Luxury and craftsmanship have always gone together like champagne and canapés. But recently, a less likely third course – technology – has been making its way into the big product launches found at events such as The New York Times’ International Luxury Conference in Miami. And though exciting, the new addition might not be to everyone’s tastes.
Christina Mercando, founder and CEO of smart (as in “technological”) jewellery brand Ringly was at the event convincing everyone that gilted gadgets are the next big thing. Likewise, the pioneer who gave us Google Glass, Babak Parviz, was also in attendance to explain that wearable tech can be a luxury item. Even Will.i.am, the musician and wannabe tech entrepreneur had a new gadget to show off – it looked suspiciously similar to the Apple Watch.
However, even though tech was the talk of the trade fair, some were unconvinced about this newest bauble on the luxury Christmas tree. The luxury industry is built on artistry, craftsmanship and exclusivity. François-Henry Bennahmias, the flamboyant CEO of Audemars Piguet watches was certain that luxury is, and will always be, about a great personal experience. “When was the last time you were touched or moved by something?” he said to me. “Was it when you were just looking at a screen?” Bennahmias is certain that automation might help distribution and logistics for his business but Audemars Piguet watches are still made pretty much the same way that they always have been for over a century. “Would a restaurant that doubles its seating capacity overnight be able to provide the same level of experience to its diners?” said the CEO.
It seems that the tech newcomers might even agree. Tangibly high-quality and well-designed goods are still something that defines luxury for the design gurus behind Bang & Olufsen speakers. “It’s all in the details, you need to have great-working, useful technology wrapped in a beautiful design,” said creative director Johannes Torpe.
Of course today’s luxury houses are increasingly concerned with the way they should cater to the ever-evolving tech-savvy consumer. But while some will continue to explore how the fields of design, fashion and digital technology can combine to enhance the value of luxury products, it’s comforting to know that the heart of the industry hasn’t quite given in to the alluring glow of flatscreens and insatiable market forces created by a simple tap and a swipe. But for the luxury industry, technology is certainly starting to push some buttons.
Nelly Gocheva is Toronto bureau chief for Monocle.