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Next Gen Smart Jewelry: Where Fashion Meets Function

By Vicki Torres

Oct. 14, 2015
Jing Zhou showcases Elemoon bangle
Jing Zhou showcases Elemoon bangle at Ron Robinson store in Santa Monica

As the first generation of smart jewelry – a subset of tech wearables – hits the mass market, the wrist is now valuable real estate.

Vying for this body locale are various makers of tech fashion who have imbedded bangles with technology that allows wearers to screen calls, read emails and receive alerts. These discrete and fashionable tech pieces disguise their function and free wearers from constant phone monitoring, yet allow them to remain connected.

"I’ve never seen a smart watch that would appeal to a woman, but smart jewelry is something they’d be willing wear," said Ken Hertz, senior partner at Hertz Lichtenstein & Young, LLP, who is an entertainment, fashion and technology consultant in Los Angeles.

"It’s discrete but you can interact with the phone and allows us to reclaim part of our life that is constantly interrupted by these devices," he added.

That’s precisely the idea Jing Zhou had in mind with her Elemoon bracelet. The curved bracelet creates customized lighting designs that change to match the color of outfits, notifies wearers of emails or calls and locates your cell phone when you misplace it.

"Technology should be an enhancer," Zhou says. "It should make beautiful things more beautiful and fun things more fun."

The Elemoon bangle displayed at Ron Robinson in Santa Monica
The Elemoon bangle on display at Ron Robinson in Santa Monica
"Technology should be an enhancer, it should make beautiful things more beautiful and fun things more fun."

Smart Jewelry

The Elemoon and other smart jewelry replicates the path of past tech wearables – analog and mechanical – into fashion. For example, eyeglasses date from the 13th century and became fashion statements. Wristwatches with mechanical works, first built in the 16th century, became expensive jewelry costing thousands of dollars.

Advances in computer, electronic and wireless technologies, plus sensors and software, and lower component costs and size inspired new tech wearable devices (see accompanying list). The resulting market now includes publications, newsletters and blogs, such as Wearable Devices, Wearable Technologies, WearablesInsider.com, WT VOX and others. The International Society for Wearable Technology in Healthcare (WATCH Society) launched in 2014. Wearable technology conventions have popped up worldwide.

Smart jewelry, a tech wearable niche, includes entrepreneurs, like Zhou, creating their own designs; tech giants like Intel bringing in fashion designers; and fashion houses incorporating tech, Hertz says.

Some tech wearables currently on the market or soon to launch include bracelets like MICA, Beacon, MEMI and rings such as Ringly, Smarty-ring and others. Some pieces resemble jewels, like Purple or June pendants that can be worn on rings, bracelets or necklaces. Cuff has a line of 18 different pieces in leather and various metals while O.R.B. has a piece that can be worn as an earring or a ring.

Los Angeles makes sense as a tech wearable start up locale, according to Patrick Hechinger, technology writer for BuiltinLA.com.

“Los Angeles ranks as the #3 technology eco startup,” he said. “There’s the fashion industry and the culture of fitness here. It’s the perfect hotbed for wearable technology.

Zhou and Elemoon

That’s why Zhou is increasing her time spent here. A Beijing native, she often visited her grandmother in Ningbo, a wealthy trade and manufacturing center on the East China Sea. After obtaining a master’s degree at Northwestern University in Chicago, Zhou wrote for Business Week, and later, a B2B publication in New York City.

Inspired by her childhood in Ninbgo and by those she interviewed as a reporter, she returned to China and began a mobile advertising company with a smartphone app. She next created a virtual, pink pet elephant, Elepon. When Elepon users said they wanted something more tactile, she came up with Elemoon.

"Wearable tech was just taking off in 2013 and I toured an Apple store and basically saw a whole wall of rubber bands and generic watches," she recalled.

Determined to steer away from dull wristbands, she worked with 17 vendors in Shenzhen, another booming Chinese entrepreneurial city. As a woman in the male-dominated Chinese tech and manufacturing industries, Zhou bonded with the wives of factory owners to help her get things done.

The finished product features a stainless steel body, curved rechargeable battery, four-tiered curved motherboard, tiny LED bulbs in primary colors that create custom colors, a black or white polymer finish, and silver or gold finishes. The bracelet’s technology will accommodate periodic app upgrades.

"Elemoon is like an organic thing, like a companion on your wrist, constantly evolving," she said.

Smart Jewelry as Solution

Smart jewelry like Elemoon may actually solve some of the major obstacles facing the larger, tech wearable market.

Hechinger said wearing a screen on your wrist can be obtrusive, while Hertz said too many devices and too much information will simply feel like "10,000 gnats around my head, making my life more complicated, not productive." Furthermore, a fitness tracker or watch worn to the gym may not be suitable for business meetings or nights out, Hertz said.

That’s why, Hechinger said "the fashion industry understands that if you can hit it out of the ballpark with one of these products, there’s a huge opportunity."

Tech wearable market - global growth forecasts
  • $5.8 billion by 2018, per Transparency Market Research report, Jan. 2014
  • $11.6 billion by 2020, per MarketsandMarkets report, Sept. 2014.
  • $70 billion in 2025, per IDTechEX report, Jan. 2015

Tech wearable market includes eyeglasses, jewelry, headgear, shoes, belts, skin patches, exoskeletons, textiles and devices worn on the arm, wrist or leg.


Selected Timeline of Tech Wearables

1975: Pulsar calculator watch

1979: Sony Walkman

1980s: Wearable computers (with wires, bulky eyeglasses, helmets and headbands with antennas, chunky equipment and battery packs)

1983: Casio Databank, CD-40 watch

1999: Blackberry

2000: Bluetooth headset, Linux Smartwatch

2001: Apple iPod

2003: Fossil Wrist PDA synced to PC, Glacier W200 forearm computer for security and defense uses

2006: Nike + iPod

2007: Apple iPhone

2008: Fitbit fitness tracker

2009: Samsung S9110 Watch Phone

2010: Chinese-made smart watches

2011: Jawbone UP fitness tracker

2012 & 2013: Smartwatches & fitness trackers - Sony , Pebble, Motorola’s MotoActv, Samsung’s Gear, Nike Fuel, Fitbit Flex & others; Google Glass

2014: Apple iWatch, Fitbit Charge & others

2015: Smart jewelry including Elemoon, Beacon, MICA, Cuff and MEMI bracelets, Kovert, June, Smarty Ring, Ringly rings & others

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Reach.Further


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