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Lo-res_753671818-SWhat makes luxury jewelry luxurious? Is it the scarcity of the gems, the handcrafted creative design, or the purity of the metals? Even if each of these features might once have been the definitive criterion used to establish a luxury standard, modern technology is challenging each of them and thus what it means to produce luxury jewelry for discerning consumers. In particular, by leveraging the tools provided by computer-aided design (CAD), design systems embedded with artificial intelligence (AI), 3D scanning and printing, additive manufacturing, and virtual depictions, various jewelry designers are conceiving of new ways to design, produce, and sell their sophisticated, stylized goods.

Consider Boucheron’s Nature Triomphante collection. Noting the beauty of the imperfections that occur in flowers in nature, designers took digital scans of actual petals plucked from roses, orchids, and other dramatic flowers. Feeding the scans into computer systems, they produced tiny, realistic looking flowers that the company then set onto precious metal rings.

Rather than starting from a natural occurrence, a designer at Volund Jewelry recalled a previous visit to a candle-lit Italian monastery and its grounds when he was programming dedicated CAD software to come up with nearly infinite numbers of leaf patterns that then could be combined into a broach. Instead of drawing various leaves by hand, he prompted the program to come up with a range of variations that mimic natural variations more effectively than any single designer could do.

If granted access to such software, consumers arguably could undertake these design efforts on their own too. They can adjust the alignment and placement of jewels in a necklace to ensure it is just how they imagined it, make a chain heavier or thinner, or test out whether they like rose or traditional gold better. Any order placed with the help of such tools then would essentially guarantee consumer satisfaction, because it exactly matches their preferences.

Once the designs are set by computer, prototypes also can be readily produced with 3D printing. In the past, jewelers would cast designs in resin, wax, or other inexpensive materials, to get a sense of how the final product would look. But such efforts took weeks to complete, whereas a 3D printer might churn out a mock-up of a new bracelet in less than a day. The printed form in turn can be used to create the final mold that the company will use to fabricate the actual accessories.

The fabrication process also is informed by advanced technology that enables jewelers to blend various alternative materials into their products, while still maintaining the look of precious gems or metals. A novel method for mixing plastics into gold produces lighter-weight composites, which in turn opens up new design options. Another use of advanced printers involves stamping designs onto ceramic to make it look like enamel or other more expensive materials.

But according to some jewelers, all of these efforts, even if seemingly cutting edge, really remain stuck in the past, because they involve producing an actual item. The future instead might entail exclusively virtual designs, such that people who interact mainly in digital domains can present themselves decked out in virtual jewels and fashion. Similar to the way game avatars can sport digital skins, influencers and popular figures might appear to be wearing expensive jewels that appear only onscreen. A designer in Amsterdam already charges thousands of dollars to create personalized, virtual, one-of-a-kind dresses for fashionable consumers.

Such options might seem a bit futuristic, though virtual representations of how particular pieces would look on consumers are becoming a more widely used sales tool for jewelers. Consumers can determine just how far down their neck a pair of dangling earrings would hang or whether a particular bracelet matches the color of their favorite dress, for example. Such experiences help them make purchase decisions, while also connecting them at an emotional level with the designer that makes their avatar sparkle.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What benefits does technology offer to the luxury jewelry market, but at the same time, what detriments does it have, in terms of this sector’s traditions?
  2. Can luxury jewelers market themselves as high-tech, rather than handmade, and still achieve similar appeal among consumers?

Source: Victoria Gomelski, “Technology Could Turn You into a Tiffany,” The New York Times, April 23, 2021