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Leah Heiss
Leah Heiss

The smart jewellery breakthrough

Smartwatches and activity trackers are so last season. TALIA PAZ reports on the thriving category of smart jewellery and why retailers should pay attention.

The market for wearable technology has evolved beyond the chunky smartwatches and activity trackers of the past few years. Industry commentators are touting significant improvements to smartwatch design while another form of wearable is also gaining attention.

Enter smart jewellery. Combining society’s obsession with connectivity and style, smart jewellery refers to an assortment of rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings that aim to improve health, productivity and communications, all while maintaining a fashion-first stance. The latest iterations are less gimmicky and more wearable, shattering the notion that they can’t be worn daily and making a strong case for the title of jewellery.

Bellabeat is one business offering a technology-based device with a heavy focus on aesthetics. Introduced in 2014, Bellabeat’s Leaf – a stylised-leaf pendant fashioned from wood composites and silver or rose gold-plated stainless steel – can be worn as a bracelet or necklace. The product is marketed as the ‘world’s first wearable that predicts stress’, tracking the wearer’s daily activities such as steps taken, calories burned, sleep patterns and reproductive health.

Meanwhile, the Looksee Labs Eyecatcher cuff bracelet is a smart jewellery offering developed with fashion and emotional connection in mind. Designed for both women and men, the bracelet can be customised with displays including personal photos, real-time phone notifications and clock faces.

Ringly
Ringly
Ringly
Ringly

Looksee Labs founder Per Ljung believes there is a gap in the market for wearable technology with a strong fashion focus.

“To date, almost all wearables have been defined by functionality,” Ljung says. “Specifically, wearable companies have added different sensors to quantify the wearer’s activity, health, location and sleep but the products have a low value and a low emotional connection.”

Ljung explains that emphasising the emotion between the owner and product was core to developing the Eyecatcher bracelet.

“By fusing art, fashion and technology, we realised that we could create something much more than a simple extension of a smartphone,” he says. “We’re sure others will soon realise products that combine high functionality and strong emotional connection will be superior.”

This should strike a note with traditional jewellery store owners; jewellery is an emotional purchase and highlighting the special relationship between a jewellery piece and the wearer is one of the most successful sales techniques.

One smart jewellery business that is making strides in this space is Ringly. Launching about four years ago, the fashionable-technology company has generated significant media attention from the likes of Vogue and InStyle for producing on-trend designs.

The initial range included an 18-carat gold-plated or rhodium-plated ring that provided phone call and text notifications and it has since expanded to comprise a smart bracelet that offers features including activity tracking and guided meditation and breathing techniques. Both ring and bracelet are accented with a variety of gemstones such as howlite, labradorite, purple jade and moonstone.

Ringly founder and CEO Christina Mercando d’Avignon says it’s always a challenge to create a device that combines technology and style but this now seems necessary in today’s constantly-connected society.

“Ringly was founded on the belief that technology can be more discreetly integrated into our lives so you can stay connected without sacrificing your personal style,” she explains.

Mercando d’Avignon also states that wearable technology has a unique selling proposition in the luxury industry: “The concept of luxury and how it relates to wearable technology is really interesting. With technology, we have the power to deliver differentiated experiences, unlike traditional jewellery or accessories. These new devices will help us lead more productive, balanced and healthy lives, which, in my opinion, is the ultimate luxury.”

The long haul
Maia Adams is head of global research at Adorn Insight, a research firm providing market intelligence to the jewellery industry. She believes smart jewellery is more than a passing fad and its commercial potential is now a reality because applications such as software miniaturisation are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

“The fact that Richline Group and Fossil recently acquired wearable [technology] companies Viawear and Misfit respectively suggests that they see potential for growth in this market,” Adams says.

Looksee Labs
Looksee Labs
Looksee Labs
Looksee Labs

Further, Adams suggests smart jewellery may be the key to securing sales from younger demographics.

“When it comes to targeting Millennials who are spending more on tech than ever before, the blend of fashion know-how and tech savviness that can be achieved through wearables could be just the thing needed to lure them back to the jewellery market,” she explains.

Paola De Luca, forecaster and creative director of TrendVision Jewellery and Forecasting, highlights the connection between this product category and Millennials as well.

“Smart jewellery mainly targets Millennials,” De Luca says, adding that the category also taps into gender-fluid and age-fluid social phenomena.

Stretching boundaries
While smart jewellery typically centres on pieces that provide smartphone notifications and health-tracking functionality, other applications exist that continue to blur the line between jewellery and technology.

Leah Heiss is a Melbourne-based designer who collaborates with specialists in a variety of disciplines to create smart jewellery that has a therapeutic skew. As reported in Jeweller in November 2014, Heiss’ projects include a necklace and ring that can replace insulin syringes for diabetics.

Heiss says the diabetes project has not evolved commercially but has become an “artefact for exhibition and conversation”, opening a dialogue around how her team’s technologies might look, feel and function in people’s lives.

The designer has been working on additional projects, such as a Smart Heart necklace that monitors cardiac functions and a modular hearing aid that aims to bring beauty and a jewellery approach to a technology that she says has long attracted a stigma linked to ageing.

“My work sits outside the regular retail environment,” Heiss states, adding her projects are often speculative and question the relationship between medical technologies, functional requirements and aesthetics. “Why can’t we have devices that seamlessly integrate into our lives like a favourite bracelet or ring? Why do medical devices need to be so focused on function, clean-ability with no respect for our individuality?” she asks.

Another device aligned with medical functionality is a pair of earrings that can manage gestational diabetes. The concept, developed by QLD-based medical technology entrepreneurs Tamara Mills and Courtney Condren and biomedical engineer Abhishek Appaji, was recently selected as the winner of the Global Entrepreneurship boot camp organised by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Ringly
Ringly
Leah Heiss
Leah Heiss

Mills says there will be a place for smart jewellery in bricks-and-mortar jewellery stores in the future.

“Wearable technology classified as a medical device and reimbursed under public or private healthcare, would typically be distributed through a pharmacy,” she explains. ”This is likely to change in the future as medical devices become more integrated into everyday products, such as mobile phones, clothing and jewellery.”

Eye of the beholder
The applications of smart jewellery are seemingly endless – there is even a men’s stainless steel bracelet with built-in tools including an Allen wrench, screwdriver and bottle opener.

This begs the question of whether these pieces should be classified as jewellery?

Adams believes so: “Yes, I think wearable jewellery can be called jewellery but what’s really key for me is to move away from the very ‘fashion’ – and sometimes rather gimmicky – jewellery look that seems to currently dominate the technology arena.

What would be super exciting is to see the fine jewellery industry come up with viable, high-end jewellery solutions to house the tech.”

Ljung says smart jewellery is a concept where something “magical” can be added to traditional jewellery, while De Luca believes the meaning of jewellery is determined by the wearer.

“Jewellery is what people perceive as jewellery – it could be paper, wood, precious metal or plastic,” she states, adding,

“Smart jewellery, meaning integrated technology in a wearable object, is jewellery.”

The argument of what constitutes jewellery is not new and the general consensus is that jewellery is defined as an item that has a primary purpose of adornment. Therefore, because the primary purpose of wearable technology is not adornment, some industry pundits believe that smart jewellery is not jewellery in the traditional sense. 

It’s too early to tell if these connected devices have a place in traditional jewellery stores, although some products like Bellabeat are already stocked by bricks-and-mortar retailers. In any case, it’s surely a smart move to keep track of how the market is evolving.

SMART JEWELLERY UNCOVERED

Those working in the smart jewellery sphere share insights on the category.


“When it comes to wearable tech, people want devices that are simple, stylish and unobtrusive, but still serve a meaningful purpose.”
Christina Mercando d’Avignon, Ringly founder and CEO




 


“Self-expression with jewellery has always been part of human culture and smart jewellery is a new concept where something ‘magical’ can be added to traditional jewellery.”
– Per Ljung, Looksee Labs founder



 


“Self-expression with jewellery has always been part of human culture and smart jewellery is a new concept where something ‘magical’ can be added to traditional jewellery.”
– Per Ljung, Looksee Labs founder
 

 












ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Talia Paz • Staff Journalist

Talia Paz is a staff journalist for Jeweller, and has more than three years' experience as a freelance journalist for national and international publications, covering a wide range of industries.









Sunday, 23 September, 2018 04:46pm
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