Apple Watch to debut on March 9, with China in the company's sights

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 February, 2015, 12:27pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 April, 2015, 12:10pm

Apple is due to enter China's hugely lucrative luxury watch market with the launch of the Apple Watch, which will debut at an event on March 9, the company announced this week. 

While the US tech giant has remained characteristically tight-lipped about what exactly will be revealed at the San Francisco event, the basic model is expected to be priced at around US$350. 

CEO Tim Cook also previously revealed that the device, the first brand new product for the company since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad in 2010, will ship in April. 

China is a key market for Apple. Revenue from Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland grew by 70 per cent in the most recent quarter from a year earlier, more than triple the growth rate in Europe and the Americas. 

In October, supermodel Liu Wen appeared on the cover of Vogue China wearing the Apple Watch, one of the device's first major publicity campaigns, and one in which Apple's chief designer Jony Ive and Cook were intimately involved. 

"[They] talked me through how they developed the concept of the Apple Watch from the beginning, I was impressed by their thoughts and passion for the project," Vogue China editor Angelica Cheung told Business of Fashion.

When Apple introduced a gold version of the iPhone 5S in 2013, it was widely seen to be courting the Chinese market, with great success. Prior to the device's official launch in Beijing, gold models were reportedly selling for upwards of US$4,000. In Hong Kong, mainland Chinese gold bugs queued for hours outside Apple stores in the city to get their hands on the gilded iPhone. 

Unsurprisingly then, the Apple Watch will come in gold. The 18 karat Apple Watch Edition is expected to retail for more than US$5,000. 

With more than one million units expected to be in production per month, some estimates suggest that the Edition could use as much as a third of the world's gold supply. 

"If Apple makes one million Apple Watch Edition units every month, that equals 24 million troy ounces of gold used per year, or roughly 746 metric tons," writes Josh Centers of Apple news site TidBits. "If Apple uses 746 metric tons every year, we’re talking about 30 percent of the world’s annual gold production."

Luxury watches are big business in China. The value of Swiss watch exports to the mainland has increased from 16.8 million Swiss francs in 2000 to 1.6 billion in 2012. According to Deloitte, mainland China and Hong Kong are now the top export market for Swiss watches, though sales have dropped somewhat since Beijing launched its anti-corruption drive

The Apple Watch is courting Chinese consumers with more than just bling however. While reaction to the company's "digital touch" technology – which allows users to draw commands and messages on the screen with their finger – was largely muted in the West (Cult of Mac called it a "silly gimmick"), it could be key to the device's success in Asian markets, where many users are already more accustomed to drawing characters than typing them. 

"The killer app for the Apple Watch is the Chinese language," said Stefan Geens of mobile app design firm Aventyret. "The rest of us are forced to draw fishes and hope nothing gets lost in translation."