We only know one thing for sure about the Apple Watch’s price: It starts at $349. Everything else is speculation.
Even so, a bit of research can lead to some educated guesses. I went ahead and parsed Apple’s (few) words on the subject, read through a dozen theories, then did a little analysis of my own. I’ll run through the most popular opinions, comment on each, then predict how much each band and size will cost.
How many price points?
Apple gave us a hint about pricing by curating three collections: Sport, Watch and Edition. The Sport Collection is comprised only of aluminum cases, the Watch Collection only of stainless steel cases and the Edition Collection only of gold cases. So we’re probably looking at three standard price points, which will fluctuate based on your choice of band, and possibly, size (38 mm vs. 42 mm).
It’s almost certain, then, that the 38 mm Apple Watch Sport is the $349 model. Swap out for a larger display and different band, however, and you’re probably looking at a higher price point. But before we get too bogged down in bands and sizes, let’s focus on the big picture: What will be the default price point for each of the three collections?
Price points for each collection: Sport, Watch, Edition
#1: The iPod/iPhone/iPad Pricing Theory
- $349 for Sport
- $449 for Watch
- $549 for Edition
A pricing structure like this would fall right in line with past Apple pricing schemes. For the iPod, iPad and iPhone, Apple has historically charged $100 more for additional storage. Then there’s size differences. The iPad Air starts $100 above the latest iPad Mini, while the iPhone 6 Plus will cost $100 more than the iPhone 6. Taken all together, a simple $100 premium for each collection seems obvious. It’s just the way Apple does things.
It seems obvious, that is, until you consider that the Edition Collection is made out of 18-karat gold. There’s simply no way Apple is selling that much precious metal for less than $600. At the very least, the Edition Collection will have to be priced higher.
#2: The precious metal premium (conservative)
- $349 for Sport
- $749 for Watch
- $1,499 for Edition
The prevailing wisdom now seems to be that the gold watches (Edition) will cost well over $1,000, while the stainless steel watches (Watch) will fall somewhere in the middle. At a glance, these price points seem pretty high, especially considering that today’s average smartwatch is only $219:
But look at these prices from the perspective of a traditional watch enthusiast, and $1,499 for a gold watch isn’t so bad. Under this theory, the Apple Watch’s success will come down to whether customers consider the product a competitor to Pebble ($249) or Rolex ($20k). Naturally, Apple hopes it’ll be the latter.
#3: The precious metal premium (liberal)
- $349 for Sport
- $999 for Watch
- $4,999+ for Edition
First speculated by Apple commentator John Gruber, some now believe Apple’s watches will cost much, much more than most people first thought. (Gruber’s gold watch prediction was actually even higher, at $10k).
The first ominous sign here is Apple’s own words. The company never referred to Apple Watch as a “smartwatch,” and in an earlier interview, Jony Ive himself named Switzerland — not Silicon Valley — as Apple Watch’s primary region of competition. Whether or not you agree with this frame of mind, Apple’s pride (hubris?) on this point is likely to drive their price point up.
But once again, the bigger factor is the 18-karat gold. Rolex’s all-gold watches (including the band) tend to start around $12k, and even those with standard leather bands tend to start at $3k.
I remain skeptical that Apple could sell a consumer tech product at a price point this high, but if the company can convince the world this is a piece of fashion — and not just a glorified iPod Nano — maybe a few of Apple’s wealthiest patrons will cave.
The size of the case
I’m expecting the 38 mm and 42 mm versions to have different price points, as Apple has always attached bigger price tags to bigger products (the 11- vs. 13-inch MacBook Air, the iPhone 6 vs. 6 Plus, for example). For the Sport and Watch Collections, I expect Apple to charge its usual $100 premium on the 42 mm model. But for the Edition line? Even a small increase in gold could mean a significant price jump. For now, let’s call it $300 more for the 42 mm.
But what about the bands?
The first question about bands, I suppose, is whether they will even be included in the retail price of the watch. My best guess is that each watch will come with a base price that includes the Sport Band, but that subbing in an alternative band will increase your final bill, a little like adding RAM when purchasing a MacBook Pro.
Apple also made a big deal about changing out bands for different occasions, proudly showing off the easy-release functionality. For these reasons, it seems likely that each band will also be sold as an individually priced accessory.
So what will those prices be? I looked back over Apple’s past product offerings to see if I could find a similar accessory. I needed something that came in multiple materials, that could be attached and removed, and that could serve as a close companion to a core Apple product. The best analogy I could find? The iPad’s Smart Cover and Case.
The most affordable Smart Cover is made of polyurethane, and costs $39. It comes in six colors, most of them bright or pastel. In other words, it’s the Sport Band equivalent for the iPad. Meanwhile, the leather Smart Case is a luxury accessory, coming in at $79. Buying a leather cover for your iPad would be like buying a Milanese Loop band for your Apple Watch. A quick calculation reveals that the $39 price point is 13% the cost of the cheapest iPad (the $300 non-Retina iPad Mini), while that $79 accessory is 26% the cost.
It’s for these reasons that I predict the cheapest band (the Sport Band) will be about 15% the cost of the watch, while the most expensive bands will be about 30% the cost of the watch. However, I think Apple will price the five non-sport bands relative to its Watch Collection, not its Sport Collection. Case in point: only the Sport Band is present on Apple’s Sport Collection page, while every band is present on Apple’s Watch Collection page.
So here’s what I’ve got:
- Sport Band – $49*
- Classic Buckle – $99
- Leather Loop – $149
- Modern Buckle – $149
- Milanese Loop – $199
- Link Bracelet – $249**
*~15% of $349, the official Sport Collection price
**~30% of $749, the price estimate for the Watch Collection from Theory #2
How did I decide on this order? First, I assumed that the more metal involved, the pricier the band. Take a good look at the Modern Buckle and you’ll see how much more metal it contains than the Classic Buckle. That will likely add up to a $50 price difference for stainless steel, and possibly a lot more for a gold version.
But my best explanation is simpler than all that: This is the order that Apple lists the bands on its main Watch Collection page. It’s a subtle hint about which ones Apple is most proud of. Read down the list yourself, and I imagine you’ll agree.
Finally, what about the Edition bands, (presumably) with gold clasps and hooks instead of aluminum or steel? I used the same logic (15% for the cheapest, 30% for the most expensive, based on the pricing prediction from Theory #2):
- Sport band: $249
- Classic Buckle: $349
- Modern Buckle: $449
The gold premium strikes again. Note that Apple doesn’t list any Edition Collection models with either the Milanese Loop or Link Bracelet. My guess is they don’t exist: They’d likely be so expensive to make, Apple would have to triple the MSRP based on the metal alone.
So unless you’re happy with an aluminum sports model, start saving. The Apple Watch could very well be the priciest Apple product since the MacBook Pro.
This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.
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