While Apple CEO Tim Cook spent a lot of time detailing the features and benefits of the Apple Watch, highlighting the materials used in the regular and Sport models, he glossed over the headline-grabber: the solid gold Apple Watch Edition. Maybe it’s because Apple didn’t want to highlight the huge amount of gold required to sell such a timepiece to each interested millionaire, or maybe because they didn’t want to start a class war—but more on that later.
Just look at the way the raw materials are fetishized in the advertisements. It’s like a sexier version of How It’s Made with Mount Doom-esque forging footage. Reports that Apple may use one-third of the world’s annual gold supply in the gold model are probably premature, but with their immense size, incredibly tight supply chain, and popularity, that estimate may not be far from the mark. Apple has the power to coerce suppliers like no other company in the world. After all, when it tried to make new iPhone screens from artificial sapphire instead of hardened glass (a plan that ultimately failed), it planned to create the world’s largest sapphire factory, doubling the world’s supply. In the case of lesser models, Apple will consume even more aluminum, glass, sapphire, and stainless steel, all while companies lower on the supply chain get these beautiful raw materials from mines that exploit nations with lax environmental and human rights policies.
Other than the human and monetary cost, the actual category itself loses its value when a product becomes smart, and thus ephemeral. One company (Apple) will take over half the luxury watch market with a product that has no staying power. It’ll be the first desirable timepiece that won’t keep ticking after a licking.
Apple has traditionally refined a device that we’ve already seen, transforming a tool (the personal computer, the music player, the phone) into something covetable. Now, though, it’s just turning something covetable into something disposable. If history is any indication, the battery won’t be replaceable, and there will be no Apple horologist with a loupe to admire and repair its inner workings.
A luxury watch, as Captain Koons (Christopher Walken’s Pulp Fiction character) illustrated, is something to be passed down from generation to generation. The machinery of a clock is a marvel, and the beauty of a luxury watch rests equally in its design and its . . . timelessness. As we’ve come to know with our Apple products, they don’t exactly have much of a shelf life. Hell, any smart technology is known to get dumb after a little while.
Regardless of how much you spend on the Watch, its screen will crack, its battery will fail to hold a charge, and it will gradually fade into obsolescence as new versions of iOS require more processing power. Even though a Patek Philippe is a frivolous indulgence, at least its movement doesn’t need upgrading every four years to remain functional. Technically, a $10 Casio can match the Patek for accuracy, but that was never really the point. The allure of a high-end watch was limited to the one per cent, but Apple is trying to convince the masses that they need one, too. In a few years, Apple will move on to improve another object in our lives, but like the gold watch, it’ll come at a price.