updated 02:52 pm EDT, Wed April 30, 2014
Fraction of planned furnaces reportedly online
The Arizona sapphire plant operated by Apple and GT Advanced Technologies started production last month in a 100-furnace trial, claims UBS analyst Stephen Chin. The material was allegedly shipped to one of Apple's manufacturing partners in China. From there, it's believed to have gone into the Touch ID sensors and camera lens covers for the iPhone 5s, which already use sapphire from other suppliers.
100 furnaces is just a fraction of the 1,500 GT is expected to install in the first half of 2014. The value of last month's shipment is estimated to be about $1 million; Chin suggests that by the time the Arizona plant ramps up, the Chinese supplier will receive about $50 million in sapphire every month. Last week, meanwhile, GT acknowledged receiving its third prepayment from Apple. Chin argues that it will probably receive a fourth and final prepayment in May.
GT is also reportedly selling the sapphire at a cost 25 percent lower than Apple's other suppliers. That could be critical going forward, since Apple is believed to be expanding the use of sapphire to other products, including possibly display covers for the iWatch and/or the iPhone 6.