For the 18 karat gold Apple Watch Edition, Jony Ive told The Financial Times on Friday that Apple had created a process to place molecules in Apple gold closer together, consequently making it harder than standard gold.
But there’s more to it than that, with a metallurgist now explaining that Apple’s more densely packed gold atoms could reduce the amount of gold it needs to use per watch by a lot.
Dr. Drang at the Leancrew blog points out that Apple’s patented gold process actually would reduce the gold content of their 18 karat watch by half. But wouldn’t that just make it 9 karat gold? Not quite.
Leancrew explains that karats refer to the ratio of gold to other atoms in the alloy. For example, 18 karat gold is 75% gold atoms, and 25% other atoms, measured by grams. But here’s where Apple is getting clever: if they fill that other 25% with atoms that take up more volume, they can effectively “stretch” those 75 gold atoms to make the gold content of the watch itself more dense.
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.
Saving the volume of gold used in production is important for Apple Watch Edition. For one thing, it will help drive the price of the Apple Watch Edition down to levels with better mass appeal. solid gold watches are expensive, that’s why your grandpa got one after he retired for the company he worked for for 50 years.
Also? Without cutting down on the “actual” amount of gold the Apple Watch Edition uses, back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that Cupertino would need 1/3rd of the world’s available gold supply if the Apple Watch Edition is a hit. That’s a lot of gold, even for Apple.