Don’t mock Apple’s new “rose gold” iPhone—the metal is making a comeback

Baby steps.
Baby steps.
Image: Photo courtesy of Apple
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Apple’s newly unveiled rose gold iPhones 6s were quickly panned by some color-discerning tech observers. But as any designer jewelry can tell you, the storied metal is undergoing something of a revival.

The pink hued metal, which gets its color from mixing gold with copper, was first popular in Russia in the late 19th century, as art newsletter Blouin Artinfo explains. It later enjoyed flash-in-the-pan fame when Cartier, the French jeweler, released the trinity band in the 1920s—a ring that intertwined yellow, white, and rose gold, and was flaunted by poet Jean Cocteau.

The tint’s latest revival started after the 2008 global recession, and it has since been embraced by interior designers and jewelry designers alike.

Rose gold, and over 400 carats.
Rose gold, and over 400 carats.
Image: Reuters/Tim Wimborne

The reasons for its re-emergence are somewhat mysterious, as is often the case with fashion. The New York Times, when covering 2012 Biennale des Antiquares, one of the jewelry  industry’s leading trade shows, suggests the revival was sparked by a few eye-catching designs that caught the industry’s attention, like Angelina Jolie’s $10 million H. Stern necklace, or Bulgari’s rose gold version of its Serpenti watch. But it is also possible consumers simply like the color because it makes them stand out.

More celebrities have since got on board. Jay-Z wore a pink gold Jaeger Le-Couture watch to the Grammy’s this year. Blake Lively got a rose gold engagement ring, and rapper Tyga has a rose gold Mercedes.

With its rose gold iPhone, iPhone is catering to a crowd that’s less high-profile than those celebrities, but no less aspirational: newly-wealthy, bling-loving Chinese sometimes called tuhao. Greater China contributes about 25% of Apple’s revenue, amounting to $13 billion last quarter, and at yesterday’s keynote CEO Tim Cook said the iPhone market on the mainland grew 75% in the past year. A rose gold iPhone’s release probably a testament to the original gold iPhone’s success, and that success has been driven largely by the color’s warm welcome from China.

“A big reason for why we released the gold iPhone is because many Chinese consumers like the color gold,” Cook told the Hong Kong branch of Bloomberg Businessweek in an interview published in June. “To be clear, sales for the gold iPhones in China have far, far exceeded other markets.”

Prospects look good for rose gold’s future in China. “Rose gold iPhone” is currently the seventh top trending term on Weibo, China’s Twitter-esque social network. And in a widely circulated picture, Wang Xicong, son of property tycoon Wang Jianlin, gifted his dog two rose gold Apple Watch Editions earlier this year.