Apple Watch creates an interesting dilemma as personalized luxury, built around technology, is positioned against timelessness. There is increasing evidence that Apple Watch's personalized luxury will trump the device's lack of timelessness, which will not only impact Apple's financials, but cause a major upheaval in the traditional luxury watch market.
Starting in early 2015, Apple will sell three distinct watch collections, each positioned for a different type of buyer. Apple Watch Sport will be positioned for those with a more active lifestyle, or just looking for a less-subtle fashion accessory, while Apple Watch will be for the all-purpose, practical buyer. At the top of the price range, Apple Watch Edition will rely on refined elegance to sell to the few that truly value personalized luxury. Both the Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch will be priced at levels that leaves timelessness out of the purchase decision, largely as a result of the device's perceived utility and value. The Apple Watch Edition raises some interesting questions though in terms of luxury, technology, and timelessness.
The luxury watch market prides itself on combining craftsmanship and timelessness to create emotion, which is then passed down from generation to generation. With a smartwatch, and its reliance on parts that will not be able to stand up against the test of time, how can luxury be a selling point? Several luxury watchmakers have given hints that they think a smartwatch's lack of timelessness guarantees traditional luxury watches will not be threatened by this new crop of wrist gadgets. I'm not so sure that logic will stand the test of time.
With Apple Watch Edition, Apple is appealing to a small group of buyers that want luxury combined with personalization (think different bands and faces), something traditional luxury watches are unable to provide. Will there be buyers that prefer luxury over technology's inherit lack of timelessness? Looking at the cottage industry that has developed around adding personal luxury to iPhones, the answer is a resounding yes. Luxury is a feeling one receives from wearing or using a product, regardless of it's utility or lifespan. Dezeen highlighted Feld & Volk, which describes itself as "an association, consisting of artists and engineers, who create unique devices developed on the basis of iPhone and iPad." Feld & Volk disassembled the iPhone 6 to see which parts could be swapped out with more expensive counterparts. The end result is a collection of truly unique iPhones, one of which is called 'Wood', a $4,799 iPhone 6 that includes a back panel made of Karelian birch, 24K gold plated buttons, and an illuminated Apple logo made of sapphire glass. Meanwhile, another company called Brikk sells a 24K gold iPhone 6 Plus for $5,995. Vertu sells a range of Android-powered phones, with some models costing up to $20,000. While the market for these phones is quite small (Vertu has sold over 300,000 phones to date), the same can be said about Apple Watch Edition if the device is priced around the $5,000 to $8,000 range. I estimated Apple could sell a few hundred thousand watches a year from the Apple Watch Edition collection assuming a $7,500 average price, with China being the major target market.
Why would someone pay $7,500 for a watch that will not stand the test of time? The value of personalized luxury outweighs the device's short utility period. Looking at the Apple Watch Edition, I don't see the point in having the electronics be interchangeable or upgradable. An individual buying such a watch doesn't care about the device's lack of timelessness and that should keep traditional watch makers awake at night. Apple's embrace of personalized luxury has the potential to shake-up a number of industries, including the traditional luxury watch market.