Luxury Apple Watch Edition To Be Sold In Only 53 Stores Worldwide

The long awaited Apple Watch hits stores today, but just to look at.
If you are thinking of having a closer look at the luxury Apple Watch Edition, don't think you can just wander into any Apple Store and stroll up to a table to get your paws on it. All viewing for the luxury model is by appointment only, which can be set up here. While there were rumors that Apple was in discussion with prominent luxury retailers to launch the watch, it looks like the gleaming gold version will not be available at Colette in Paris where an exclusive preview party was held during Paris Fashion Week in October or at any other third party store except for Selfridges in London, Galeries Lafayette in Paris and Isetan in Tokyo which all have permanent leased Apple retail stores under their roofs. The Edition model will be restricted to only 53 select Apple stores worldwide for the launch. According to AppleInsider, only 21 of those locations are in the U.S. including the Fifth Avenue flagship, SoHo and Broadway and 67th Street on the Upper West Side. Most of the other locations are concentrated on the East and West coasts with the exceptions of two Chicago Area stores and one each in Dallas and Houston. Internationally, the Edition model will be sold only in Canada, Australia, the U.K., France, Germany, Hong Kong and Japan at no more than three points of sale in each country. In all of continental Europe, only five stores will have it, which is a tiny breadth of distribution compared to other luxury watch brands. The only other country with more than three points of sale for the Edition will be Mainland China which will have it in 12 of its 19 Apple stores in addition to all three Hong Kong stores.
More than any other product launch in the past, Apple is encouraging hungry customers to pre-order all models of the Apple Watch online. There will be no stock available for walk-in customers when the watches officially hit the market on April 24th, so don't look for lines around the corner forming in the days before the 24th. This should be a disappointment to the legions of alleged gray-market cash purchasers we saw last Fall when the iPhone 6 was released, who may be part of the reason behind this policy. As of this morning, pre-order supplies for the launch day were swept up within minutes of becoming available online. Ship times for back orders are already at four to six weeks and are expected to go higher before the end of the day. If you haven't already secured one, then you should prepare to be very patient.

Apple Watch Edition initially limited to 53 retail outlets worldwide (AppleInsider)


The Apple Watch Is Coming In 46 Days
And It Is Everything

This morning on the news, newscasters noted that the big Apple Watch announcement was scheduled for today, and the big question was whether or not people would really want such a device?
Well, we watched most of the presentation and, trust us, you will want one.
Even supermodel Christy Turlington —an early adopter who was allowed to test it out while running a half-marathon— loves hers.
Endless column inches are being written at this very moment, so we won't bore you with the technical details. For that, we suggest checking the dedicated sites like AppleInsider, but here is some of the basic information you will want to know:

  • The watch will be available to examine in person at Apple Stores on April 10th, which is just about one month away. Pre-ordering online will begin on that date.
  • It will ship on April 24. Expect it to sell out immediately, and look for lines comparable to the worst iPhone lines. Will we be seeing packs of shady cash only smugglers bogarting product? Almost definitely.
  • There are two sizes in each of the basic styles with a price difference of $50 depending on the size. Apple Watch Sport in high-tech aluminum comes in 10 models starting at $349 for the 38mm and $399 for the 42mm. The stainless steel Apple Watch comes in 20 different models starting at $549 - $599 for the fluoroelastomer sport band model and going up to $1,049 - $1,099 for the Space Black case with matching steel link bracelet. Faces can be downloaded and changed at whim, and bands for the steel models are interchangeable, but additional ones must be purchased separately.
  • The 18K gold Apple Watch Edition (pictured above) comes in 8 models starting at $10,000.
    Tim Cook only specified that it would be available at "select" retailers, which suggests a very limited exclusive or semi-exclusive distribution befitting watches in that price category. Rumors have Nordstrom in negotiations to carry it, and we suspect that Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf's, Barneys and Saks have been targeted as well as a few major jewelers. Expect an announcement closer to the launch date, probably not before the end of March regarding exactly who will carry it.

So there's the basic when-where-and-how-muchinformation we have right now. If you were wondering if it would be appealing, then rest assured that it is. You will be able to talk on the phone with it like Dick Tracy! Not to mention all the other kinds of features and uses it will have.
Will you want to give up a beautiful vintage Rolex or an elegant Cartier watch to wear it? Well, that's a different question. It may lose its luxury cachet if as many people who carry iPhones are also wearing Apple Watches, even with the customizable face displays. How it will affect the analog timepiece industry remains to be seen, but it's hard not to imagine at least a temporary dent in business for traditional watchmakers.
Anyway, what we do know is that there will be frenzy at the apple store on April 24th. Brace yourselves early adopters. It's going to be along wait in line.


Apple Watch Set To Arrive In April

The most anticipated tech item of the year finally has a vague release date —just in time for ...Father's Day?
Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly revealed in a conference call on Tuesday that the  (Apple) Watch, first officially announced last September, will be ready for release this April, which is just under the wire for what was originally projected as an "early 2015" launch. Though a Holiday Season 2014 was always considered unrealistic, many industry analysts had expected a slightly earlier launch for the already heavily hyped item. Cook also indicated that there is no shortage of developers working furiously on software for the device.
Now what remains to be revealed is not when, but how the watch will be launched. Naturally, one expects that it will be available through Apple's own stores and website, but we may see the watch launched as more of a luxury item than a tech device. Shortly after it was first announced, Apple held a special preview at the Paris boutique Colette for fashion industry insiders during the unveiling of the Spring 2015 collections, which suggests that we may be more likely to see the watch's initial launch in stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's than at licensed resellers like Best Buy. Then there's the 18 karat gold Apple Watch Edition (pictured above) whose price, estimated to be in the several thousand dollar range, has yet to be announced, which is expected to be restricted to a highly limited distribution strategy including exclusive jewelers who may have never an Apple product before at all. While this may be new territory for even an upscale tech company like Apple, there is a depth of luxury experience in the company's Senior Vice President of Retail and Online Sales Angela Ahrendts, who came to the job from a position as CEO of Burberry. These details are probably going to be revealed in the next couple of months, but don't be surprised to see Neiman Marcus, Saks and even Nordstrom or Barneys vying over who who might get an exclusive on the item's launch.
And if anyone else is planning a major product launch this Spring, expect to be majorly eclipsed.

Apple Watch on track to ship in April, CEO Tim Cook says (AppleInsider)


Apple WATCH Makes Its First Public Appearance In Paris At Colette

You would think that it would be here in New York at the 24-hour Cube on Fifth Avenue, or at least in San Francisco, closer to the Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California, but the much anticipated Apple Watch or, WATCH, if we are to make the most of our keyboard, made its public debut this morning for one day only at Colette in Paris (window pictured above). While the coveted item will still not be available to purchase until early next year, unveiling it at an event coinciding with Paris Fashion Week signals Apple's interest in positioning the Apple Watch as a fashion item. It also suggests that the more exclusive 18 karat gold "Edition" model, expected to retail for thousands of  dollars, will find its way into leading luxury retailers to sit in cases alongside more rarefied timepieces.

Aside from giving the fashion flock its first look in person at the Apple Watch, the event allowed the company to show off its new senior vice president of design, renowned industrial designer Marc Newson who was instrumental in designing the Apple Watch. He celebrated alongside his good friend, longtime Apple designer Jony Ive as well as fashion luminaries like Anna Wintour, Suzy Menkes and Karl Lagerfeld (have a look at the image from Menkes' Instagram below). Why Colette? It remains one of the most influential stores in Paris and, possibly, the world, and it also was among the first non-electronics retailers to offer an odd little mp3 music player in 2001 called the iPod.

When the watch will appear in New York for us to have a look at it remains to be seen. The Colette event was only rumored in the past few days. When it does finally appear here, it may not show up at the Fifth Avenue Cube, but rather across the street at Bergdorf's, around the corner at Barneys or maybe even at Dover Street Market. After all, Apple stores are still pretty busy with the iPhone 6 launch right now, and the Apple Watch is apparently looking for a more exclusive environment. We will be on the lookout.

Apple Unveils Watch at Colette (WWD)


Apple's iPhone Lines Get Hijacked By Black Market Straw Purchasers

As most people with any working senses know, Apple's newest iPhone models launched last Friday to another round of blocks long lines and truly insane camping out for days in front of Apple Stores in New York and in many other cities to be the first customers for the coveted new device. While the story has become familiar over the past few years, The Shophound noticed something odd while walking past the Apple Store on 14th Street on Friday (pictured above). Even in the mid-afternoon, the line still extended well down the block, containing several hundred people, and, for some strange reason, it appeared that the vast majority of them —at least 90%— were Asian. Now, before you get your hackles up, there is nothing wrong with this. We aren't making any judgements, but it did seem odd that in Manhattan, the group of customers who were willing to spend hours in line would be so demographically lopsided. We aren't experts in Asian languages, but it appeared that they were Chinese speakers and, as a group, didn't seem like the young, tech-crazed type of people who would subject themselves to waiting in line for hours just to be among the first people to get their hands on a coveted device that will be easily accessible to anyone within a few days.

We didn't think much more of it until the next day when we came across a post on Gothamist which suggested that the lines in front of Apple's stores were packed with straw buyers purchasing iPhones for the Chinese Mafia. The article pointed to "Filmmaker and professional fun-haver" Casey Neistadt, a tech fan who has chronicled the annual frenzy over iPhone releases for the past few years. Neistadt was struck with the observation that, when the doors finally opened, what he saw among those who had doggedly waited for days to buy the new iPhone was not the excitement fans finally getting their new toy, but a new grim determination of people who had a task to accomplish and just wanted to get it over with. While The Shophound would not presume that the Chinese Mafia (whoever that would actually refer to) is explicitly behind all of this straw purchasing, Neistadt's video (embedded after the jump below) identifies a pattern of buying among the many Chinese speaking line-waiters, many of whom apparently needed a Mandarin translator to communicate with the filmmaker. Purchase two unlocked phones in cash. Hand the phones off or re-sell them to a second post-purchaser a few blocks away who stockpiles bag of new phones to be sent off to —well, who knows where?

The presumption is that the phones are being sent to China, where governmental red tape has kept Apple from announcing a release date for the iPhone 6 and it is unavailable for legal purchase. According to the Washington Post, the new devices are already selling there on the Black Market for up to 10 times their U.S. purchase price. Neistadt suggests that a network of smugglers has descended upon New York's Apple Stores, and, though he backtracked somewhat from the Chinese Mafia accusations in a later interview, it seems clear to any observer that there is some real organization behind the effort to get iPhones into some kind of unauthorized reselling channel which is artificially packing the huge lines outside Apple Stores with straw purchasers. Without them, it seems unlikely that these lines would stretch for block after block. Many shoppers have reported that it is already fairly fast and convenient to pick one up at one of the city's many AT&T, Verizon or other mobile phone retailers —but, of course, those phones are for people who are actually buying for themselves as they come with service contracts.

Apparently, this activity falls into something of a legal gray area. The buying and immediate reselling is not illegal, and Apple has run into problems in the past trying to discourage sales of desirable devices that they thought were being funneled into unauthorized channels. What is questionable is the presumed smuggling that happens after the observed handoffs. Neistadt's video also documents some unfortunate behavior by NYPD officers assigned to patrol the overnight lines, and some altercations among those in line which makes one question the safety (and sanitation) of having these annual, several-days-long queues at all. At this point, it seems like the only reason why people would endure hours and days waiting on the sidewalk to buy a phone would be for a handsome profit or possibly a legitimate lack of sanity. Have a look at the video after the jump and make of it what you will. In the meantime, when The Shophound gets our new phone, we plan to order it on line to pick up in-store. No lines.

Video: Were iPhone 6 Mega Lines Taken Over By Chinese Mafia?, Filmmaker Discusses iPhone 6 Lines & "Chinese Mafia" (Gothamist)
iPhone 6s being sold for insane amounts of money in China (Washington Post)

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Apple's iPhone Lines Get Hijacked By Black Market Straw Purchasers" »


Apple In, VBH Out On Madison Avenue

940-madison-avenueAfter covering most of the city's other main shopping neighborhoods, it looks like Apple has finally found the right spot to service the Upper East Side's computer customers. The V.B.H. boutique at 940 Madison Avenue at 74th street is about to become Manhattan's sixth Apple Store, and one of its most elegant. No official announcements have come from the company, but as with the Grand Central Terminal store, construction permit applications from Apple's favored architecture firm have confirmed the past few month's rumors. While the exterior is not expected to change —it is protected by being in the middle of the Upper East Side historic district— the gallery-like, Peter Marino designed interior of V.B.H. is expected to be demolished. The building began its life as home to the U.S. Mortgage & Trust Co. and more recently, housed home furnishings brand Mackenzie-Childs before becoming V.B.H. about a decade or so ago. Part of the building is also occupied by jeweler David Webb. There's no word yet on whether or not it will stay put, or have to find yet another new location of Apple takes over the entire building.

This leaves us with the question of exactly what is to be come of the soon to be vacating V.B.H.? Started by Valentino alum Bruce Hoeksema, it was positioned as an uber-exclusive luxury brand featuring lavish precious jewelry and exotic handbags and accessories presented in a discreet but opulent environment across the street from the Whitney Museum. Bergdorf's and Neiman Marcus were wholesale clients, but the brand's recent clearance sale at Soiffer Haskin featured an alarming abundance of handbags, and the brand's website appears to be defunct. Will V.B.H.'s exit from Madison Avenue be its final exit, or is it simply shedding some increasingly expensive overhead? Time will tell, but in the meantime, Upper East Siders can look forward to a more convenient location for the nearest Genius Bar.

Apple Store to open on the Upper East Side (NYDN)


Bitter Cold Shatters Apple's Glass Cube

It is a balmy 6˚F as in New York as The Shophound writes this, and the city is still blanketed in powdery snow after a full day of winter precipitation. Most of the hazards are on the messy city streets, with the inevitable potholes to follow, but the storm has also left its mark on one of Fifth Avenue's busiest stores. The pristine glass cube at the entrance to the Apple Store has been marred as one of the normally sturdy tempered glass panels shattered yesterday. Reportedly, a maintenance worker clearing the plaza of the GM Building knocked into the panel with a snowblower causing it to shatter, though it remained in place. The store remains open as the panel is apparently not in danger of breaking apart and showering down the staircase that leads into the store. No repair plan has been announced, though one would presume that Apple would wait until Spring for a fix, since the likelihood of more extreme cold before the end of the season seems high. While tempered glass is generally extremely strong, single digit tempertatures can evidently weaken it, so until we get back into double digit temps, steer clear of those plate glass windows.

Glass panel at Fifth Ave Apple Store shattered by snowblower (AppleInsider)


Burberry's CEO Jumps To Apple Retail

AhrendtsToday's intriguing behind-the-scenes news has Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts stepping down next year to join Apple as Senoir Vice President of Retail and Online Stores. Ahrendts duties at Burberry will be assumed by the brand's chief creative officer Christopher Bailey, making him the rare luxury brand designer who is also its CEO. The long lead time indicates that her departure from Burberry is amicable.

Ahrendts fills the position that has been vacant for a while after last year's brief tenure of John Browett, whose stewardship of Apple's retail division was marked by cost-cutting, hiring freezes and an intense focus on profit margins that threatened the stores' renowned service levels and rankled longtime store managers. Ahrendts' deep background in luxury fashion and retailing should give her a strong sense of customer service. She is not the only high profile hire that Apple has made from the fashion world recently. In July, Apple hired Yves Saint Laurent CEO Paul Deneve as Vice President of Special Projects, which tells us that not only does Apple see itself in the same category as international luxury brands, but fashion people on the other side see it the same way as well.

Apple hires Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts to lead retail efforts (AppleInsider)


iPhone Lines Are So 2007

In case you have been spending the last few weeks of Summer under a rock, you probably know that two new iPhones are being launched to day at Apple stores and authorized dealers today. When we passed by yesterday afternoon, the people in the picture above had been waiting in line outside the Fifth Avenue Apple store for a couple of days so they can be among the first to get one of them. They can politely be referred to as a bunch of dum-dums, because there were literally tens of people in line behind them. And not that many tens.

Don't be caught in an iPhone line. This time last year, Apple devised a reserve-online-pick-up-in-store system that essentially abolished all iPhone lines, and it worked well enough that we managed to get ahold of one within the first week of the launch without the slightest bit of trouble or waiting.
So don't fell the need to wait in line for an iPhone, and if you see anyone else doing it, throw a pie at them. 


Heavy Rains Flood Apple Fifth Avenue

Applestore-130508Apple customers got an early morning shower inside the busy 24-hour flagship store on Fifth Avenue. The New York Post reports that a few leaks from the iconic glass cube entrance quickly turned into a deluge near the famous entrance and spiral staircase sometime before 8 AM this morning when torrential rainstorms hit Manhattan. Apparently, the cube's reconstruction in 2011 left the store with some residual drainage problems that chose this morning to manifest themselves. Apple employees scrambled to move tables and cover vulnerable demonstration computer equipment, but did not evacuate customers or close the store, thus maintaining the store's 24-hour schedule. By 10 AM, the water was mostly cleaned up but there was lingering damage to the ceiling, and a store manager was doubtlessly on the phone to Apple Headquarters in Cupertino, California to arrange for some major repairs to avoid another impromptu shower the next time a thunderstorm hits.

Leak sends water pouring into Apple Store on Fifth Avenue (NYPost via AppleInsider)