Sapphire Production Underway in Arizona, Small Quantities Shipped to Apple Partners

Apple's sapphire crystal partner GT Advanced has begun sapphire production and has even shipped small quantities of the material to an Apple partner in China responsible for making sapphire covers, according to a report from analysts at UBS Research.

Sapphire production is said to have begun last month, in March, but it appears the facility is not yet running at full capacity. GT Advanced reportedly shipped 2,200kg of sapphire, the amount produced by approximately 100 furnaces.

The company is said to be on schedule to install another 400 to 500 furnaces in the first quarter of 2014 and an additional 900 to 1,000 in the second quarter, significantly ramping up production towards the end of the year ahead of the release of both the iPhone 6 and the iWatch.

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We estimate GT's shipment to China was only about $1M worth of sapphire last month. We believe this Apple partner needs to be receiving sapphire totalling about $50M+ per month to confirm that the GT Arizona fab is running at close to full utilization.

GT Advanced's sapphire production plant, which is financed by Apple, uses large capacity furnaces that emphasize lower cost, higher volume sapphire manufacturing. While Apple currently sources sapphire from a number of other suppliers for use in iPhone elements like the protective cover over the cameras and the home button of the iPhone 5s, GT Advanced's operation will produce much higher quantities of the material, leading many to believe Apple has big plans for sapphire.

Thus far, rumors have suggested that Apple may be planning to use sapphire crystal displays in its upcoming iPhone 6, due to the superior durability and scratch resistance of the material. A recent report from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggested supplies could be limited, however, resulting in only some models of the iPhone 6 produced using sapphire.

Sapphire may be a key component of Apple's upcoming smart watch, as it could prevent the device from becoming scratched even with heavy use. Many high end luxury watches also use sapphire crystal displays.

Reports have indicated that GT Advanced has purchased enough sapphire furnace and chamber systems to produce between 100 and 200 million sapphire displays, enough for its entire line of devices should it continue to meet its production timeline.

Top Rated Comments

WhoDaKat Avatar
131 months ago
Small quantities shipped makes sense. Thats the small batch of iWatches they are producing right now.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
goobot Avatar
131 months ago
iWatch production was said to be started too right? So obviously this may be for that.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
827538 Avatar
131 months ago
Have an Omega Seamaster Professional with a sapphire crystal display, like the other poster said, mine has been through it as well and hasn't a single scratch.
Although I know sapphire is great at not scratching it is bad at shattering. Hence the reason the 'moon watch' Speedmaster uses a Hesalite display instead of sapphire, as shattering in zero-g would create deadly shards :).
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Nunyabinez Avatar
131 months ago
There's always room for improvement, keep that in mind ;)

I'm more than happy for there to be improvements, as long as they are actual improvements and not adding unnecessary cost or delays.

If adding sapphire means when I go to buy my next phone I have to wait for weeks because they couldn't make enough, I will be pissed because what I have works just fine.

It was like the glass back on the 4S. It was not an improvement because anytime my phone was on the least uneven surface it went sliding onto the floor.

If sapphire gets rid of scratches (that I'm not seeing anyway) and makes the screen brittle so that it cracks when I drop it (and I will drop it) then it is no improvement.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Michaelgtrusa Avatar
131 months ago
At least it's made in U.S.A!
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
spinedoc77 Avatar
131 months ago
Sapphire will be a good thing for the iWatch. My teenage son has put his good watch, which has a sapphire face in it, through the ringer and it has not had any scratches appear yet. I think a teenager would be a pretty good test, especially a rough one.

Not sure how it would stand up in a phone though as a that is a large piece of sapphire and even though sapphire is pretty hard, I wonder if it would not become brittle. Time will tell how Apple is going to use it. Pretty sure the watch will be first though.

I've worn my Rolex for at least 12 years, I wear it night and day, during heavy construction, etc. I can't count the number of times I've scraped it hard against a wall or corner. Dropped it, etc. I cannot see the faintest hint of a scratch on it. Sapphire can't come soon enough to the cell phone industry, I can't wait. Just seeing how thin the ip6 is purported to be, and if it has sapphire well I'll be first in line. Same for the watch.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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