THE FASHION INDUSTRY has had a long history with rose gold, a color that exists somewhere between luxury and fashion. It’s not as gaudy as gold, or as timeless. It goes in and out of style, and right now it’s very much back in. In the consumer electronics world, especially, rose gold is enjoying its inaugural moment.
Although Apple didn’t invent rose gold gadgets, they made them mainstream. It started with a $10,000-plus Apple Watch Edition. Then came the iPhone 6s, which is when rose gold really took off. You could say, as BuzzFeed did, that the Internet lost it’s damn mind. Apple couldn’t make rose gold iPhones fast enough.
Color is hard to talk about without sounding like you’ve dropped acid, but people do associate colors with feelings and emotions. “There’s a lot of research that goes into what color means,” says Leatrice Eiseman, a color expert and executive director of the Pantone Institute, “and how it makes a statement to most people.” Rose gold has the same effect on almost everyone. “When we get to the rose family, we get these same kinds of verbiage: Compassion, composure, warmth, something that draws you in that has great appeal.”
Each winter, the Pantone Institute names its colors of the year, trying to capture what everyone is thinking and feeling within that color. The institute selected Rose Quartz because it wanted something that conveys a “sense of order and peace, something that speaks to people. Something that has a bit more mindfulness attached to it.”
That balance—between comfort and significance, friendliness and ruthless effectiveness—dominates every technological conversation now. Gadgets, particularly smartphones, dominate our lives. Try living even a single day without one. But this convenience can so easily become an imposition, ruling your life instead of improving it. Rose gold is compelling, Eiseman says, because it offers a subtle sense of peacefulness. It’s soothing and calming. Yes, it is to some extent just a coat of paint on a much more serious problem: that our smartphones are the primary cause of our stress and information overload. But it’s a start.
For years, the tech industry showed so little interest in any color beyond beige that it bordered on disdain. Eiseman is a consultant to a variety of industries, and recalls a computer company refusing her services just before Steve Jobs introduced his comeback product, the brilliantly colorful iMac G3. Since then, color has slowly but surely crept its way into electronics. “It’s an idea whose time has come,” she says. But rose gold, and pink in general, took a little longer. Especially with men.
Their struggle to embrace the color gold remains one of the most interesting (and entertaining) aspects of the rose gold phenomenon. “I was thinking of getting a rose gold iPhone,” wrote one redditor, “but my friends keep saying it would be to [sic] feminine. What do you guys think?” The ensuing debate offers a perfect microcosm of the male reaction to the color: a little skeptical, a little in love, a lot confused. “The Rose Gold iPhone Is Not Gay,” declares College Humor’s pitch-perfect parody video. Despite their brief existential crisis, men came to embrace a color now nicknamed bros gold.
All the drama overlooks the fact that pink remains a staple of every dapper man’s wardrobe. “Traditional prep style has always really favored pastels, especially in the summer,” says Jian DeLeon, senior menswear editor at trend forecaster WSGN. “Pink oxford shirts, nantucket red chinos.” Those colors signified a man at leisure, he says, and moved into the workplace with the casualization of office attire. Plus, men are shopping more, and celebrities like Drake, Russell Westbrook, and Nick Wooster prove you can want to look good and still be a man. (Go head, question Drake’s masculinity. See how that goes.) “More often than not,” DeLeon says, “most guys by now are well aware of the fact that clothing and sexual orientation are not correlated in any way.”
This is true of gadgets, too. They’ve moved beyond the workplace into your personal life. Your phone contains work email and family pictures. Your laptop comes home with you. As work-life balance wanes, gadgets become the place you get shit done and the way you unwind afterward. A color like rose gold runs that gamut.
The color also conveys a lot for the style-conscious. Rose gold communicates luxury and spending power, which helps explain its popularity in Asia. Carrying a rose gold phone shows that you follow trends and care about how things look. And there’s no real risk involved. It’s not like you’ve taken to wearing an ascot. It’s still just a phone. “The main thing about how men’s style,” DeLeon says, “is you just take something familiar and push the boundaries a little bit.”
But the real beauty of rose gold is what it says about the world and why it’s proven so popular. Consumers love it for the subliminal sense of peace and calm it provides in an increasingly hectic world. Companies love it because it conveys opulence and comfort, two things that aren’t easily communicated with a metal rectangle. Ultimately, a rose gold gadget is more than a gadget. It’s a choice, a decision that says something about what you value. And “if it ends up not working out for you,” DeLeon says, laughing, “it’s not like you’re not upgrading in a year or so.”