What Does a $10k Watch Mean for Apple’s Rebel Base?

I’m kind of a “watch guy.” I admittedly don’t have a big collection, but I have a few watches I acquired over the years that spoke to me in some way. Being a designer, I am fascinated with the intention that goes into making wristwatches and the details that make some of them timeless. Some manufacturers have been around for over a hundred years, and exploring how they’ve evolved is revealing as to their identity.

The more iconic watchmakers (Omega, Rolex, Patek, etc.) understand their brands well enough to know how not to upset their audience by changing things too much or straying too far from their advocates. Designs tend to evolve incrementally, and a maker’s range of models stays devoted to a core audience of brand champions who know that, while they are paying a large amount of money for a watch, the benefit is not only a symbol of status or personal achievement, but they are getting a work of functional art that will remain classic — something inherently contrary to the ever-changing world of devices and electronics. So it was with vested interest that I read about the new details surrounding the Apple Watch and its iterations.

Three versions of the watch will be available in ascending price points: the “Apple Watch Sport,” “Apple Watch [Standard],” and the “Apple Watch Edition.” Starting at $350, the Sport is the most modest and compares to any other new product in their line of devices. But it’s the 18-carat gold Edition (starting at $10,000) where Apple seems to be leaving behind their core audience.

Apple has always positioned itself as an idea more than just a corporation, merging the rebellious spirit of world-changers with thoughtfully designed tools to enable this outsider revolution. They make products that seem to brush away clutter in favor of intuitive and experiential function in intentionally modest form. Sure, these devices aren’t cheap, but because Apple wants you to keep buying the latest versions, they’ve kept the prices within reach. It’s why they’ve made so much money. But with the Apple Watch Edition, the company is clearly targeting the super-rich and positioning Apple as the newest luxury brand.

Spending $10,000+ on a watch (especially an 18-carat gold one) is fairly commonplace when you’re buying a Rolex and certainly a Patek Philippe, but it’s a different matter altogether for a smart watch. First, the internal design of every Apple Watch model is exactly the same. The Sport has the exact same computer and functionality as the Edition. Secondly, as with any other device, they will be obsolete within a couple of years once technology inevitably improves and the Apple Watch-S or 2.0 or whatever is released. This holds true for every Apple Watch model.

Apple has always been a profit-driven company, but what are they saying to their audience of rebels and nonconformists with the release of the Apple Watch Edition? Is it that they are creating a new, elite symbol of status? Are they suggesting that, instead of paying more for a better experience and more functionality, you should simply pay more because a more expensive version of their smart watch is obviously preferable? I’m not really sure. For now I’ll stick to my dumb watch though.