Tiffany & Co. has its little blue box, Hermes its signature orange hue.
When it comes to capturing the hearts – and wallets – of the luxury consumer, packaging can be as important as product. So with Apple's first foray into the luxury realm, what is it about that box?
That thought kept crossing my mind this morning as I sat at a local Apple Store trying on assorted versions of the new wrist-based gadget in much the same way any potential customer walking in off the street might (though making an appointment is highly encouraged).
The first two styles of watch (the Sport, which starts at $349 and the Classic, $549) are presented en masse and are revealed by an Apple sales associate removing the lid of a sleek, white rectangular case with rounded edges. Inside are 10 cup-holder-like depressions, each lined with a gray circle of microfiber fabric and containing a watch in a different size, metal and strap combination, with the back of each device nestled against a white charging disc as big around as a quarter. In a flourish reminiscent of a visit to a high-end establishment, each watch gets an earnest polishing with another cloth (this one gray terry) before and after each trip to the wrist.
As my sales associate, a fellow named Chris, was polishing his way into a repetitive motion injury, something caught my eye: Just to my left, a thirtysomething couple was being presented with a small white tray as delicately as if it contained a tin of caviar. Upon the tray sat a small, gray leather-bound box about the size of a Mac Mini with rounded edges. The sales associate removed the top of the box to reveal a 38-mm, 18-karat rose gold Watch Edition ($17,000) and, just for a moment, it seemed like the couple, who leaned forward and stared at the gadget like it was a crystal ball, had forgotten to breathe.
Even though I'd already seen it once, the big reveal felt no less dramatic the second time around, as another gray box was whisked at my behest from an undisclosed location to the table in front of me, the lid opening and closing with that same satisfying "thunk" as the brand's other signature magnetic closures (including iPad covers and many of the Apple Watch bands). The only thing noticeable on the box – apart from the Apple logo embossed on the lid – was a small hole in the base that looked to be a perfect fit for one of Apple's lightning connectors. An Apple rep confirmed my suspicion and noted that the Watch Edition was the only version of the three that came with such a luxe charging setup (the other two versions simply ship with the cord), but said that the company hadn't yet released any specific information about the boxes.
Whether there's anything more hidden inside that magic box, the magnetic pull of the lid, the elegant simplicity of the hidden cord and the heft of the box in the hand goes a long way to helping create a halo of horological luxe around the high-end version of the gadget by crafting a container that's not only worth keeping (like the rustic wooden watch boxes that each Shinola watch is shipped in, for example), but worthy of displaying on top of the dresser like a mini work of art -- instead of crammed out of sight somewhere.
Sure, I could be overthinking it. But, based on what I've read (including a recent "New Yorker" profile of designer Jonathan Ive that referenced the high-level discussions about details as simple as the color of the ultra-suede cloth), I don't think I am. And, since all three versions of the watch are exactly the same under the hood (the software and apps are all the same), these not-so-subtle nods to the luxe life may ultimately determine how well the well-heeled crowd embrace the Apple Watch as a fashion statement.
Especially since this Apple product is destined for the display cases of some of the world's most fashionable retailers – including Selfridges in London, Colette in Paris and Maxfield in West Hollywood.
For the Record
April 17, 2:38 p.m.: This article previously said the retailer Colette is in London. The store is in Paris.