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If people want to throw away a $17,000 gold smartwatch, let them

Jewellery is displayed at a shop that buys gold in the Ginza district of Tokyo
Reuters/Toru Hanai
Soon to include Apple Watches.
By Gideon Lichfield
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

In the microscopic spaces between its patented 18-karat gold alloy casing and its cutting-edge circuitry, the “Apple Watch Edition” contains a contradiction. Expensive jewellery and high-tech gadgets both serve as status symbols; but while a classic watch derives value from its age and timelessness, a tech item does so from its newness and timeliness, and these cannot coexist. You could see Apple’s luxury watch as a kind of existential joke—a timepiece (or at least a device masquerading as one) whose own worth is gradually destroyed by the very thing it was built to measure.

This clash of value systems in the same physical object underlies the outrage that the watch, priced at up to $17,000, has sparked in some quarters. (“Perfect for douchebags,” one watch aficionado ranted.)

But why should it? People with the means to buy a disposable gold watch will happily spend similar sums on fleeting experiences—a first-class plane flight, an exotic wine, a luxury safari—that generate far more (and more toxic) waste. Other than an imperceptible bump to gold prices, what does it matter if a few thousand gold watch casings end up buried in drawers, or even as landfill? And there’s much uglier, and more expensive, useless jewellery out there. As long as people are going to flaunt their wealth, this is far from the most douchebaggy way to do it.

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