Apple Goes for the Gold With $17,000 High-End Watch

Apple is turning iEnd.

The 18k Apple Watch Edition, the top model of the company’s new smartwatch line, will bear a $10,000 to $17,000 price tag, marking the tech giant’s entrance into the luxury market.

Following a presentation by CEO Tim Cook on March 9, Apple announced details on its much-hyped timepiece:

• Apple’s entry-level Sport model is priced at $349 and $399, and the mid-level model—the plain old Watch—will set buyers back $549 to $1,099.

• All three models go on sale April 24, though only in nine countries, including the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, and China—but not Switzerland.

• The face is customizable: You can add details like the date, the world clock, a stopwatch, and the time of your next meeting. Wearers can receive and dictate messages and emails and make (brief) phone calls, thanks to a built-in speaker and microphone. The watch can also display iPhone notifications, track users’ daily activity, and settle bills with Apple Pay.

• Among the drawbacks: The watch must be used with an iPhone nearby (and it has to be an iPhone 5 or later), and the battery life is only about 18 hours. The watch is “splash- and ­water-resistant but not waterproof,” meaning you can wash your hands with it, but not submerge it. The leather bands are not water-resistant.

The Sales Strategy

Eric Risberg/AP 
The 18k yellow gold Apple Watch Edition

At press time, only one non-Apple U.S. store was announced as a retailer: Maxfield in Los Angeles, a boutique once called “the fifth most expensive store in America.” The watch will also be stocked at fashion stores like Colette in Paris, Dover Street Market in London and Tokyo, and The Corner Berlin. Apple has scheduled previews at Paris’ Galeries Lafayette, Isetan in Tokyo, and Selfridges in London.

The device is being sold at Apple’s retail stores as well, and is reportedly sparking a change in their much-admired layout. According to The New Yorker, Apple senior vice president of design Jonathan Ive and senior vice president for stores Angela Ahrendts are overseeing upgrades to make them “a more natural setting for vitrines filled with gold.” Ive told the magazine about one conversation that struck a chord with him: “I’m not going to buy a watch if I can’t stand on carpet.”

The stores are beefing up security and installing safes to stock the Edition, as well as scales to weigh the gold when the Edition is returned, according to a report in 9to5Mac.

That makes sense, says John J. Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance. Carrying a gold watch is “totally antithetical to their current retail model,” he explains. “You can’t have people touching it. You can’t have it out on counters. You have the same problems that retail jewelers have in terms of distraction thefts, in terms of switching, in terms of grab-and-runs.”

Press for Time

Apple says the gold in its high-end watch uses a proprietary alloy created to be twice as hard as regular gold, made by mixing silver, copper, and palladium. Based on a patent application that appeared after the unveiling, most metallurgists described Apple’s mixture as standard age hardening.

While the watches received a mixed reception from the tech press, analysts thought Apple’s brand power would result in heavy initial sales. Some predict the company could sell as many as 30 million watches this year—which would top the 28.6 million watches Switzerland exported for all of 2014.

Whatever happens with the wrist-gizmo, it captured the attention of leading watchmakers at Baselworld. And succeed or fail, it may also change the way the public views timepieces.

“Today’s Rolex buyer [may not] buy an Apple Watch Edition for thousands of dollars,” Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey told Fortune. “[But] tomorrow’s Rolex buyer may never materialize, having been thoroughly trained to believe watches should be as useful as they are beautiful.”