The 2014 Forecast: Sunny, Mobile, and Smart

Happy New Year! I hope 2014 has been kind to you (all six days of it). I’ve always been partial to the even years, so I have high hopes for this one. Here are a few reasons why I’m excited to see what this futuristic-sounding year (is it really twenty fourteen?!) holds.

1. Luxury Is Looking Up

If anecdotal evidence counts for something, then the 2013 holiday season went pretty well for most of you. The stock market is up, the price of gold is down, the Swiss watch industry is poised to celebrate a record-breaking year (when 2013 exports are finalized later this month), and the American market is once again the global leader (now that the Chinese economy has proven it’s not invincible).

Many companies are back to pre-2007 levels, which means that consumers are spending again. By and large, however, they are spending more carefully, meaning the growth the jewelry industry is experiencing is more organic, more stable, and far healthier than anything we saw in the go-go years.

All cause for celebration, right? Yes—with some caveats. The most successful jewelers are the ones who’ve embraced 21st-century consumers’ demands for convenience, customization, and confidence. They have created easy-to-access websites with shopping carts for people who want to buy from the comfort of their own homes (or cars, or coffee shops, as the case may be). These retailers have figured out how to offer their customers tailor-made merchandise that is both reasonably priced and quick to produce. And they have done it all in a way that underscores their authenticity and trustworthiness. Because in this age of Internet hoaxes, credit card hacks, and privacy-invading bureaucrats, a genuine encounter with an honest salesperson is the most impressive thing of all.  

2. Moving On

In 1999, I accepted a freelance gig for a technology website and was asked to write definitions for the nascent lexicon of the Internet age. One of the terms I was asked to define was m-commerce, aka mobile commerce. I didn’t have a “cellular phone” at the time, but I knew a few people who did, so I did some research and learned that making purchases via mobile devices was considered the next big thing (at the time, plain old e-commerce was still in its infancy). I’m not sure what’s more surprising: that it took 15 years for m-commerce to come to fruition in a truly mainstream way, or that I was attempting to make sense of the concept at a time when phones—it’s hard to believe we once called them telephones—were really, truly dumb.

In any event, when you read our bridal-themed February issue, you’ll see what I mean about m-commerce going mainstream. After reading the results of The Knot’s 2013 Engagement & Jewelry Study, we decided to devote the issue’s cover story to the concept of mobile brides. The results make clear that women (and men) are using their smartphones and tablets to research their engagement rings, and in some cases, I’m sure, they’re even using their phones to buy them.

How are brick-and-mortar retailers to respond? For starters, don’t let your website and email communications, like newsletters, look dated to visitors on the go; make sure they are designed and built to be responsive (meaning the interface adapts to whatever device it’s being viewed on) or mobile-enhanced (a streamlined version of your regular site designed specifically for mobile viewing). 

Then, move on to social media. I’m convinced that the one smartphone app every jeweler must use is Instagram. It’s all about sharing pretty pictures—and, in the case of the savviest retailers, using those pictures to score sales. Kiki Frayard, owner of Kiki in Lafayette, La., the superstar retailer who graces our December-January cover (bear with us, the issue, which was mailed last week, is almost up on the site), told me that she recently sold a Sydney Evan bracelet to a woman in Florida who saw the bauble on Kiki’s Instagram feed.

Mark my words: If you’re not prepared for the m-commerce onslaught, and doing everything you can to stoke it, you’re going to miss out on a big chunk of business—end of story.

3. Smartwatches Are the Future (Sort Of)

Speaking of mobile devices, it’s no secret that the era of wearable technology is upon us. You’ve no doubt heard about the impending smartwatch boom. Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Gear in September, and the makers of the Pebble just announced the launch of their smartwatch app store.

The Samsung Galaxy Gear (photo courtesy of Samsung)

But the effect of these products on the traditional watch market has been negligible compared with what will happen when the elephant in the room releases its much-hyped smartwatch:

“I think everyone agrees that all the smartwatch products on the market are not fully fledged yet,” says Dory Carr-Harris, managing editor of trend forecasting agency PSFK.com. “They’re more like prototypes—a good first effort, but everyone’s waiting for the one that changes the game.”

Do I have to spell it out? The iWatch rumored to be in development at Apple is going to dominate any conversation about wearable tech. Most people in the Swiss watch industry are dismissive of the competitive threat, but behind closed doors, they are talking. One of the questions they are asking: Given the choice of wearing two watches, one smart and one dumb, which will consumers choose (particularly if they belong to the millennial generation)?

And smartwatches are just the beginning. Did you know that someone has developed a smart ring?

To understand where our obsession with mobile technology is going, you have to see Her, the provocative and poignant new film from director Spike Jonze (of Being John Malkovich fame), starring Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, a disaffected Angeleno who falls in love with his operating system, charmingly voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Set in the not too distant future in a gleaming, high-rise version of L.A., the film, which was shot in Shanghai, shows us a glimpse of our hyper-connected future. Theodore walks around chatting up a storm with a little round device that he inserts into his ear. It’s about the size of a gum ball, but don’t let the size of the discrete little sphere fool you. Samantha, as the operating system, names herself, is a big thinker and becomes indispensable in more ways than one.

The key to Samantha’s charm is her sophisticated, intuitive system of voice activation, which Siri, Apple’s real-life virtual assistant, hasn’t quite perfected. When makers of smartwatches, or smart rings or smart glasses, nail the voice command software, watch out for a real revolution in wearable computing.

For now, however, let’s remain in the present day. Smartwatches are sure to be a big conversation piece in 2014. But purveyors of traditional watches need not feel (overly) threatened. The analog timepiece lost its utility years ago, when we began turning to our phones to get the time, so this next revolution in technology doesn’t change much for people interested in watches for their traditional values, their status-conferring abilities, their fashion sense, or their mechanical wizardry.

In fact, many people in Switzerland see smartwatches as a good thing for the business: “It can only be positive because the smartwatch will train the young generation to wear something on their wrists,” Jean-Claude Biver, CEO of Hublot, told me recently. “And by doing this, one can really say the smartwatch will be a market opener for traditional watches.”

To which I say: Long live analog technology! (Literally: Two hundred years from now, those Swiss watches will be fixable. But a 200-year-old smartwatch? A quaint artifact at best.)