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All signs point to 1 million Apple Watch preorders, analysts say

Analysts estimate that Apple's preorders hovered around that milestone figure in the device's first weekend of availability.

So far, so good on Apple Watch preorders, according to analysts. Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

The Apple Watch basked in a strong opening weekend that could indicate success for the device, analysts say.

In an investors note Monday, Cowen and Co. estimated that total Apple Watch preorders worldwide reached about 1 million units during the first weekend of availability. Cowen, which has monitored Apple for years and scrutinizes the company's product launches, extrapolated the preorder number after analyzing preorders at Apple Stores in the San Francisco Bay Area on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"We found several dozen salespeople per retail store who each had several dozen Apple Watch appointments during store hours," Cowen analysts wrote. "Based on our discussions, these showings are translating into Apple Watch pre-orders 85-90% of the time. Extrapolating the frequency of appointments and conversion ratio metrics across Apple's retail footprint of the Watch's launch markets, we believe weekend pre-orders could easily be in the range of 1 million. We note iPhone 6/6+ pre-orders exceeded 4MM in just the first 24 hours of a multi-market three-day launch weekend in September 2014 but a 1 million Watch number would be respectable and even a little better than our model."

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster also estimated that Apple Watch preorders hovered around 1 million units over the weekend, according to Marketwatch, which obtained his note.

Apple Watch went on preorder Friday and will officially launch April 24. Within hours of starting preorder sales, the device's ship dates were pushed back months as heavy demand hit the company's online retail store. As of this writing, many Apple Watch models are showing ship dates of June for those who preorder the device, while others have a July ship date. Either way, anyone who preorders an Apple Watch from now until launch day will have no chance of getting it on April 24.

Apple Watch, which is launching in nine markets worldwide, represents an important new initiative for Apple. The device is the first from the company to enter the burgeoning wearables market and is widely viewed as the product that will make or break smartwatches. Other companies, including Pebble, Samsung, and Motorola, have all entered the smartwatch market but have been unable to break out of a small niche. Apple Watch is viewed by many as the product that could bring smartwatches into the mainstream.

"The Apple Watch will be instrumental in taking the wearables market to the next level of growth," chief of research Ben Wood at market researcher CCS Insight said in a statement in February. "If successful, it'll create a rising tide that will lift the whole market."

Apparently so far, so good. As Cowen noted, the Apple Watch already seems to be ahead of its own estimates. Analysts at Cantor Fitzgerald echoed that sentiment, saying the device has "gotten off to a strong start." Likewise, analysts at KeyBanc Capital Markets said that "Apple Watch preorders are off to a very strong start" and added that the company will more than likely "sell all of its production volume for at least the next three months." KeyBanc went so far as to say that Apple Watch could hurt the traditional watch market and lowered its earnings estimates on popular watch brands Fossil and Movado.

"After trying on the Apple Watch, visiting stores, and based on our field work, we are now more convinced that the Apple Watch will be disruptive to the fashion watch market," KeyBanc analysts wrote to investors on Sunday. "At a minimum, the widespread buzz may cause something of a standstill in the watch market."

The Apple Watch comes in two sizes -- 42mm or 38mm -- and three designs -- the aluminum-cased Apple Watch Sport, stainless-steel-cased Apple Watch and the 18-karat-gold-cased Apple Watch Edition. The aluminum comes with silver or space gray options, while the stainless steel comes in its namesake color or a space black version. The gold watch is available in 18-karat yellow gold or 18-karat rose gold. The price tag ranges dramatically from $349 to $17,000.

The KeyBanc analysts said that Apple is gearing up to produce up to 20 million Apple Watches this calendar year.

What's missing from all of this talk of Apple Watch shipments and preorders is an actual word from Apple. In the past, Apple has touted its product preorders in their first weekend of availability, but as of this writing, it is maintaining radio silence. The company has also not immediately responded to a request for comment on preorders.

Still, that hasn't stopped guesses from hitting the Web fast and furious. On Sunday, for instance, a company called Slice Intelligence, which claims to have the ability to track "e-receipt data" from over 9,000 online shoppers, stated that "each Apple Watch buyer ordered an average of 1.3 watches." The company said, based on its own calculations, that Apple Watch preorders hit 1 million in the US. By contrast, Cowen's preorder estimate is for all nine launch markets worldwide: Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, UK and US.