The Apple Watch isn't about to put the mechanical watch out of business

It has been said that the idea of a 'stylish backpack' borders on the ultimate oxymoron.  If so, not far behind now must be the thought that a smart watch has something to contribute to smart dressing.

Put simply, there is no smart watch that could possibly usurp an IWC, Breitling, Panerai, Omega or vintage Rolex in the style stakes. And that's before we get to image makers such as Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin, et al.

This is one watch that seems smart enough to actually capture sales from those as concerned about appearance as they are about technical prowess.

So what to make of the Apple Watch? I'm writing this from San Francisco, where a frenzied horde has just got its hands on the Jony Ive-designed wrist-wonder for the first time, and the reaction is instructive.

Despite wearing Rolexes, IWCs, G-Shocks and everything in between, it's like looking at kids let loose in a candy store as tech-heads – and no, not all of them from digitally-dependent Gen Y – animatedly discuss not whether they want an Apple Watch, but agonise over which one they want.

Smart enough

OK, it's a launch and people are a bit over-excited, but there's a difference. This is one watch that seems smart enough to actually capture sales from those as concerned about appearance as they are about technical prowess.

The reason is simple: the Apple Watch is a beautiful thing that not only looks the part, but is tactile, involving, and feels great on the wrist. It's not bulky but buff; it's not nerdy but neat; it's not overtly tech-y, but curiously conservative.

Sure, it's a different feeling to a gorgeous Breguet complication or any of the fabulous contraptions from MB&F or DeBethune.

But unlike smart watch offerings to date, the Apple folks have understood fit, finish and the fatal attraction of something you can personalise.

Hence the watch is offered in 30 carefully "curated" combinations – you sense the guiding hand of design guru Ive here – of case and strap across the aluminium and stainless steel-cased ranges, with an additional eight possible combinations in the luxury 'Edition' range.


Going for gold

The Edition range was largely drowned here at the San Francisco event, the initial feeling amongst pundits being that a gold smart watch was a contradiction on par with a jewelled toaster.

In fact, the Edition watch – in yellow or rose gold with a sapphire crystal face – is rather attractive, and at $14,000 to $24,000 will certainly be rather exclusive.

That gold incidentally has been specially treated by Apple, and is double the hardness of the usual amalgam; some say it may be offered with an enhanced back-up or Apple Care program. It's also likely to be somewhat limited in production and availability, not unusually for a top-end run of any luxury item.

Details are to come, but meantime Apple see the opportunity to cater to people who've never held back when it comes to materials and craftsmanship, or the need for something that sets them apart from the crowd.

Given that crowd is expected to number in the millions – yes, predictions are the Apple Watch could sell 20 million in the next 12 months – it dooesn't seem fanciful or uncommercial thinking.

This is a watch that looks good, does a lot, and even at $14,000 or even $24,000, lies in the middle ground compared to what you'll pay for the latest in traditional watch wear.

The only question is longevity, and whether a smartwatch can retain value over years, as we've become used to with some mechanical timepieces.

The answer to that, as is usual with watches, is that only time will tell.

Bani McSpedden is watch editor of the Australian Financial Review and the