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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Augmented Reality For Jewelers Enhances The Customer Experience

An augmented reality visual of a ring design from The Inspired Collection pops out of  a smartphone

By Chris Benham, co-founder and director of Inspired Jewellery Ltd.

Are we on the cusp of an explosion of augmented reality experiences for customers? A couple years ago we worked with 3D animator Chris Williamson to create an animation of one of our tension set diamond ring designs. 


We sent him a 3D CAD file of the ring we wanted him to animate and then he worked his magic. He came into the studio and what followed blew my mind. He had taken the 3D version of our ring and literally made it jump out from the screen. 

How? We picked up a smartphone, opened an app and then scanned it over the image of the same ring on our website. The ring image was like a reference point, almost like a barcode (or QR code) and then the phone proceeded to make the ring pop out from the screen in 3D and allowed you to admire it from all angles and even virtually try it on.  

Watch this video on augmented reality to see how its application is used in day-to-day life:



It only took minutes to create and anyone with a smartphone could use it, meaning this experience is accessible to just about everyone. 

It then turned into one of those scenarios where you suddenly see augmented reality being used in small applications everywhere. However, it is still far from mainstream. If you ask someone on the street about augmented reality most will not know much about it. 

It’s now two years on and I am yet to see many jewelry companies take advantage of this technology. Compared to other businesses, jewelry companies are perfectly suited to this technology. The barriers to entry are low, as most jewelry companies now develop their new jewelry designs in 3D. In our business we’ve embraced 3D technology as a tool, although we start all of our designs from the heart with a pencil and paper. We then translate those designs in 3D to make the manufacturing process more efficient and also to enable our customers to better visualize what the finished piece will look like.  

CAD Operator Zach Hornblow creating a 3D CAD ring design

Other industries are perfectly suited to take advantage of augmented reality including architects and car manufacturers. For example, you’re just about to lock in the contract to purchase that yet unbuilt penthouse apartment. More than slightly nervous about committing your life savings, you can now take an augmented walk through the apartment, helping you to visualize it better and provide a little peace of mind. 

Maybe the reason that jewelers haven’t more readily adopted this technology is because copying in the industry is rife. Why hand on a platter a 3D view of your design to a competitor? At the end of the day they can still look at it and buy it in order to copy it. So that’s not really an excuse. Or as the saying goes ‘be prepared to disrupt or be disrupted.’ 

Loupe Platinum Diamond ring design from The Inspired Collection

Another challenge for jewelers is converting their files from 3D CAD technology into a more lifelike form. There are already challenges for the jeweler and 3D CAD operator when it comes to rendering metallic and gem-like surfaces. Jewelry rendering requires techniques like “environment mapping” to allow reflections to change as the angle of view changes, making surfaces appear lifelike. Current augmented reality platforms like Layar and AugmentedDev will rapidly evolve and these challenges will be overcome and integrations will be developed with 3D jewelry software like Gemvision’s Matrix

The simple fact is most people struggle to visualize designs, especially when they see them in 2D on a screen. How many times have you sat in front of your computer doing some online shopping and wished you could grab the product out of the screen and have a good look at it? Even try it on. The cool thing is with augmented reality you can do that. 

Although jewelry is a hugely tactile product and many would argue that you have to see it in store to experience it, the simple fact is that a growing percentage of people are doing their research and window shopping online. Augmented reality provides another tool for a jeweler to enhance the luxury experience. In our business alone we’ve seen massive growth in customers willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a ring without ever stepping foot into a store. 

Chris Williamson who has created animations and augmented reality scenes for our company, The Inspired Collection, and some of the world’s biggest brands, believes augmented reality is set to explode. Chris believes that “we are on the edge of a real revolution, it's going to have a massive impact on the way we do a lot of things, perhaps as much as the computer monitor has had.” 

He continues, “The people behind Oculus Rift have started a film company, filming in 360 degree vision so you can sit there with a headset on and look anywhere in the movie scene. The Microsoft HoloLens in particular I think will be a total game changer for manufacturing. Imagine sitting there with a headset on, and your manufacturer sitting overseas with his headset on, and you both see a representation of the same design in front of you with you both being able to manipulate it while the other looks on. Or even being able to point to sections of a real world physical object in another country, while the person in that room can see the areas you are indicating floating over the object and kind of attached to it.

“It seems every day now some new company has bought out some kind of VR or AR headset.” 

A new generation of digitally connected customers is rapidly becoming the biggest purchasers of engagement rings. Augmented reality provides yet another great tool for jewelers to provide a new way for customers to experience their creations. It will be an exciting time for consumers when 3D CAD software companies make it easy for the CAD operators to translate their creations, until then it will largely remain the domain of the big retail chains and tech savvy early adopters. 

Jewelry News Network guest columnist, Chris Benham, is co-founder and director of Inspired Jewellery Ltd., Wellington, New Zealand, a global creative studio for specialist jewelry design.  

Please join me on the Jewelry News Network Facebook Page, on Twitter @JewelryNewsNet and on the Forbes website

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