If anyone could make gold jewelry fashionable to Americans and Europeans, it’s Apple Inc.
U.S., U.K. and Italian demand for baubles made from the metal has been cut in half over the past decade, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from the World Gold Council (WGC), as shoppers favored white-colored metals such as silver and platinum. Apple’s status as the arbiter of cool means its new $10,000 gold watch and yellow iPhones and MacBooks may entice consumers to buy other gold ornaments, said Neil Meader, a precious metals consultant at Metallis Consulting Ltd.
Apple, which called gold “uniquely luxurious” in its advertising, has a history of swaying consumer tastes with its designs for touch-screen phones and portable music players. While the watch won’t move the price of gold, the publicity benefits the metal that in the U.S. and Europe suffers from a reputation as old-fashioned, Meader said.
“If you were to gold plate a Ferrari, it would just end up tacky, but if you use gold in a high-technology product like this, it makes it seem more relevant to the younger customer,” Scott Thomson, the managing director of Astley Clarke Ltd., which sells jewelry in retailers including Harrods and Selfridges, said by phone from London. “This is definitely a positive development.”
Popular culture has influenced jewelry fashions in the past. Colored gems got a boost after celebrities such as Kate Middleton, Jessica Simpson and Halle Berry wore engagement rings with sapphires, rubies and emeralds. High-quality emerald prices rose almost 15-fold from 2009 through 2014, according to Gemfields Plc.
Apple this week unveiled the watch, which comes in cheaper models with cases made from aluminum and stainless steel, and lets consumers do everything from unlock doors, check into a flight and buy groceries with a tap on the wrist. The company paid for a 12-page advertising spread in Vogue magazine, and model Christy Turlington Burns is using it to train for the London Marathon.
Not everyone is convinced. People won’t buy more gold because of the Apple watch, and sales of the expensive device will be limited, according to Carole Ferguson, an analyst at brokerage SP Angel Corporate Finance LLP. It’s likely that people who purchase it were already planning to buy a gold watch, so the overall increase in metal demand will be low, she said.
“I’d be very skeptical this would make any difference to gold’s image,” Ferguson said by phone from London. “Women’s fashion doesn’t follow tech trends and jewelry in particular is a highly individual decision.”
While the gold model costs thousands more than other versions, the technology is the same.
Demand for the watch will be greatest in China, where appetite for the metal is already near a record, according to Bart Melek, an analyst at TD Securities in Toronto. Meader said assuming there’s 50 grams of gold in each watch and Apple sells 10,000 devices, the company would need about half a metric ton. That compares with 2,153 tons of global annual jewelry demand, according to the World Gold Council.
While the amount of gold used to produce jewelry in the U.S. has plateaued since 2010, demand is still down 62 percent in the past decade, data from the gold council show. In Italy and the U.K., Europe’s largest manufacturers, the collapse was at least 60 percent, according to the London-based lobbying group. Spot prices in London slumped 28 percent last year, ending a decade-long bull run. An ounce of the metal cost about $1,161 on Friday.
“There is a lingering fear that gold is becoming granny’s jewelry,” Meader said by phone. “To see it getting used in such a strikingly modern context has to be positive for its image.”