At Apple’s big event in San Francisco on Wednesday, the company announced a partnership with luxury goods company Hermès, to provide three new leather straps for the Apple Watch.
Imaginatively, Apple is calling it the “Apple Watch Hermès Collection.” It consists of a stainless-steel Apple watch, in both 38 and 42-millimetre sizes, paired with one of three Hermès leather straps, ranging in price from $US1,100 to $US1,500.
The marquee strap is the $US1,250 Double Tour, available only on the 38mm Apple Watch. Anyone familiar with Hermès will recognise this now-legendary strap, first introduced in the late 1990s when the Belgian designer Martin Margiela was working for the French fashion house. It came as a package with the Cape Cod watch and it’s still available, for $US2,900.
And this is the problem. Apple seems to be trying very, very hard to pitch the Apple Watch as both a tech product and luxury good. Hermès is a global luxury firm, so on its face, the partnership makes sense. But if you look closer, it’s actually baffling.
Messing up a great watch
For starters, putting the famous Double Tour — with its kinky equestrian subtext, the strap looping twice around the wrist — on an Apple Watch undermines what made the Cape Cod an important arrival on the watch scene in 1998.
Back then, women who wanted a nice watch were limited. The classiest option was the iconic Cartier Tank. If you wanted something sportier, you could go with the Cartier Santos, but really, it was the Tank and not much else (the Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso was still somewhat exotic in those days).
The basic design of this watch hadn’t changed in decades (and it still hasn’t). It was timeless in both a good and bad way.
In the late 1990s, mechanical watches hadn’t yet staged their big renaissance, so nobody much cared if you wore a high-quality Swiss quartz timepiece. The Cartier Tank, for the most part, was just that.
Enter the Cape Cod and the Double Tour, which provided an much-needed option, with a style that was fresher and looser, without sacrificing class. It was great watch with an interesting strap, capitalising on Hermès extreme skill at crafting leather goods, and it looked fantastic on a woman’s wrist — substantial without being chunky or overwhelming. The Cartier Tank also looks great, but of course it isn’t a youthful watch.
Now back to Apple. Kudos to the company for connecting with a classic, but let’s be honest: Hermès is a stuffy old luxury company, very French and oozing Old World conservatism. Its scarves are beautiful but matronly. Its whimsical print neckties are favoured by the Wall Street old guard. Its two best-known bags — the Birkin and the Kelly — were inspired by celebrities from the the 1950s and ’60s.
So that’s one major issue: Apple, one of the biggest brands in the world, supplicating at the altar of ancient regime luxury (and I say this as a big Hermès fan). Apple doesn’t need this credibility. If it wanted to do a Double Tour, it could have done on its own. But it appears to think that that hooking up with Hermès will add credibility.
On another front, taking the Hermès Double Tour off the Cape Cod watch messes up the satisfying unity of that innovative design. The Cape Cod Double Tour is a watch of its time. Seeing one now on a wrist, the strap weathered with age, the case scuffed, sends a quiet signal (rather pointedly, it says that you like watches but aren’t preoccupied with the minutiae of automatic movements or elaborate complications). Taking the watch itself out of of the picture ruins the cohesiveness of this small story.
Apple has tried to emulate the Cape Cod’s face, but it just doesn’t look right, especially in black.
A lot for a strip of leather
And if you do decide to get the Apple Watch with the Double Tour, you really are committing to spending a lot for a strap. It is of course a stupendous strap. In fact, the whole purchase is less about the watch than the strap because the watches will come and go, but you’re going to want to hang onto that Double Tour.
The bottom line here is that Apple is trying to please two constituencies with the Apple Watch and doing an iffy job with both. The tech-y buyership has been somewhat meh about the Apple Watch because it isn’t a fully evolved device — it’s more of an iPhone satellite than a gadget that stands on its own merits. The luxury buyer doesn’t think the Apple Watch is a real watch.
From my perspective — as someone who was more excited about the Apple Watch than any other Apple product ever but could now care less about the device — Apple is struggling to figure out what the Apple Watch is. And it’s also now clear that internally Apple believes the Apple Watch has luxury cred, which suggests to me that what a lot of Apple observers believe about Apple is true: Cupertino thinks it’s selling an elevated lifestyle, not technological solutions to live a better or more fulfilled life.
For now, Apple has moved beyond the gold $US17,000 Apple Watch Editon and made a play for another part of the paleo-luxury market. It doesn’t feel right, and it suggests that Apple is moving farther and farther away from its carefully nurtured brand DNA.
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