When Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) announced 6 months ago that it was going to sell a gold version of its new Apple Watch, it was obvious that it would be very expensive. But nobody knew just how expensive it might be.
On Monday, Apple finally revealed the pricing for its various Apple Watch models. The gold Apple Watch Edition will start at a lofty $10,000 with a "sport" band, and the price will rise as high as $17,000 for two versions with "modern" gold buckles.
It's hard to predict how many people might be willing to pony up that kind of cash for a watch that will be obsolete in a few years. One thing is certain, though -- it won't be nearly as many as a recent article from The Wall Street Journal suggested.
A pricey case -- and a pricey buckle
Apple Watch Edition pricing demonstrates just how much of a status symbol Apple products have become. As my colleague Evan Niu pointed out earlier this week, there's no difference in the internal specs between a $350 Apple Watch Sport and a $17,000 Apple Watch Edition. You don't get any extra functionality by paying more -- you just get a watch that looks better (and more expensive).
The Apple Watch Edition will undoubtedly have an extremely high profit margin for Apple. Gold is expensive, but for $10,000-$17,000 Apple can include plenty of gold and still make a ton of money. The real question for investors is how many units Apple can sell.
A million gold watches?
Apple plans to sell Apple Watch Editions by the truckload, according to an article published last month in The Wall Street Journal. Apple initially ordered 5 million-6 million watches, according to the Journal's sources, of which about half were the entry-level Apple Watch Sport and one-third were the mid-range Apple Watch.
The remainder -- approximately 16%-17%, or 800,000-1 million -- would have to be the Apple Watch Edition. These "people familiar with the matter" also claimed that Apple would "start producing more than one million units per month in the second quarter" of the high-end Apple Watch Edition.
I don't claim to be a psychic, but I can pretty safely guarantee that these figures are wrong. In fact, they're off-base by a country mile.
First of all, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated on Monday that the Apple Watch Edition would be available in "limited quantities." That doesn't jive with the rumored initial production run of nearly 1 million Apple Watch Edition models.
Second, if Apple Watch Edition production were to reach 1 million or more per month in the second quarter -- i.e. within the next few months -- Apple would be churning out more than 12 million on an annual basis.
At the base price of $10,000, that would be good for $120 billion in annual sales. Assuming that some people would opt for the pricier models -- after all, if you're willing to spend $10,000 on a watch, why not $12,000, $15,000, or even $17,000? -- Apple Watch Edition revenue could be $150 billion or more.
By contrast, it took 7 years for iPhone sales to break through the $100 billion revenue mark. (iPhone revenue hit $102 billion in Apple's most recent fiscal year.) Even with the strong iPhone sales growth that Apple has posted so far in FY15, total iPhone revenue is likely to fall short of $150 billion this year.
Don't believe everything you read!
It's pretty safe to say that the Apple Watch Edition won't bring in more revenue than the iPhone over the next year.
It would be a pretty amazing feat if Apple can ever sell 1 million Apple Watch Edition models in a year, let alone in a month. After all, that would make gold watches a $10 billion-plus business for Apple. Even Rolex brings in "only" $4.7 billion in annual revenue, according to Forbes.
This just goes to show that investors need to use their judgment when reading the business section, even in a highly respected publication like The Wall Street Journal. Sometimes, all the inside sources in the world are no match for a small helping of common sense.
Adam Levine-Weinberg is long January 2016 $80 calls on Apple, short January 2016 $120 calls on Apple, and short January 2016 $140 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.