Fossil smartwatches

LAS VEGAS — Interactive jewelry has yet to become mainstream, but at this year’s CES, wearable tech experts described a sector that saw producers developing a stronger point of view.

With wearable tech offerings ranging from a locket that shows a digital image to a wristband that acts as a subway card, wearables “are finding their voice,” said Syuzi Pakhchyan, who is an experience lead at BCG Digital Ventures.

Pakhchyan led a talk with industry experts Sonny Vu, a former Misfit executive who became president and chief technology officer of connected devices at Fossil Group when the company was acquired a year ago; Karl Weaver, OEM business development director for North America and Northeast Asia at Oasis Smart SIM, and Cliff Ulrich, product innovation manager at Richline Group, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway.

Ulrich said that when the company approached the task of making tech-enabled jewelry, he was “intrigued” that electronics had began capturing discretionary spending from consumers from other categories, including fine jewelry.

“From a business perspective, we saw that the worlds were colliding and we decided to get into it,” he said. “That was the catalyst to re-evaluate the way we design wearables as jewelry first.”

Ulrich said “starting at square one” showed that “the jewelry experience” was about relationships with people, such as gift-giving and marking special occasions in life. The wearable tech answer to that, he said, was an emphasis on memories and notifications, and less of a focus on fitness.

“We wanted to create a feeling, so we allowed people to store memories in their jewelry,” he said, which included options like a modern-day locket, imbedded with photos, audio and messages that made the piece thoughtful, meaningful and personal. “Every kiss begins with Kay — not a five-mile run,” he said.

Vu, who has helped develop smart timepieces for brands such as Kate Spade and A/X, said wearables should offer functionality and experiences that are appropriate for each brand. “It doesn’t have to be about fitness,” he said. “Just because you can track steps doesn’t mean you should.”

Instead, he said that the design idea is often “a watch experience augmented by tech.”

Vu saw three different segments forming in the wrist wearables category: trackers with limited notifications, display smartwatches and hybrid smartwatches with connected functionality.

He particularly noted the advent of the hybrid category, which include analog watches that offer some techie features without a completely digital face, and often without the need to be charged. “It’s a beautiful piece of jewelry or a watch and by the way, it can do this,” Vu said. “It’s still on brand and it still looks like a Fossil watch.”

Vu said that the watches are sold where the traditional Fossil watches are, in addition to some consumer electronics channels.

Weaver, who works in the Asian market, said that China currently offered the largest smartwatch market and had the best integration of mobile payments primarily because of the ability to use a smartwatch or other wrist-worn wearable, or ring, as a subway card. He emphasized the need for an untethered experience — meaning a device that functions independently of a smartphone — and a unisex design.

He said that while athletes and busy businesspeople might immediately see the need for something like a smartwatch, “fashion people” still might have a challenge with them. To that end, he encouraged the industry to catch up on the opportunity to build adoption of mobile payments.