Apple Decides It Won’t Be Rolex

The tech giant is no longer selling $17,000 18k gold watches

You may have heard that Apple is no longer offering headphone jacks on its phones. But from a jewelry standpoint, the tech giant’s biggest news this week is it’s stopped selling 18k gold watches.

After only a year and a half, the 18k gold Apple Watch Edition (pictured)—which retailed from $10,000 to $17,000—has seemingly disappeared from its site; the Apple Watch “buy” page no longer lists any gold models, and the page that used to list the gold model now “can’t be found.”

Apple’s foray into high-end luxury was much discussed and speculated upon (including on this blog). It claimed to have invented a new extra-hard gold (which metallurgists doubted). It poached Patrick Pruniaux from TAG Heuer and placed the high-end watch in London Jewelers and Los Angeles boutique Maxfield. It reportedly held talks with Tiffany and Nordstrom. There was even talk it would follow up the gold timepiece with a platinum model. Many thought the tech giant was transforming itself into a lifestyle brand.

But Pruniaux no longer works exclusively for the watch business, and judging from their sites, London Jewelers and Maxfield have moved on. Apple recently signed a deal to get its watch in a department store—mid-market Macy’s, rather than Nordstrom. Apple is still offering an Edition watch—but the “reimagined” Edition is now in ceramic and carries a relatively modest $1,249 price tag. 

Watch industry insiders were always skeptical about Apple’s chances of becoming a luxury name, arguing that high-end watches are designed to last a lifetime (or more), while tech toys get frequent updates. Apple may have been able to get around this, if, as some predicted, it engineered a way to make the high-end watch endlessly upgradable. But that never happened—perhaps an early indicator that the company hadn’t really thought through its entrance into the luxury sector. 

The high-end watch was always a strange fit for both jewelers and Apple. For jewelers to truly do well with it, they would probably also need to carry the lower-end models. But those could also been found at chains such as Best Buy, which frequently discount. Further, Apple has always been about selling large numbers. It’s tough to turn $17,000 watches into a high-volume business.

Apple also seems to have rethought its initial positioning for the watch. When it was first introduced, the company said its new device was “as much about personal expression as about functionality,” and the gold model certainly fit into that. But that positioning also perhaps fueled the perception that the watch didn’t have much practical use.

But now, as Vox notes, Apple is stressing the watch’s functionality—specifically as an exercise monitor. A $17,000 watch is not an ideal workout companion.

For all this, the watch industry still needs to keep an eye on the smartwatch sector and Apple in particular. This week, the company proclaimed itself the world’s second largest watchmaker—which is impressive, considering it has been in the market for less than two years. But it still sells less than Rolex. And that brand, as well as all other Swiss watchmakers, must be feeling pretty good that Apple has basically given up on entering their end of the market.

(Photo courtesy of Apple)

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JCK News Director

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