Apple releases its much-anticipated watch on Friday.
Some customers will start receiving their online orders in the mail. And those willing to pay up to $17,000 for an 18-karat gold version can buy one at one of several high-end fashion boutiques that sell it in just a few cities around the globe, including Paris, London and Los Angeles.
With its price, exclusivity, limited supply and courting of celebrities, Apple has adopted branding techniques from the luxury world.
The company sent watches in advance of the debut to celebrities with fashion influence, including singer Beyonce, who was photographed wearing a gold Apple Watch.
As it has done with other products, Apple is also emphasizing quality. With its high-end gold watch, it’s even staking a premium on the gold itself. In a company video, Apple’s chief designer Jony Ive said the gold was a special composite.
“Each is a custom alloy, designed to be not only beautiful, but up to twice as hard as standard gold,” Ive said.
Even trying on the gold watch at an Apple store is an unusual shopping experience. The expensive watches are kept under lock and key, and are followed around the store by a guard.
Milton Pedraza, who heads the consulting firm Luxury Institute, says Apple has adopted luxury brand techniques in order to further position itself — through its watch — above its competitors and so it won’t be forced to compete in price.
At the same time, associating the Apple Watch with high-end fashion could make it more likely that people will buy the cheaper version to associate with the higher-priced one.
“You create this level of exclusivity … and therefore it has, what we would call, a halo effect. It makes it more compelling … more desired,” says Pedraza.
In its first week of pre-orders, Apple sold 1.4 million watches online, according to Slice Intelligence, an e-commerce research firm. Less than one percent of those pre-orders were the expensive gold watches.
But Apple’s high-fashion positioning also has to do with the tricky nature of wearable technologies.
“It could be the most amazing technology in the world, but if it doesn’t look good, it’s dead in the water,” says James Letourneau, who helps run Design.UX, an online company that sells colorful fabric covers for Fitbit movement trackers.
He says once you wear a device, it becomes intensely personal.
“They can’t just be an accelerometer in a little box that people walk around in,” Letourneau says. “People want it to look nice. And they don’t want it to look like everyone else’s.”
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