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Is smart jewellery a smart idea?

Wearable technology is evolving to look a lot like jewellery but should it be classified as such? COLEBY NICHOLSON asks if this expanding, fashion-focused category has a place in the industry.

Why do people keep inventing stuff? I am over it; I wish they would stop.

I’m told I need something new every day. In fact, the new thing I bought last month is now old or has already been updated. Worse, sometimes before I get to use the new thing there is another new thing.

Surely one of the dumbest ideas ever is a smart fridge!

Apart from the fact that my seven-year-old microwave still displays the wrong time, I’m concerned that if I bought a smart fridge it would have a higher IQ score than me. Actually, I’m sure it would because a few years ago I failed the IQ test for a New Zealand visa.

Needless to say, there’s no way I am buying a smart fridge – or a smart TV for that matter. Imagine what could happen if these two ‘smarties’ ganged-up on me.

Do we really need a fridge that nags us about the use-by date on the milk carton? If I enjoyed being nagged I wouldn’t have kicked my kids out of home!

Don’t get me wrong, much of the gadgetry, apps and new technology are great in isolation. They can definitely improve our lives but it all becomes overwhelming when coupled with everything else we need to deal with on a daily basis. Wouldn’t it have been better to invent smart people first?

What’s all this got to do with jewellery?

Well, Jeweller first started writing about smart jewellery – not to be confused with smartwatches – around 2013. At the time it caused a little industry debate about the definition of jewellery – especially fine jewellery – with many retailers suggesting that these newly-developed products were, perhaps, not jewellery, and to a large extent we agreed.

"If we can’t clearly define and differentiate between fine and fashion jewellery, then can we really define and differentiate between smart jewellery and jewellery?"

Some items were easy to identify. For example, if products such as USB necklaces were being promoted as jewellery because they were covered in coloured gemstones then we decided to classify them as ‘bejewelled’.

Our logic was simple: just because something looked like jewellery didn’t mean it should be called jewellery. We considered the purpose of the item and, if its primary function – the basis on which it was promoted – was something other than adornment, then we did not consider it jewellery.

If you think about it, the first smart (calculator) watches appeared in 1975 courtesy of Pulsar, which, surprise, surprise, was partly owned by IT company Hewlett & Packard at the time.

So, for more than 40 years, watches have evolved from being straight timepieces to offering other technological functions and it hasn’t stopped retailers from selling them.

Blurred lines

Therefore, you’re probably beginning to see that the ‘primary function’ line can get blurry. Indeed, some years ago I argued that it was near impossible to define fine jewellery and fashion jewellery, even though many retailers were pooh-poohing the enormous rise of fashion jewellery sales, courtesy of you know who!

If we can’t clearly define and differentiate between fine and fashion jewellery, then can we really define and differentiate between smart jewellery and jewellery?

Therein lies the point: some traditionalists would happily argue that various items of smart jewellery are not jewellery at all because they do ‘other’ things as well as adorn; however, is it that clear-cut anymore? 

Synthetic diamonds are slowly but surely being accepted by consumers for various reasons, and some savvy marketers are boasting about the stone’s background as ‘man-made’, as opposed to ‘mined’.

That is, synthetic diamond manufacturers are beginning to use the ‘man-made’ aspect as a selling point, mainly around sustainability. They are probably targeting the Millennial generation. Who would have predicted that a few years ago?

As our story The Smart Jewellery Breakthrough discovers, the market is starting to see smart jewellery – or wearable technology, as it is often called – take on a strong fashion focus. The products are evolving from a ‘functional’ item to ‘form and function’, emphasising emotion, bond, art and fashion; all the things traditional jewellery does.

The interesting thing is that, just like the debate about attempting to define the difference between fine and fashion jewellery, our opinions don’t count. The consumer ultimately decides what makes your cash register ting!

Don’t forget also that times change and if you ever wanted proof of that then think back to the history of jewellery as an item of fashion and/or adornment. After all, wasn’t the first jewellery composed of seashells, seeds and string?

I am not sure that smart jewellery will become a mainstay of jewellery retail stores; however, a decade or two ago, retailers did not touch costume (fashion) jewellery. Even worse, it was only about 10 years ago that many Australian jewellers pooh-poohed Pandora and yet today, it’s arguably the biggest jewellery brand in the world.

Update – I've changed my mind and I have just decided to buy the latest smart TV; apparently it doesn’t show Bill Shorten!

More reading
What is and isn't fine jewellery?
What is fine jewellery?
Jewellery just got smarter

Coleby Nicholson

Former Publisher • Jeweller Magazine

Coleby Nicholson launched Jeweller in 1996 and was also publisher and managing editor from 2006 to 2019. He has covered the jewellery industry for more than 20 years and specialises in business-to-business aspects of the industry.

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