Cartier carved over the 170+ years of its existence in the luxury retail industry, it has occupied a good niche. It produces jewelry, often very expensive, and has a long history of selling to royalty. King Edward VII called Cartier “the jeweler of kings and the king of jewelers” and ordered at least 27 tiaras from the company for his coronation in 1902. It’s good, after all, like Prince Harry to tell youto have spares.
Of course, the Cartier product line does not require annual hardware or software upgrades. However, technology is everywhere these days, and even low-tech fashion brands are striving to keep up with the times. For years, brands like Gucci and Burberry have been at the forefront of the luxury segment’s serious flirtation with e-commerce. investing in games among other things. Now Cartier is looking to reinvent augmented reality retail. Mind you, not with your usual run of the mill augmented reality. It didn’t occur to the company. No, Cartier decided to try creating its own virtual shopping experience.
The augmented reality fitting program, which Cartier calls “Mirror”, created in collaboration with software developers Jolibrain and Blue Trail Software, is being tested in several of its stores around the world. In this initial phase, it allows customers to view digital rings that are designed to convincingly mimic the real thing sitting on their hands. There are currently 13 rings available in the Mirror program, ranging in price from $3,000 to $200,000, though Cartier says more are coming soon – and naturally, the company is considering going beyond rings to cuffs, bracelets and, yes, possibly hours.
Companies including Ikea and Zenny Optics have augmented reality modes that roughly match what their digital products might look like in the real world. Gucci has released an augmented reality feature for Snapchat that allows people to try on his shoes. TAG Hauer tested AR watch demos over ten years ago. However, unlike everyone else, Cartier’s augmented reality efforts are not available from your phone. This is just a personal experience in the store. Despite an era of uncertainty caused by the pandemic, Cartier is doubling down on planting cigarette butts in its retail stores, and the bait is the extra experience you just can’t get from your own couch or office.
Of course, Cartier has already experimented with mixed reality. In 2019, the company tested observation booth which displayed the jewelry as rotating holograms. Clearly, Cartier is interested in mimicking the presence of its very expensive products. Because its merchandise is made from rare, expensive gems and metals and is often one-of-a-kind, the company naturally can’t just ship things from store to store, country to country, whenever a potential customer is interested. When you have to account for armored trucks, armed guards, store guards, and the like, transporting such items around the world inevitably requires a lot of resources. However, if you could just make an item appear in the store – like magic – you could save a lot of time, money, and (probably) carbon emissions. The problem is to make a deal, you have to make the illusion look Indeed good.
Andrew Haarsager, head of Cartier’s Retail Innovation Lab, sat me down at a table in a Cartier store in San Francisco to show me how the technology works. This is an unassuming setup. Through the Looking Glass is a lamp, albeit a very stylish one, standing on the corner of a table. Inside is a camera that feeds video to a large iPad next to it. The desktop box rumbles softly on the floor behind the desk, running a resource-hungry program. The technology uses GANs, or Generative Adversarial Networks, which are commonly used in deepfake videos.