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Why the Apple Watch Edition exists

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.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

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.

23 Comments
  • Word of the day: perseveration
  • The Edition will be expensive but not outrageous. I think the optics of a product for uber-rich by out-of-touch Apple would be pretty bad. I'm thinking $1,499-$2,999 US. PS - silicone = implants.
  • The main reason the Edition exists is price framing. It allows people who pay $700 for the stainless steel watch to feel that they are being careful with their money. Also note that one version of the Edition includes the black "fluoroelastomer" strap. This is to allow purchasers of the Sport watch to feel better about spending $350 on a watch that comes with a plastic strap.
  • I disagree.. If it's framing anything, it's framing Apple's entrance into fashion.. I think Rene is correct.. it's much more about pulling in die-hard watch crowd than pulling to gadget people and trying to 'trick' them into paying more. I highly doubt the stainless steel will be over $500.. likely only a bump of $100 from $350 to $450.. I highly doubt that those suggesting their will be a price difference between the 38mm and 42 mm.. again, they are going for fashion markets which generally don't charge by size, but by material and looks. I also don't expect different storage ranges (8GB vs 4GB, etc).. They want people trying them on and deciding on their impulse to purchase based on how it looks and feels. If the sales person steers the conversation to 'specs' during the process of selling it, I would be very, very surprised. Coming from a tech angle only on this will be a big mistake many analysts will make over the coming months.
  • I'm intrigued by an Apple watch but I'm wondering how long they will last. Will the performance degrade over time ? When iOS 11 releases down the road, will this watch run like crap? I don't know many people who buy a watch every year or two so I'm concerned that if I buy one this year will it last 5-10 yrs down the road or longer. Will I be able to take a three year old watch into the Apple Store and get battery replaced even though AppleCare has run out?Guess we will find out as time goes on Sent from the iMore App
  • There is a little bit of price framing here, but it is mostly about brand entrance. In tech circles, Apple is an aspirational brand - they make products that you aspire to own, not products you (are told you) have to own. It is part of what lets them enjoy such high margins, because people *want* to pay them. Fashion - and watches in particular - is a whole different world than tech. A $400 watch appeals to the practical, but there is very little coveting going on at that price point. The entry point for a watch people want to serve as a fashion accessory is 4 figures. Apple needs a collection at that level (at least) to make it something the fashion conscious aspire to own. Otherwise, they will be just a smarter Timex or Casio, and, once you get that reputation, you are never going to crack the higher end. Apple's brand is too valuable to allow them to enter a market relegated to the low-end ghetto. They are going to sell a lot more of the $400 ones, but they need the higher end for the higher end customers to dream of owning. To ignore that fashionable higher end would be to put a chink in Apple's aspirational brand among those very people who have a lot of discretionary income - and Apple is too smart to let that happen, even if it means releasing a lot of watches we deeply practical types shake our heads at. Sent from the iMore App
  • Here's what I'm curious about. If the Gold Edition watch is priced like a Rolex, how in the world does it compare to the Rolex's other equities. That is, hand crafted, limited editions, from a watchmaker's heritage. Rolex's CEO was once asked how the watch business was, he replied "I don't know, I'm not in the watch business". Even if it's better in every way (so is my Casio), how will a McMansion compare to a genuine Frank Lloyd Wright?
  • My grandfather's Rolex Submariner still runs after 40+ years, with only a service needed every 5-8 years. One day my son might inherit his great grandfather's Rolex Submariner, but I'll doubt my Moto 360, Pebble, or even any Apple Watch will be around still working after that time. A smartwatch will be obsolete and the battery will go bad within 2 years. It is not an heirloom like my grandfather`s Rolex, which I inherited and now wear, and one day my son will inherit and wear . Posted with my Sony Xperia Z3 via the iMore App for Android
  • I think that was his point.
  • If Rolex's history is an indication, the Apple Watch will actually be able to keep time relatively accurately. That's in stark contrast to Rolex's notoriously inaccurate "time" pieces.
  • Surely you don't buy a Rolex to keep time. Like I said about my $15 Casio about performance, and the Rolex CEO said about it not being a watch. This is about luxury. I see McMansion in those terms.... If I'm going to buy a mansion, you can rest assured it's going to be a Frank Lloyd Wright, not some semi-prefab. (Not that I would buy either).
  • Are people normally spending an S-ton on stainless steel watches? I still can't quite grasp the potential price point of the Watch (not Sport or Edition) to be at or near $1,000. My stainless steel Fossil cost me $150, and I've had it for more than five years without a single issue (and only one battery replacement). It's constructed remarkably well, it seems, and I get people asking about it all the time. It would seem, by comparison (to traditional, stainless steel analog watches), my Fossil watch is "cheap," how/why is that? It doesn't seem to be...
  • Whoops.. the "$150" should read, "$105". My bad. Let me clarify though, I understand that there is a lot more going on within the Apple Watch, but relative to a $349 starting point for aluminum, it just doesn't add up.
  • How do you read your messages on a fossil? Lol I own good watches and love them one of them is 12 years old and now the battery died
  • disregard this one, it won't let me delete
  • Rene makes some good points. I guess I struggle with whether this is fashion or tech? I get the fashion angle, but comparing them to Rolex is a pricing problem. Mediation just won't last or 'hold up' fashion value over 2 years. So from a pure fashion sense, I guess, but true fashion hungry people would rather go with a fashion brand? And the techies will not put out $2k for a 2 year watch. Get the Über Mac, but that still has value after 2 years. Anyway, I still see the base Edition between $1000-$1500.
  • Edition. Not meditation.
  • I think Apple should price this watch as "If you have to ask you can't afford it". Hand over your card and the Genius swipes it and charges a randomly generated price over a certain threshold. Nobody would know what the next guy paid for their watch only it was "a lot". Sent from the iMore App
  • That sounds ridiculously stupid.
  • We've talked about upgrade cycle on this a great deal and I really don't think it's safe to assume the Apple Watch will be upgraded in a year. I know that's Apples MO on almost everything but really, how much improvement can be made in a year when it is already launching with so much. The Pebble, while not as feature rich, is at nearly 3 years going with this new model launching but for all intents I see even the classic Pebble sticking around after the Time hits the shelves. I know many of the Android Wear devices have seen a couple of update cycles but the beginning models were bleeding edge and were maybe not fully baked. With Apple coming in late, maybe they've had more time to get it right the first time and can justify a few thousand dollars for the Edition if it gets a few years of life. Just a thought. As a comparison the Apple TV is three years long in the tooth and needs a serious upgrade but only if your comparing to comparable devices on the market. Otherwise it does what it does pretty well. Sent from the iMore App
  • Had a lot of watches. Well I am a little collector. However would never spend money on a edition watch from apple! I own a tag heuer and a breitling which I keep until my boys are older! But an Apple watch? Maybe getting one and never open the box may bring the value up one day but as soon the watch is open its almost useless and than nobody knows the inside of the watch! How long it will last inside a box
  • There are many assumptions being made here. We know little to nothing about the process or even the location of manufacture of the Apple Watch. I find it curious that, despite what Apple has revealed, there have been no leaks about parts, process or even selection of materials.
    Perhaps the Edition is not made in China where supplier leaks abound. The gold findings from machining and finishing alone would be a temptation to theft for a Chinese contractor's employees. Could the leather for the bands be hand selected and assembled like other luxury brands? Perhaps there is significant craftsmanship and hand finishing in the manufacture of the watch's case. That's not to say it would be equal to that required by a Swiss made movement.
    I think it's too early to pass judgement on Apple's understanding and appreciation for horology and fashion.
  • Considering that next year Apple will release a new watch which will probably be twice as fast and with twice the battery life than this one, I believe that those who chose to buy the $350 aluminum model will be much happier with their decision than those who bought the $700 stainless steel and decided to hold on to it for two years. And both groups, in turn, will be much happier than those who got the $5000 gold model planning to keep it for a decade.
    Also, it's not difficult to imagine that each new iteration of the Apple Watch will look differently from the previous one. So, if you bought the gold one as a status symbol, to tell everybody that you're wealthy, you're in for a bad surprise: after 5 years, people will be able to tell by looking at it that's a very old model, and they'll make fun of you.
    Bottom line: unless you can afford do replace your Edition watch at least as often as you replace your phone, don't bother buying one at all.