World of Wearables Exhibition Ushers In a New Era at JCK Las Vegas

“I hope that we’ll see that history was made in this room today,” said writer and author Robin Raskin, who moderated a standing room-only panel discussion Thursday afternoon, The Future is Now.

Raskin was referring to the fact that an all-jewelry industry audience was sitting face-to-face with marquee players in the wearable tech industry at a major jewelry show—a happening that, if not a first, comes close to it. 

Panelist Sonny Vu, co-founder of the Misfit wearable device, also delighted in the official-feeling convergence of industries, and remarked, “Even five years ago, the idea of a wearable was like, ‘whoa, that’s weird.’ Now we’re at a jewelry show in Vegas talking about technology. I think that’s just amazing.”

The event was part of Richline Group’s World of Wearables exhibit—which was also packed to the gills with curious retailers Thursday afternoon.

The discussion’s four panelists—all cutting-edge wearable developers—took turns introducing their respective products or technologies: Vu talked up the jewelry-focused Misfit, a small, notifier device that pops in and out of various jewelry pieces. FitLinxx CEO David Monahan chatted about AmpStrip, a flexible monitoring device for athletes. Scott Amyx, founder of wearables strategy agency Amyx+McKinsey, discussed the dawn of affective computing, which is the eerie marriage of tech, psychology, and neurology that results in devices that read consumers’ facial and body cues.

Amanda Parks, co-founder of Manufacture New York, a fashion design and production incubator for independent designers based in Brooklyn, discussed her company’s foray into textile and fashion wearable technology—but also encouraged jewelers to approach device developers to create their own smart jewelry devices. “You are perfectly positioned to take a stab at wearables,” she told the crowd. “You do the hard design, which is exactly what [wearable developers] need.”

Parks added that she sees the growth of the category as being about “how to merge the language of fashion and tech. Wearables used to look like a computer threw up across your body. But as the tech gets better and better, we’re concentrating on smaller packages…one of the ways to do this is to use clothing itself.”

Back at the exhibit, Marqui Craig, a co-founder of 360 Fashion and Tech, which also infuses tech into fashion, also thinks that clothing and accessories will be central to the next big wearable wave. “We already have purses and bags that charge mobile phones,” she said. “In a couple of years, designs like that will be everywhere.”

They were, at the very least, all over the Richline exhibit. Standout devices included a Bluetooth-enabled speaker hidden in a hot pink, studded Rebecca Minkoff clutch by Stelle Audio; the June UV detector bracelet that beeps when you’ve had to much sun; the crystal Zazzi prism notifier bracelet; and Ear-O-Smart, an activity tracker hidden inside rhinestone-covered button earrings.

Patrick Baldwin, an applications engineer for Rio Grande, which showed the DigitalWax 009J, a 3D printer designed for small runs, said he thinks the Richline exhibit is “a really cool event that shows how the tech industry has moved into fashion.” He added, “This is our opportunity to partner with technology. Let’s start talking.”