The Quiet Demise of the Apple Watch Editiion

Anyone who follows Apple remembers the launch of the Apple Watch and the announcement of the solid gold Apple Watch Edition. This device was priced from $10,000 to $17,000, and only available at select (luxury) retailers and Apple Stores.

Writing about this product after its announcement, I said:

“There will be limited quantities of the Apple Watch Edition. It is priced from $10,000, and it will be available in select retail stores.”

Mr. Cook paused for a half-second just after saying the price, and the silence in the room was palpable. Watching Cook say these lines, I was struck by what seemed to be a bit of embarrassment, as though he wasn’t fully behind the idea of selling a watch at this price.

Before the launch of the Apple Watch, knowing that there would be a high-priced model, I watched as many tech journalists, many of them watch aficionados, attempted to predict its pricing, and justify the ridiculous prices that some watches sell for. The problem was, they were mistakenly comparing it to a hand made luxury watch, trying to justify both the potential price for Apple’s device and the prices that they paid for watches. I had said:

“The Apple Watch Edition is not a luxury watch; it’s just a gold-cased version of the cheaper watch. There’s nothing exclusive about it, nothing special. It’s not like more expensive watches where you pay for complex machinery. Yes, there is gold; that will make it more expensive than the other models. But not that much. Estimates of the cost of the gold suggest that the metal would cost less than $1,000.”

I went on to say:

I wonder if Tim Cook’s embarrassment is a tell; a sign that Cook didn’t want to make a gold watch. That the Apple Watch Edition is a vanity project for Jony Ive, a luxury watch aficionado who rides in a Bentley to work every day. A $10,000 watch (or even $17,000, the highest priced model) is not Apple. While the company is often criticized for selling products at prices higher than competitors, Apple has always backed these prices up with higher quality and better design. Apple has never been a company of bling, and the Apple Watch Edition is bling, nothing more.

The idea of a solid gold (case) Apple Watch led many people to speculate on upgrades. With a tech device whose lifespan could be, say, two or three years, would it make sense to offer an upgrade path, or just expect people to chuck it when it no longer supported the latest operating system?

In March, 2016, less than a year after its launch, Apple started making the Apple Watch Edition disappear from its website and stores. This was a sign that not only was it not selling, but that it was harming people’s perception of Apple.

When the Apple Watch Series 2 was released in September 2016, the gold version was gone, replaced by a white ceramic Apple Watch Edition, priced at (merely) $1249 and $1299. Series 3, the following year, saw both gray and white ceramic models, at $1299 and $1349.

This year, the Apple Watch Edition is dead. There was clearly not enough demand for a product at that price, and selling that sort of “luxury” product just never fit with Apple’s approach. Sure, Apple’s products are not cheap, but it’s not a company with a history of luxury priced items. The price of the Apple Watch has increased substantially this year, making some models quite expensive – such as the stainless steel with Milanese loop at $849 – and there’s a whole line of Hermès versions, with fancy leather bands, that sell for as much as $1499. With the Hermès version, Apple offloads some of the baggage of the luxury pricing to a secondary brand that it partners with, making it look like it’s not so much Apple responsible for the high prices. And it still maintains some models that are priced exclusively for those who want to show off.

It’s fair to say that the Apple Watch Edition was a failed experiment, likely fueled by Jony Ive who wanted to turn Apple into a luxury watch brand. It’s a shame that Tim Cook allowed it to happen in the first place.