Today, Apple officially enters the world of fine jewelry with the introduction of the Apple Watch, and with today’s announcement the industry I grew up in and the company I admire most will collide. Sure, Apple’s been a competitor for the jewelry industry for some time now—at least in the sense that the desire for a new iPhone, iPad or MacBook has shifted market share away from fine jewelry over the past few years—but with today’s detailed unveiling of the Apple Watch, they are now a part of my beloved industry.
As someone who loves and believes in the jewelry industry, it’s going to be fascinating, and more than a little terrifying, to see what happens when a massive company like Apple enters into our world. There has been concern ever since our new competitor first previewed the Apple Watch back in September. What comes next is far from certain.
What Will The Product Be And Will People Care?
We need to see the finished product, understand the pricing and see the positioning. It’s unclear if Apple intends to disrupt pricing within the luxury watch industry (where gold watches can run well into the tens of thousands) with a lower price point, or if they’re looking to embrace a higher-tiered price point and customer.
It’s safe to say based on the previously announced $350 entry-level price point that the low-to-mid tier watch makers have some serious new competition, as will both fashionable and non-fashionable wearables brands. Even so, we’re yet to know if there is a broad customer base for a connected device on the wrist, especially when you consider that younger generations are shying away from watches in general.
There are also challenges for those who do own and desire a watch. From what we’ve heard, the relationship we are meant to have with the Apple Watch aims to be as intimate as the one we have with our phones (which is often far more intimate than we care to admit). This flies in the face of the traditional watch world where you can change your watches to match your mood. Sure you can change out straps and change your watch face, but it will be a far more limiting fashion statement than many are used to having. It will be interesting to see if the functionality gained is impactful enough to replace the emotional connection that many get from their existing watch collection. As much as Apple needs to get one audience to put on a watch, they may have a bigger challenge getting another to take theirs off.
And what about Apple themselves? How will they handle upgrades, especially on the top-tier Edition watch? People aren’t going to be okay with having an obsolete device in a few years, but a trade-in program is a significant shift away from the long-term financial and emotional investment that many consider a watch to be.
How Will This Watch Be Sold, Both Today And Tomorrow?
All of this is speculation that just about every Apple Geek is currently doing, but what I can’t help but wonder about is how this will play out in the jewelry industry. We now have a very strong competitor in Apple. But will it be purely competition?
Casey Liss wrote an excellent piece questioning if Apple will ultimately be sold in well-known jewelry stores like Zales. It raises some interesting questions and possibilities.
I think it’s safe to say that for year one, the full selection of Apple Watches will exclusively be sold at Apple Stores. We may see some of the more entry-level models sold through authorized partners like Best Buy, but I have a feeling Apple will want to keep their arms around the higher end of this new business until they understand it better.
A year from now, I bet this changes. As Casey suggested, we would very likely see a key partner like Zales or Jared step in. Or perhaps it will be a watch-centric retailer, like Tourneu (although they are not in all states). They may decide to go with regional partners like Helzberg or Ben Bridge. But my guess is that these partnerships (at least in all doors) would be for the Apple Watch Sport or Apple Watch, and not the Apple Watch Edition.
I’d speculate, because that’s all you can ever do with Apple, that the Apple Watch Edition ultimately ends up in top-tier independent and regional jewelers alongside brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Panerai, Jaeger LeCoultre. I believe Apple wants the Edition to be sold next to these brands and that they will want it sold by sales experts capable of helping maintain an aspirational price point and experience (if they decide to go the aspirational route).
Another possibility, which was suggested by Steven Hackett, is that Apple could turn “part of their square footage into some sort of Watch-only, pop-up store-within-a-store.” Over time, Apple might partner with the “Rolex Jeweler” in each key market to enhance this experience. Ultimately Apple may just end up poaching sales people, but there’s room for collaboration. Many of the perfect jewelers for Apple already have experience with this type of collaboration from their partnerships on Pandora boutiques. Even though they may be able to get this by poaching staff, these jewelers already have something Apple don’t: relationships with those willing to spend serious money on a watch.
It’s a distinct possibility that, as of today, jewelers have some very real competition in Apple. This is bound to concern or upset a few in my world, as we don’t often take to change well. However, there’s a chance (however small) that instead we may have a new partner for collaboration. And while it’s likely just one Apple-loving, jewelry-working geek’s fantasy, I hold out naive hope that Apple manages to help grow the whole of our industry rather than just trying to squash a piece of its legacy like a bug.