The Apple Watch Edition has been surprisingly controversial. "Not Apple-like" has been a repeated charge, as has "betrayal of the ideals of affordable luxury." Typically, Apple makes a standard iPhone or Mac, and leaves the bedazzling to the aftermarket. Not so with the Apple Watch Edition: From the start, Apple senior vice president of design Jony Ive and newly official collaborator (and long-time watch designer) Marc Newson have set at least part of their Apple Watch sights on the high-end. But why?
The watch market isn't the computer nor phone nor tablet market. The watch isn't something smart that needs to be made mainstream. The watch is something mainstream that needs to be made smart.
Because the market for watches is already broad, and segments like sport watches and high-end watches are already well-established, Apple doesn't have to make one product variation and then slowly add others over time. Apple can address the highest-value areas right from the start. They can skate to where their customers are going to be.
That includes customers who want an Apple Watch — or at least want to try an Apple Watch — who are used to owning and wearing expensive gold watches. The Apple Watch is not a health band: It can't tastefully be worn alongside a Rolex or Omega. And even for those few willing to wear a watch on each wrist, they may not be willing to wear gold on one and aluminum on the other.
For these customers — call them Vertu people if you really must — having an Apple Watch Edition is a must. The cost will no more be a factor for them than the cost of gas is for a Lamborghini. Relatively, it's the same cost for them as an Apple Watch Sport would be for most people.
What's more: Catering to the ultra-high end of the market is something Apple knows how to do — and do well. Take the Mac Pro. The difference between the up-to-$10,000 workstation and the several hundred of a starter Mac mini is pure silicon speed. For Apple Watch Edition, it's materials. It's gold.
Unlike mobile phones, wristwatches aren't new. They aren't the products of a couple decades. They're old. They are the products that go back over a century. Gold watches are an inextricable part of that history and culture. They're how a segment of that market thinks about wearables. And if Apple can serve those people, doing something the company knows how to do, and at margins that exceed even its typical range, it would be almost negligent not to.
Serving that market brings with it another huge benefit as well — marketing. When the Apple Watch graced the cover of Vogue China, it was the Apple Watch Edition that did the gracing. When Apple Watch again showed up in Vogue Paris, it was again the Apple Watch Edition that was front and center. There have been occasions where Apple has shown off the entire collection, like at Paris Fashion Week, but the Apple Watch Edition is undoubtably the company's signature piece.
Apple may not need to sell very many Edition-brand watches. They may not even intend to. Like the aforementioned Mac Pro, the Edition's focus is far more specific. But that it exists not only adds to the addressable market, it adds to the Watch's aura, and it gets Apple even further into conversations about high-end fashion.
We need look no further than the relentless perseverations about Apple Watch Edition pricing. The rest of the industry is literally throwing product against the wall this week and it's all but drowned out by how many thousands of dollars the Apple Watch Edition will cost at launch.
Come Apple's Spring Forward event on March 9, Apple will almost certainly put a price on the Apple Watch Edition. To really see its value to the company, however, you have to look beyond the dollar signs.