Swarovski & Misfit: Shining Bright at CES
Much of the buzz emanating from this years CES focussed on the number of wearables. There were over 60 on display from full-immersion headsets, to connected dog collars. One class of device attracting particularly positive attention was smart jewellery.
A crystal be-jewelled activity and sleep tracker called Swarovski Shine garnered almost universal praise.
The result of a collaboration between Misfit, (a 3-year-old Californian wearable tech start-up) and Swarovski (a 120 year old Austrian fine-cut glass manufacturer), the Swarovski Shine was unlike any other wearable at the show.
This piece by Forbes writer Parmy Olsen, explains that Swarovski had first attempted to incorporate technology into its crystal-encrusted LED watch back in 2009. The companies efforts had floundered, plagued by the same battery life issues challenging device makers today.
A major breakthrough occurred, when Swarovski’s R&D team discovered, that because crystals concentrate light, they were perfect conduits for charging solar panels underneath them. This insight, resulted in a 5 year project to develop energy harvesting crystals.
The team-up with Misfit came about at a wearable tech summit in New York, in August 2014, after a chance meeting between Misfit CEO Sonny Vu and a Swarovski team member.
Wearables were blowing up and Swarovski had ditched the watch idea. They were casting about for a way to make an elegant activity tracker. Once Vu showed them his prototype for the Misfit Shine, it became obvious there was considerable technical and artistic synergy between the two companies.
18 months later and the final product is ready. The Swarovski Shine is packaged like quality jewellery and sold as fashion and technology. It embodies both and speaks to the corporate and creative intersection occurring between the two.
The Body as Real Estate
As wearables move out of the early adopter cycle, they edge towards mainstream acceptance. The next stage, as generation 2.0 products, is crucial. If they are to become more than gadgets, they must become as beautiful and as wearable as the things they are designed to replace.
The body is valuable real-estate. Technology is competing with traditional unconnected jewellery for that precious territory. Ignoring issues of design, beauty, comfort and wearability on a connected device, will be a sure-fire way to ensure short-term use and rapid obsolescence.
The focus of a lot of early wearables was on technology, often at the cost of design. Perhaps, this was one of the main reasons why a 2014 study of 6,223 US adults, who had purchased an activity tracker, revealed that within 6 months, over half of them no longer used the device.
It is interesting but not surprising, to see jewellery helping to push wearable tech mainstream. Jewellery has been with us for as long as we have made things to adorn our bodies. That history, may well explain why we are comfortable with allowing it be modernised with technology.
Ringly’s connected cocktail rings recently attracted heavy venture capital funding. They did so because they look good and wear well. Women would probably still buy them, even without the benefit of clever Bluetooth LE notifications and vibration technology.
Kovert Designs bespoke high-fashion rings, bracelets and necklaces, offer similar chic aesthetics, alongside minimally invasive tech.
It seems, that once a wearable can embody the look and feel of the object it is designed to replace, the additional functionality of the technology becomes far more enticing for the buyer.
A Wearable Golden Future?
Jewellery has rarely served any truly practical function. It does not protect us and its main function has been to beautify us, confer status, show wealth, enhance self-esteem, or alter the way others see us.
It conveys complex social statements about who we think we are and how we wish to be seen. This, along with its supernatural and spiritual overtones as amulets, sacred symbols and sentimental heirlooms, is the source of its true power.
Capturing this mix of messaging, coding and meaning may well be beyond the reach of this generation of smart jewellery. Long term, this will probably not be the case.
Technology dates rapidly – it can quickly lose both value and meaning. As a result we have not tended to design our gadgets to endure as objects of permanence and beauty. For smart jewellery to become truly valuable, it will have to find a way capture timeless design and to maintain some form of technical viability.
A Swiss mechanical watch achieves this easily. It is a piece of jewellery and technology that holds beauty and technical quality across generations. Whilst it may be expecting too much of our current wearable designs to meet this standard, it is surely a laudable goal to attempt to improve both the beauty and usefulness of those things we wear upon our skin.
Otherwise they will remain products that attract only short-term affection and not long-term relationship.