Interactive Jewelry – A Combination of Design and Technology

17 Dec


In my final project I intend to look at designing interactive jewelry and exploring the relationship between jewelry and human. The forms of this interactive jewelry could be a piece of jewelry that can sense the changes in human emotions and make corresponding reflection on its appearance. I believe that new media and the advances in technology can provide possibilities of new experience of digital jewelry.

Why Interactive Jewelry

Possibilities of bridging digital devices with the human are increasing. In recent years, technical and technological research introduced developments such as mobile computing, wireless connectivity and wearable devices show that computational power was moving away from the desktop and towards an increasingly seamless integration with the physical world. Mark Weiser coined the phrase “Ubiquitous Computing” in his paper entitled ‘The world is not a desktop’ and proposed that we need to understand and design new ways of interacting with the new technology.[i] It is believed that in the near future more and more electronic systems will be carried by the citizen near the body, or as a part of his body in order to provide various services to him.

There is a significant shift in consumer demand, towards value-centered products and experiences, which meet emotional-as well as functional- needs. Morris Hargreaves McIntyre was commissioned by the Crafts Council in March 2010 to research the current size, value and characteristics of the contemporary craft market in England. The results from this research shows that craft buyers appear to have a more open and curious mind set, with 26% strongly agreeing with the statement, ‘I like to be surrounded by different people, cultures, ideas and lifestyles,’ compared to 10% of those not interested in buying craft. 22% strongly agree with the statement, ‘I like to try things that are new to me’ compared to 14% of potential buyers.[ii]

Jewelry and computing can combine together to create a new relationship between ornamentation and human body and to have an impact on ways in which people interact with each other in society. Liam Bannon argued that computing was not simply for calculating, but rather was a medium through which we collaborate and interact with other people.[iii] The specific practice of contemporary jewelry has been made by many designers and developers to challenge preconceptions about jewelry, its meanings about the societies in which jewelry operates, and what it is to be human.

Latour said ‘we need to understand the way in which technological artifacts (non-humans) and humans act upon each other symmetrically to produce action… interaction is a reciprocal exchange between actors’. Without the needs and hopes of human to experience new things and explore the prospect of the world, technologies would not sprout in these areas. Without these new technologies interactive jewelry would not come to reality and have an influence on human life, then again without new changes in human life people would not form new ideas of their lives. That is to say that ‘when actors attempt to advance their interests by assembling and mobilizing a network, they are leveraging the network to get others to adopt their interpretation.’[iv]

The Actors and relevant stakeholders

Here I am going to discuss the actors and stakeholders within the network of interactive jewelry. Including their situations, perspectives and how they connect with each other.

The jewelry being designed

This plays a nonhuman role in the network. As Madeleine Akrich argued, ‘technical objects participate in building heterogeneous networks that bring together actants of all types and sizes, whether human or nonhuman’[v], This jewelry to be designed is a combination of advanced technologies and aesthetics and also have its special social meaning, which makes it an example of such technical object.

New technologies are applied into Interactive jewelry to achieve its functionality. The jewelry could be a stretchable light-weighted electronic system which can preferably take the shape of the human body so that it can be wear on anywhere on the body and change its shapes in appearance, and it must even follow complex movements and emotions of the wearer.

Interactive jewelry has emotional connections with human. Objects that accompany us for a long time sometimes become part of our habitus, therefore jewelry is a symbol of self and a signifier of aspects of identity and inter-personal relationships. They become things that witness the wearer’s experiences, which make them to be receptacles for his feelings. Especially, interactive jewelry can be more “smart”, which means that it is more like a friend who knows the wearer, talks with him and gives a feedback to his emotions. Interactive jewelry interacts between people and the world and crucially increases connections between people.

The designer

Jewelry designers concern much about aesthetics in order to produce beautiful and fantastic work loved by people. While a personal sense of beauty or personal criteria of beauty was found to be an emotional concern rather than an aesthetic one; in other words people feel things to be beautiful, often in spite of the aesthetics. ‘I considered that beauty arises because of personal connections to something, be that another person, object, place or experience.’ the jewelry artist and researcher Jayne Wallace said.[vi] Many qualities in interactive jewelry such as new technologies, interactive characters are peerless and inimitable, which fascinate designers repeatedly practice and research to investigate the potential of digital jewelry. Designers started to seek to rethink the digital and all that they assume and expect of it. Their work can be interpreted as a form of critical technical practice that tests the appropriateness of contemporary jewelry as a creative strategy in the further development and potential of ubiquitous technologies, and critiques current prevailing trends in relation to the phenomenon of body focused digital devices.[vii]

The wearer

With the rapid progress in technology, people are more engaged in the work online. The emerging of online shopping, distance learning, online dating and electronic commerce made people less communicate directly with each other face to face. People tend to hide their real heart and emotion inside but not express them out. The person who wearing the interactive jewelry shows their emotions to the surrounding public unconsciously since the jewelry visually changed its appearance and sends the message indirectly or mediately to the public, which turns out to be a new form of communication with others for the wearer.

People around the wearer

Bruno Latour considered ‘how artefacts can be deliberately designed to both replace human action and constrain and shape the actions of other humans.’ His study demonstrates how people can ‘act at a distance’ through the technologies they create and implement and how, from a user’s perspective, a technology can appear to determine or compel certain actions.[viii] The emergence of interactive jewelry visualizes the wearer’s emotions, which means that people have a new way to know about each other no matter when and where they meet. This makes people to be more aware of others, their mind and emotional needs. The people around have choices to give more attention or ignore to these. This may lead to a more implicit way to communicate with people in society, while in some situation may also cause embarrassment. This change in human behavior of communication can be seen as the influence of the interactive jewelry.

Other stakeholders

In Latour’s viewpoint, we never encounter a pure human or artifact. ‘We are faced with chains which are associations of human (H) and non=humans (N=H). No one has ever seen a social relation by itself…nor a technical relation…Instead we are always faced with chains which look like this: H NH H NH NH H NH H NH NH.’[ix] In the extensive network of interactive jewelry, many other human and nonhuman actors such as agencies, sponsors, even researches and products in other domain are involved.

Support and delivery agencies will develop partnerships and programmes, which create new and relevant opportunities for makers, users and participants in this area. Great profits will be produced If the researches in interactive jewelry achieve success and applied into market. Therefore this field has become drivers for the development of novel technologies. Other domains will benefit from the new materials and technologies developed in the research of interactive jewelry. For example, one possible technology to be developed is an activity monitoring, which is used to get information from human body. This development can find potential applications in a broad market extending from medical and personal health to interactive gaming.

Materials and technologies for Interactive jewelry

Akrich said ‘it suggests that new technologies may not only lead to new arrangements of people and things. They may, in addition, generate and “naturalize” new forms and orders of causality and, indeed, new forms of knowledge about the world.’ [x] Materials and advanced technologies play an important role in manufacturing the interactive jewelry. One technology can provide several possibilities in terms of application. Like other domains will benefit from the technology outcomes of interactive jewelry, technologies produced in other fields may also give references and inspire the research in interactive jewelry.

My ideal notion of the interactive jewelry could be an electronic complex adherent on human body that can sense the changes in human emotions and make corresponding changes and reflection on its appearance. Therefore the materials for interactive jewelry should be stretchable to let it change its shape during the interaction with the wearer. The materials should not hamper the comfort of the user so it needs to be a light weighted electronic system which take the shape of the human body where it is placed, and must even follow complex movements and changes of the wearer.

Among the most advanced developments can be found, three different approaches to stretchable substrates containing conductors that maybe workable:

  • Metal conductors with meander or spiral structures, which ensure that the cooper does not encounter plastic deformation.
  • Elastic materials like rubbers with conductive fillers.
  • Inherently conductive elastic materials.

There are three different technologies emerging from this project STELLA, which is an EC funded project focused on development of stretchable electronics for large area application may be helpful as well:

  • The Stretchable Copper Board (SCB) is based on a polymer substrate sheet with copper conductors and uses “standard” PCB (printed circuit board) processes. Different options for covering and embedding are possible.
  • The Stretchable Polymer Board (SPB) also developed within the consortium is based on a non-woven substrate sheet with polymer conductors. The main focus of this technology is coarse pitch in applications where breathability and tactile touch is a must. The technology allows a scope towards roll-to-roll processing.
  • The Stretchable Mould Interconnect (SMI) is based on copper conductors embedded in a stretchable matrix material. The current size is limited to the tooling equipment.[xi]

Design and manufacturing of thin flexible batteries that can fulfill requirements of interactive jewelry could be a very challenging task. The two main technologies that could provide flexible batteries are solid-state micro batteries and batteries known as “printed batteries”. Another possible way to support energy for the interactive jewelry work is using the energy scavenging from the movement of the wearer. A successful case has been made by Adidas. It has a shoe product with integrated sensor, measuring speed and distance and using energy scavenging from the step movement.[xii]

Related work

Some work shares similar concepts that explore new forms of interaction with human body; others involve technologies that may be also feasible for interactive jewelry.

Light as body ornamentation

Designer Kyeok Kim explored a collection of jewelry that projects patterns onto the wearer’s skin called Aurora. Here is how Kim describes it: ”Aurora’ creates patterns of light on the body as ornamentation, extending the ornamented space around the body and restyling its decorative silhouette by motion. ‘Aurora’ highlights the relationship between different pieces of jewelry; by its nature the pieces interact with another. To operate the decorative light, one must gently move the ring (containing a magnet) towards the main jewelry piece.’[xiii] This collection shows one possible form of what interactive jewelry will be like.

Interactive dress “KLight”

‘KLight’ is an interactive dress with Stretchable Circuit Board Technology. It shares quite a similar concept as interactive jewelry both in social meaning and technical level. The concept of the interactive dress is to translate the body’s movement into a light pattern. One technology applied in this project uses an elastic thermoplastic foil as substrate material and meander shaped copper wires for stretchable conductors. The Stretchable Circuit Board can be used both as substrate for micro-electronic components and for the integration of the system into textiles by lamination.[xiv]

The dress combines an aesthetic design with microelectronics technology, where the technical components are hidden inside the dress. This dress gives an impression on what can be achieved in a cooperation of “design and technology”. It also shows how this technology can evolve into new applications for the textile industry. I think in order to achieve a widespread market acceptance, in order to achieve a market pull for such new technologies, a prospective fashionable product and the surrounding publicity are vital. It is also same with the interactive jewelry.

Philips activity monitor

Within the STELLA project I mentioned earlier in this essay, a stretchable wireless activity monitor, designed by Philips, have been manufactured. The demonstrator device put in a soft, flexible and stretchable textile package can be attached to stretchable (Velcro) straps of different lengths. In this way it can easily be attached to the body at different locations. The demonstrator has been made using SCB technology (a stretchable PU substrate with laminated copper tracks) from TUB, QPI and FFD. A feasibility model has also been made using SMI technology (conductors and interposers molded in Silicone) by IMEC. The combination of sensors integrated in a body area network, embedded in stretchable soft touch materials provides options for enhanced capabilities in monitoring combined with improved wearing comfort.[xv] The activity monitor is an example of a wireless body sensor that enables unobtrusive and continuous measurement of body parameters such as activity, movement, heartbeat, temperature and oxygen level in blood. All these technologies may contributes to the research in interactive jewelry.


Throughout this essay I have attempted to show what the field of interactive jewelry is like and the area I would like to go deep into. The actors, human and non-human, involved in the emerging of interactive jewelry were examined along with the new technologies associated with the field.

In analysis of the background and the reasons that influenced on the emerging of interactive jewelry, such as ‘Ubiquitous Computing’ and consumer demand, I revealed the mutual shaping between technology and the society.

I have shown that throughout the processes from forming concept, developing and manufacturing to releasing into market, the network of interactive jewelry depend on a large number of actors that have influences on each other.

In investigation of feasible materials and technologies I demonstrate the role of technologies in the network and how they can be applied differently to generate new forms and orders of causality.

In undertaking an examination of related work that has influenced the development of interactive jewelry, I expanded the network and revealed more possibilities to explore within the interactive jewelry field.

I illustrated and mapped the actor network through a visual representation.

  1. [i] Weiser, M. The world is not a desktop. 1993.
  2. [ii] Morris Hargreaves McIntyre. Consuming craft, the contemporary craft market in a changing economy executive summary. 2010.
  3. [iii] Bannon, L. Reimagining HCI: toward a more human-centered perspective. Interactions July August 2011.
  4. [iv] Storni, C. Beyond Reductionism: Rethinking mediations beyond the Actor Network Theory. Semester 1 2011. Pg 9 (Latour 2005)
  5. [v] Akrich, M. The description of technical objects. Shaping Technology (Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 1992), 205-224.
  6. [vi] Wallace, J. Emotionally charged: A practice-centred enquiry of digital jewellery and personal emotional significance. 2007.
  7. [vii] Wallace, J, Dearden, A, and Fisher, T. The significant other AI and Society Journal, Volume 22, Issue 1, July 2007 pp 53 – 62.
  8. [viii] Latour, B. Where are the missing masses? The sociology of a few mundane artifacts. Pg 151.
  9. [ix] Latour, B. We have never been modern. 1991.
  10. [x] Akrich, M. The description of technical objects. Pg 3.
  11. [xi] Freudenberg Forschungsdienshe KG.
  12. [xii] Harrop, P. Fabric electronics. Energy harvesting journal. 1 Jan 2010.
  13. [xiii] Light as body ornamentation.
  14. [xiv] Project Success Stories – Stretchy circuits for fashion and more. CORDIS: Technology marketplace. 2010.
  15. [xv] Andrea and Christoph. STELLA newsletter V. 2010

the actor network of interactive jewelry


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