will not change color either... which is nice.
  • ****, that's nice looking. It's nothing we could ever justify with our income (could afford, but not justify) but I appreciate how nice it is. Also, these Apple watches are old gen within a year or two and it seems such a shame to drop so much, even as a nice high-end gift.
    I think putting $1300 into your IRA is a better move. ;)
  • The reasons the gold didn't catch on was because of two errors Apple made. The first was in the pricing. For just a gold case, sans gold bracelet, the prices were about $5k too much. As someone who has several gold watches from well known makers, I understand the problem with pricing. Apple's was simply off. There is a reason for that, which leads into reason two. That second reason was that Apple didn't really think this through. In order to sell a $10k plus gold watch using an electronic movement that becomes obsolete in a year to two years, and will fail in some way before the decade is out, maybe sooner, there needs to be some replacement policy in place. Apple didn't have one. By replacement policy, I mean a way to get newer versions of the device every two or three years. We can see what Apple did though. My series 2 model is slightly thicker to accommodate a bigger battery for the GPS. Well, really, didn't Apple anticipate this when the first model came out, and if not, why not? What about water resistance? That too. A watch is a different product from a phone, where we expect to replace them on a regular basis. Why would someone spend $15k on a watch that becomes obsolete every 12 to 18 months? While we expect that for a mechanical Watch, these smart watches are different. So, if Apple did it right, they would have enabled a case that would accommodate new mechanisms over time, and that includes a new screen. So, if I bought that model, I would be willing to pay, say, $250 every two years to get the insides replaced. And that number seems about right. But they didn't think of that, and the gold Edition sunk under the waves, and Apple is embassassed about that, believe me. But this ceramic model is interesting. I just don't like the white. They really needed to offer it in black as well, as well as a grey model that looks like SS. Instead of buying the SS black model with bracelet, I likely would have bought a black or SS look model. But the white gets tiring after a while, it's just too different for everyday wear. The black SS model has a graphite coating that is diamond-like in its character, as it's basically a thin coat of flat diamond crystal. It's very hard, and mine shows no scratches after having bought mine the night it first came out, and I wear it almost every day. The band likewise, shows no scratches, but sometimes the clasp take a few tries to lock on. I have a collection of bands and bracelets now, but always come back to the Apple bracelet.
  • Nice-looking watch but it's still an AppleWatch with short battery life. Unless a person can upgrade the electronic guts every few years for a reasonable amount of money, it's going to be left behind when a newer version comes along. I can't afford one but there's lots of things I can't afford. I'm happy for those who can afford a ceramic AppleWatch. I hope Apple continues to build these limited edition model AppleWatches for those who have the money to buy them. It's not Apple's fault there isn't some type of battery that can be charged for years on end and only needs to be charged once a week. Apple is always being criticized for selling things that most people can't afford. I see nothing wrong with that. It gives people something to aspire to.
  • It depends what you consider short battery life. My original Watch still lasts me over a day, which is perfectly fine for me since I can just charge it at night
  • I still admire as others have said. Out of my price range. I put my money into my new Mac Pro. I have the rose gold 1st generation. And I am a band-aholic. I like to switch it up just like I do with my new iPhone plus cases. I came from Samsung in January Sent from the iMore App
  • Welcome to the Apple ecosystem! Enjoy :).
  • You mean 7-star.