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Apple devices now top gift among Chinese wealthy

The crackdown on corruption in China has hurt just about every class of luxury product, from French Burgundies and Patek Philippe watches to Lamborghinis and diamond rings.

But one luxury product seems immune to the country's new asceticism: Apple products.

A poem by traditional Chinese poet Su Shih is displayed on the outside of an Apple store in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China.
ChinaFotoPress | Getty Images

Apple's sales in China hit $16 billion in the fourth quarter, up 70 percent from a year ago. Some might argue that Apple isn't a luxury brand. But in a country where the average wage is still under $5,000, a $1,000 phone clearly counts as a luxury good.

And now comes news that Apple products have become the top gift choice among the Chinese rich.

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According to the Hurun Report, Apple products have become the gift of choice for both male and female Chinese luxury consumers, surpassing Louis Vuitton and last year's top choice, Hermes.

"Apple has shot up to become the preferred brand for gifting by China's richest," the report said.

Luxury cool down ... sort of

Among male Chinese luxury consumers, Louis Vuitton ranked second, followed by Gucci, Chanel and Montblanc. Hermes fell to seventh place. Among women, Chanel ranked second, followed by Vuitton, Dior and Hermes.

Why would Apple products be more acceptable than other luxury goods? For one thing, they're practical. But more importantly, government officials aren't likely to get criticized for holding an iPhone, while they have often been photographed and criticized for wearing Cartier watches or driving supercars.

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Overall, spending on gift-giving fell 5 percent over the past year, and is down 30 percent over the past two years. Only three out of 10 luxury consumers in China are confident in the economy. But they are taking lots of trips abroad: They are away eight days a month for business and they take eight to 12 days a year of holiday travel.