‘Jewellery is an interdisciplinary subject with quite a few subdisciplines including Metal Material Science, Gemology, Aesthetics, Jewellery Technology, Chemistry, Mechanics, Sociology, Sciences, etc. Jewellery derives its many connotations endowed from the various subdisciplines from different perspectives.’
Origin of Contemporary Jewellery
The exact time that human beings began wearing jewellery is yet to be investigated. Archaeological materials from the Old Stone Age found around the world, and materials found in modern primitive tribes, imply that human beings wearing jewellery can be traced back to the ancient Stone Age Era. Jewellery is defined in dictionaries as raw materials or semi-finished products of jewellery and precious metals, the wearing of ornaments, and artwork ornaments and art collections made from them. In the1960s, goldsmiths in Europe grew dissatisfied with both jewellery-making standards and stereotyped ideas inherited from generation to generation, and they began to question the inherent attributes of jewellery and the use of precious metals. Did jewellery have to be a sign of power and wealth? Did jewellery have to be made from gold, silver and precious gems? Was it possible for jewellery-making to be an outlet for self-expression? These questions brought about a brand-new phase of jewellery design and making, which is the origin of contemporary jewellery.
After so many years of development, contemporary jewellery has become a somewhat inclusive term. Its original identity being blurred, its boundaries being broken and expanded, jewellery is growing increasingly close to history, society and culture. Jewellery artists use jewellery as a medium for, and means of, expression, conducting tireless explorations and practices in materials, crafts, concepts, etc. Among them, the development of science and technology has made it possible for more trials, of which a cutting edge and popular one of is intelligent jewellery.
Origin of Intelligent Jewellery
Wearable devices first appeared in the 1970s for military purposes but were not sold to the public. This was the prototype of intelligent jewellery. Developments in science and technology, as well as the application of Bluetooth, have made chips increasingly smaller in size and designs more mature, developing wearable devices into wearable accessories and turning them into goods sold to the public. Wearable intelligent accessories are aesthetic not only in their appearance but also in the human body data collected from them. When discussing the relationship between emotion and form, Susanne K. Langer once stated that ‘all forms of art are abstract, with merely representations or pure appearances as their contents, and with displaying the form as their function’. Their function is to make the form appear. Langer called this form a phantom, and said, ‘Artists should make and maintain this basic phantom, isolate it from its surroundings and clearly display it’. To this end, all materials and technologies subject to a technological process can be used. Science and technology thus become new means by which jewellery artists can express their ideas and make it possible for ‘intelligent jewellery’ to become a reality.
The Development of Intelligent Jewellery
Intelligent jewellery first appeared in 2013 in the US. The US brand Guff released a jewellery product with security as the main appeal, but did not continue its development beyond crowdfunding. An article in Wired in 2014 explained why wearable devices are not worn by people: only after scientific and technological companies truly understand that wearable devices must be things that people are born used to wearing (like jewellery), and bring new practical experiences, can their products be truly worn. Since 2015, intelligent jewellery has become considerably more popular. In January 2015, the US ring brand Ringly obtained an angel investment of one million dollars through crowdfunding. In October of the same year Wang Jieming, a mobile Internet entrepreneur in China, and Marco DalMaso, renowned as the Italian jewellery poet, founded their brand, Totwoo, and obtained an investment of 10 million yuan in China. Swarovski also announced that it would release a brand-new intelligent jewellery series, ‘Shine Collection’. Vinaya in London also obtained a seed-round investment of 3 million dollars and promoted a two-in-one ring-pendant product focusing on call reminder. At the same time, the Chinese jewellery brand Chow Tai Seng also designed a jewellery product focusing on child loss and tracking, completed crowdfunding, and prepared for its release. Intelligent jewellery has gradually started to develop since 2016. The start-up company Cuff has released nine pieces of intelligent jewellery, including a bracelet, necklace, pendant, etc. These elegant products are aimed at protecting female users. When female users are faced with threats, all they have to do in order to ring an alarm is touch the jewellery, which will automatically send their locations to emergency contacts for help. Camille Toupet, designer of Louis Vuitton and Harry Winston, designed a piece of intelligent jewellery, ‘June’, which can be used as more than simply a wristlet or a pin, etc. The diamond in ‘June’ works as a sensor that can detect the user’s daily sunlight exposure data, send the data to cell phones and provide suggestions. Incomplete statistics from 2016 show that there have been over 200 pieces of intelligent jewellery in the world. In February 2017, the intelligent jewellery company Richline, a brand of the Buffett investment group, announced that it would be releasing an intelligent jewellery brand, Ela.
The introduction of intelligent hardware has greatly broadened jewellery’s functions. Intelligent jewellery has three main functions: internet extension, medical fitness and entertainment control. Intelligent jewellery breaks the limitations of cell phones as the only control terminals available and relies on cell phone applications to change user habits and innovate human-machine interaction. For example, many intelligent jewellery products are equipped with email and call reminder functions. IHS, an authoritative industry information analysis institute, has predicted that the global fitness health application market will see a 63% increase and that medical wristlets will achieve great popularity. For example, the intelligent jewellery Leaf, released by Bellabea, focuses on female health monitoring. It can monitor users’ exercise, sleep and female physiological cycle, as well as offering breathing suggestions. Other intelligent rings and bracelets may control home appliances or unmanned aerial vehicles using motion and bioelectricity sensing.
Prospect of Intelligent Jewellery
The American designer Susan McLeary uses living plants to create beautiful jewellery. She uses succulent plants from her garden to create elaborate head scarves, necklaces, earrings, bracelets and other ‘bio-jewellery’ that will grow while whilst being worn. The jewellery can be worn for two to four weeks and over time needs to be replanted as a potted plant. If these boundaries of form are broken, combining intelligent jewellery, biological science and technology, it creates new possibilities for ‘human adornment’. Putting aside the external equipment as a carrier, humans themselves can become ‘jewellery’, carriers of ornaments; this jewellery becomes almost like an ‘artificial limb’.
The science fiction series Orphan Black, produced by the Canadian Company, Temple Street Productions, tells the story of genetically identical clones in a scientific cloning experiment, but each with a different personality and lifestyle. Suppose that the bodies of these clones have the same genes, but, later, varying living environment caused their differences; thus the appearances of the clones are also different from each other. Imagine if the factors that affect the physical image of a cloned human were turned into an injectable biological solution, after which the organism might have metallic ear ornaments or be able to modify human genes on its own. Could this be the future of intelligent jewellery? If intelligent jewellery were to appear this way, would it still be called ‘jewellery’?
Freud said, ‘Biology will be best when it is a matter of choice’ (‘Changing Your Genes’ 12). In April 1992, The Economist’s cover article claimed that ‘changing your genes’ should, by right, be within the grasp of the individual. Should people be able to retrofit themselves with extra neurotransmitters, to enhance various mental powers? Or to change the colour of their skin? Or to help them run faster, or lift heavier weights? Yes, they should. Within some limits, people have a right to make what they want of their lives. The article passionately argues for a libertarian stance regarding genetic engineering and the right of the individual to decide his or her fate – genetically as well as socio-politically. The text concludes with a snide remark on Sigmund Freud’s claim that ‘Biology is destiny’: ‘The proper goal is to allow people as much choice as possible about what they do. To this end, making genes instruments of such freedom, rather than limits upon it, is a great step forward.’
On Nov. 26, 2018, the world’s first genetically engineered babies named Lulu and Nana were born healthy, in China. Some of their genes are edited to protect them from HIV. He Jiankui, the scientist who created the babies, has received worldwide condemnation. Can genetically edited babies grow up with ‘normal’ human offspring that maintain good genetic traits and avoid undesirable mutations? Genetically altered humans, unlike mosquitoes and lab rats, cannot be destroyed or confined for a lifetime, and once they exercise their fundamental human rights to reproduce, and as their offspring's genes multiply and change, will the ultimate fate of humanity follow in the same direction as mosquitoes in a lab, towards extinction or in some other unforeseen direction?
Historical experience tells us that in the face of the forces of nature, human beings display creator-like arrogance. With the development of science, it is still unclear whether gene editing will be a blessing or a curse for the future of mankind. To apply gene-editing technology to human embryos is to open a Pandora's box. Gene editing human embryos challenges basic ethics. Infants Lulu and Nana were genetically engineered at the embryonic stage, and were, at this stage, subjected to editing. From the beginning of their existence, these infants were deprived of the right to choose a ‘normal’ life; it is hard to recognise the researchers’ respect for life.
Unlike gene-editing babies, genetically modified ‘ornaments’ are an active choice for humans. In Orphan Black, there is a group called Neolution, whose members, as genetic engineering experiments, are passively reprogrammed. However, many of them are actively reprogrammed; for example, eyeballs become whiter, ears become pointed like fairy ears, the body has metal jewellery parts. While all of this may seem like a science fiction, it could also be considered a microcosm of how humanity will live in the future. Genetic modification is still controversial in society, but there is no denying that it is a necessary step in the advancement of biological science. The intelligent jewellery devices currently available on the market are subject to considerable controversy, but attitudes are improving. Electronic technology has given new life to jewellery, while biotechnology may be able to change its form.
For my multimedia work, I will make a short video, a few minutes long, to show the evolution of jewellery, the direction jewellery is taking and a vision for the future. It will be a visual version of this report for viewers to imagine and discuss, showing more clearly the possibilities of jewellery in the future.
The development of intelligent jewellery is still confronted with many technological problems that defy any easy solution, such as low battery capacity, large size (because the chip size cannot be reduced) and underdeveloped sensory technologies. These problems leave users with an impression of ‘too large, poor technology’. Intelligent jewellery needs some improvements, including in the areas of hardware technology and jewellery size, to truly satisfy the aesthetic preferences of its users. Biotech jewellery does not exist as yet, but there is no doubt that the combination of biotech and smart jewellery is a likely trend that deserves to be encouraged and developed, no matter how controversial it may be.
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