Usually in the first week of January, Richline chief marketing officer Mark Hanna is traveling to New York City for 24 Karat weekend. This year, though, he’s headed home after attending his first International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Hanna and Richline have become fervent believers in the brave new world of wearables—and in particular, producing wearables that are actually, well, wearable. At CES, the company announced deals with two different gadget makers—CUFF and Ornate—for products, including a smartwatch aimed at jewelry retailers. Its Honora division has a high-tech pearl product in the works. By the JCK Las Vegas show in May, Richline plans to have at least five jewelry gizmos ready to show, with more coming down the pike.
“We believe technology will touch every product category,” Hanna says. “Our industry needs to look at this as a new category we should all be competing in.”
So far, though, Richline is largely on its own here. Aside from Swarovski—which was at CES touting its partnership with Misfit—Hanna didn’t see or hear of many other jewelry companies at the show. (Granted, CES is a huge show, attracting 160,000 people, so he admits it’s possible he missed some.) And while a number of traditional watch companies are taking a serious look at wearables—including TAG Heuer and Movado—he didn’t see any showing product at CES, despite hitting most watch booths.
To be fair, Hanna says the tech business isn’t paying much attention to our trade’s areas of expertise, either.
“Very few of [the tech guys] talk about the importance of fashion,” he says. “They are all about the functionality, the longer battery life. Rarely did you have any kind of conversation about styling.”
“The one thing we see missing in wearable tech is anything for women,” he continues. “Especially in the smartwatch category—we don’t see anything made for women. It’s as if the wearable industry is only selling football jerseys for men.”
Yet, both sexes will want and wear these tech toys if they take off—and, make no mistake, Hanna says, Silicon Valley does consider them the next big thing.
When the Apple Watch is released—likely in March—“wearable companies think that will rise the tide instantly for everybody. They are going to just tag along with this giant press that Apple will get.”
As a result, CES was full of watches. “There must have 50 of them.” Big players like Intel showed high-tech timepieces in displays that were “like 20 of our booths,” he says.
(The size of the fair was just one point of difference Hanna noted between JCK and CES: “There, it’s all very open layouts. Every place you go everyone is encouraging you to feel and touch. Nobody is standing behind anything.”)
For all the hype, no one truly knows—not even Apple—whether the world will embrace wearable devices, whether they are fashionable or otherwise. Even so, Richline deserves credit for trying something new.
“We see this as an opportunity not just for us but for the industry,” he says. “Let us make this a new category for jewelry. We can’t let the tech guys own this category. As an industry we need to look seriously at what’s happening there.”
Who knows? Perhaps next year there will be more than a handful of jewelry companies at CES.