Cartier engraved In its more than 170 years of luxury retailing, it has captured a fairly small market share. It produces jewellery—often very expensive jewellery—and has a long history of selling to members of the royal family. King Edward VII called Cartier “the jeweler of kings and king of jewelers”, and for his coronation in 1902 he ordered no fewer than 27 tiaras from the company. After all, as Prince Harry will tell you, having spares is a good thing.
Of course, Cartier’s product line is not a product line that needs to update hardware or software every year. Still, technology is so ubiquitous these days that even non-tech fashion brands are eager to keep up. Brands such as Gucci and Burberry have been at the vanguard of the luxury industry’s aggressive forays into e-commerce for years, investing in areas such as gaming. Now, Cartier is looking to reinvent retail with augmented reality. Note that this is different from normal AR that you usually use. This is not up to par for the company. Nope, Cartier has decided to try and create its own pimped virtual shopping experience.
An AR try-on program developed by Cartier in partnership with software developers Jolibrain and Blue Trail Software, which Cartier calls the “Looking Glass,” is currently being tested in several stores around the world. In this initial phase, it lets customers view digital rings designed to convincingly mimic the real thing sitting on their hands. Currently, there are 13 rings to choose from in the Looking Glass program, ranging in price from $3,000 to $200,000, though Cartier says more rings are on the way — of course, it’s considering expanding beyond rings to bangles, bangles, yes , possibly a watch.
Companies including IKEA and Zenni Optical have AR modes that simulate how their digital products will look in the real world. Gucci released an AR feature for Snapchat that lets people try on its shoes. More than a decade ago, TAG Hauer tested an AR watch demo. Unlike all of these others, however, Cartier’s AR endeavor can’t be comfortably accessed from a phone. It’s just a face-to-face in-store experience. Despite uncertain times brought about by the pandemic, Cartier is doubling down on getting seats in their retail stores, and the bait is an enhanced experience that you simply can’t get from the comfort of your sofa or study.
Of course, Cartier has experimented with mixed reality before. In 2019, the company tested a viewing booth that presented jewelry pieces as rotating holograms. Clearly, Cartier is interested in mimicking the existence of its very expensive products. Since its merchandise is made of rare, expensive gemstones and metals, and is often one-off, the company naturally cannot simply travel from store to country, from country to country, when a potential customer is interested. To another country, ship things via FedEx. When you have to factor in armored trucks, armed guards, store security, etc., transporting these items around the world inevitably requires a lot of resources. However, if you can get a piece to show up in a store – as if by magic – you can save a lot of time, money and (possibly) carbon emissions.The thing is, to close the sale you have to make the illusion look like real OK
Andrew Haarsager, head of Cartier’s retail innovation lab, sat me down at a table in Cartier’s San Francisco store to show me how the technology works. It’s an unremarkable setup. The Looking Glass is a lamp, albeit a very stylish one, placed in the corner of a table. There’s a camera inside that projects video to a large iPad next to it. Desktop boxes rumble quietly on the floor behind desks, powering resource-hungry programs. The technique uses GANs, or generative adversarial networks, commonly used to create deepfake videos.
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