When it comes to reducing the costs associated with manufacturing, no one can even touch Apple. Even before Apple became the tech behemoth it is today, Tim Cook, in his capacity as Apple’s COO, was able to streamline Apple’s entire supply chain while simultaneously securing favorable pricing across a number of important components.
With the Apple Watch slated to launch next month, Apple’s operational wizardry may once again be on full display. Specifically, Apple may have come up with a way to deliver an 18k gold watch by using less gold, volume wise, than traditional 18k gold.
How can this be? It’s because Apple’s gold is a metal matrix composite, not a standard alloy. Instead of mixing the gold with silver, copper, or other metals to make it harder, Apple is mixing it with low-density ceramic particles. The ceramic makes Apple’s gold harder and more scratch-resistant—which Tim Cook touted during the September announcement—and it also makes it less dense overall.
Because the casing of a watch is made to a particular size (i.e. volume), not to a particular weight, the Watch will have less gold in it than an 18k case made of a conventional alloy.
There’s some incredible materials science work at play here. All in all, this serves to show that Apple dedication to innovation isn’t solely limited to traditional technological advancements.
While we’ll certainly know more once Apple Watch models begin hitting store shelves, it stands to reason that Apple’s margins on the gold versions of the Apple Watch may be quite generous, even by Apple’s standards.
As a final point of interest, one of the inventors listed on the patent is Theodore Waniuk, a materials science Ph.d who previously worked as a senior scientist for Liquidmetal Technologies before joining Apple in early 2012. Liquidmetal Technologies, in case you’re unfamiliar, is a company which specializes in developing advanced alloys that are harder, more durable, and provide a greater strength/weight ratio than what is otherwise available on the market.
In 2010, Apple inked a deal with the company for the exclusive rights to their entire inventory of intellectual property for use in consumer electronic products. Notably, Swatch has a similar exclusive agreement in place for watches.