The Apple Stores Might Become Like Jewelry Stores

Apple stores have been defined by their open environments that let customers “play” with the products. It’s a feature many jewelers can only envy, due to the security concerns associated with carrying a small, high-value product. 

But now that Apple is releasing an 18k gold watch, possibly sporting a several-thousand-dollar price tag, playtime may be over. 

“Like a traditional jewelry store, Apple will outfit its official retail stores with safes to house the more expensive, gold ‘edition’ variants of the upcoming Apple Watch,” writes 9to5Mac, a well-regarded Apple news and gossip site.

That makes sense, says John Kennedy, president of the Jewelers’ Security Alliance.

If Apple carries a high-end product, “it’s totally antithetical to their current retail model,” he says. “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.”

And that may not be the only new security precaution, 9to5Mac says: 

Apple is also working on special weight scales for its retail stores to weigh the amount of gold in individual Apple Watch Edition variants. The scales will be used to weigh the amount of gold in Apple Watch Editions upon replacement or return. Apple wants to ensure that no gold is removed from the units prior to replacement/return, as the gold material is worth a substantial amount of money on secondary markets. 

As another tech blog puts it: “Don’t be surprised to see some parts of Apple retail stores start resembling jewelry shops in the run-up to and following the launch of the Apple Watch.”

As intriguing as this all is, it may not be the only possible change in the tech giant’s retail strategy. Now that it’s selling high-end items, it’s possible it could open high-end boutiques.

Consider: Apple is opening a store on 74th Street and Madison Avenue in New York City, a tony retail area strip that houses jewelers such as David Webb. (Prior tenant in its space: luxury retailer VBH.) That will play right into the skill set of Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts, who previously headed Burberry.   

And of course, the watch could be pitched to existing jewelry and watch retailers, which would certainly explain the hiring of TAG Heuer’s former vice president of sales. It was telling that the first public display of its watch was at high-end Paris boutique Colette during Fashion Week—even though Apple already has two stores in the city. 

(Which means Apple may be talking to JCK readers. We haven’t heard of any jewelers being approached, but if any of you out there have been, please let me know. Confidentiality assured.)

One other point on the high-end watch: Traditional timepiece executives often question whether consumers will shell out several thousand bucks for a glorified gadget, even one slathered in rose gold. After a few years of use, many tech products turn into shiny metal paperweights. Luxury watches are built to last a lifetime (or more). Wouldn’t that at least incentivize buyers to stick with the cheapest model? 

It’s a fair point. And while Apple has remained characteristically mum on its plans, one much-discussed—and certainly logical, if not necessarily achievable—solution involves separating the innards of the watch from the rest. So the watch would be internally upgradable. When Apple improves the technology, wearers would buy new guts—possibly for a few hundred dollars. That means they wouldn’t buy a watch every year or two or download a new operating system that wreaks havoc on their hardware (as many Apple updates do). And the company still makes money all the way. 

As Business Insider notes, Apple’s marketing materials now boast how the watch contains an entire computer on one chip. So “it just has to rip out that little computer and replace it with a new one.… That could make the Apple Watch even more valuable as a timepiece. It would be a first-edition collector’s item that would grow in value over time.”

JCK News Director