What's the real value in the Apple Watch Edition?

It's not the amount of gold that allows the Apple Watch Edition to command $10,000 to $17,000 because there is less gold than what you might find in other jewelry or watches, such as a Rolex, for instance. To make it stronger and lighter, Apple developed a patented new technology to make the gold for its watches by mixing in ceramic particles rather than other metals. 

Forbesexplains the process and can't help but make the point that the Rolex will still tell time after 20 years and nobody knows how long before the Apple Watch will be obsolete.  

So if it's not the actual value of the materials that allows the Apple Watch Edition to command such a high price (some reports estimate it at only $500 worth of gold), then the value is likely in how useful the wearer finds it and/or how it helps them participate with their group of people and the status it gives them.

Let's look at the usefulness of the watch. Some critics are balking at its limited ability to perform. It has the same functionality of the Apple Sport for about $16,500 more. Like the other, less expensive Apple Watches, the Edition has a battery life of only 18 hours and barely enough storage for 200 songs.

It seems Apple is betting on the Apple Watch as an idea rather than using the most expensive materials or offering the highest functionality. 

Forbes describes this idea as "status and standing"... "aspiration and achievement."

Other experts agree. According to Jordan Weissmann, Slate's senior business and economics correspondent, "There's not much point in debating whether the Edition is 'worth' that luxe price tag. Ultimately, it is a nicely designed piece of Internet-enabled jewelry targeted at customers with enough money that they don't have to fret over a five-figure style choice. If it becomes a status symbol, it'll be because it's expensive and rare, not because of any intrinsic value. However, there is something conceptually funny about the product that Apple has engineered. We are talking about an 18-karat gold watch that, to quote one of the company's patents, uses "as little gold as possible."

What's interesting here is that while Apple CEO Tim Cook called this watch "revolutionary," jewelry has long been a tool for social interaction and status. With the debut of its watches, Apple appears to be tapping into thousands of years of human instinct to show individuality and status through decoration way beyond the value of the raw materials used to create it. For the indigenous people of the Americas, who were puzzled by the Europeans thirst for gold when they arrived in 'The New World,' gold was an abundant material and there was little pressure to horde this resource and far more value placed on its use in culture and society.

So what do you do to show status when technology has brought us to a place where so many people in the U.S. have access to more resources than ever before in history? Where the raw materials needed for business to take place is available in abundance – plenty of electricity, water, coffee and paper? Where some would argue we have too much abundance, such as easy access to online communications, and need techniques for managing the abundance of emails? Technology meets status symbol with the debut of the Apple Watch Edition. 

So why not introduce a gold iPad or iPhone as a luxury item? Perhaps Apple also knew what it was doing when it selected a timepiece as the next item on its production line. Today, one of the biggest challenges businesses face is not how much stuff they have, how much equipment they have, or how much data for that equipment they have, but instead making the most of people's time. Time has become the overwhelming scarce resource for U.S. businesses.  

Now more than ever, the most successful businesses will make the most of their people’s time and do more with less people by pushing efficiency and productivity. This means they need to look at IT as a time multiplier, not just a feature delivery mechanism. We have passed the tipping point where we need more features and, as the Apple Watch interface shows, lean and efficient is the competitive advantage now but not at the expense of elegance and prestige.

As businesses look at their IT budgets and decisions in the coming year, they should consider how much each solution they use amplifies time. Does it slow down your team or speed it up? Can a system be removed to simplify a process?  Which new options for your business solution have mobility plans to make it easier to use whenever and wherever you need it? And a more subjective metric that will become increasingly important – how pleasant is this solution to use? Does this solution become a jewel of a tool to use and something that people enjoy and find beautiful? Should we expect our tools to should be both functional and elegant? Apple is betting, yes. If you look around, you will see that other companies are moving in that direction, as well.

Architect Michael Graves, 1934-2015, with housewares designs for Target. Photo from New York Times report, 3/12/15