New York designer Laura Wass, founder of WXYZ Jewelry, famed for crowning Beyoncé with a gold hat in her 7/11 music video, rolls out a new, creative wearable next month that puts all the latest Android smartwatches to shame. "Elements" is a 3D-printed, wireless, Bluetooth-powered necklace that changes color every time the wearer faces a different cardinal direction.
The diamond-shaped necklace turns white if you're standing north, green when you face south, red if facing west and blue if facing east. The colors are based on the Earth's four elements; water, fire, earth and wind.
"This wearable technology is inspired by time, space, and earthly elements," said Laura Wass, the founder of WXYZ Jewelry.
"Like a compass pointing towards the North Star, elemental orientation references a time before Google maps, weather apps and calendar notifications," she said. "It taps into instincts that humans have, but are using less and less—it appeals to an almost animalistic desire to know where we are in the world."
But are earthly wearables becoming a burgeoning trend? Just like cyborg wearables that guide you with vibrations the northern direction, the need to know our cardinal directions is becoming popularized with the human instinct.
"We're engaging with the questions posed by the natural world and applying them to our cyborg existence," said Wass, who created the wearable in collaboration with Berlin-based electronic fashion tech house ElektroCouture.
The necklace is a 3D-printed modular light that fits into a gold-plated, microchip hardware with LED lights inside a chunky pyramid.
And how does it work? The microcontroller recognizes the position of the jewelry and activates the colour of the LED. The hardware is wirelessly chargeable and can be operated by Bluetooth, according to Lisa Lang, founder of ElektroCouture.
"The battery works with wireless technology which works with all standard QI technology, which means you could even re-charge your jewelry on a Starbucks charging station," said Lang.
The idea first came about when Wass approached Lang after seeing her work online; she then asked her to help make her jewelry designs glow with wireless, hardware chips.
"While the microchip is infinitely programmable, we chose to explore the instinctual human relationship to the Earth's elements, space, and time in the designs," said Wass.
Since they've collaborated, the hope is to bring a new space-related awareness to jewelry design that adds substance to 3D-printed style.
But why does it matter which cardinal direction we are facing? Do we really need to know? And is it actually useful when we all have Google Maps? To Wass, it seems the design is for those lost in the urban jungle.
"We wanted people want to feel more aware in the natural world," she said. "Many city-dwellers have lost their instinctual sense of how to follow the lay of the land; instead we go by Google maps and especially in New York City, street grids."
Wass, who is based in New York City, says even when you're in Manhattan, it's easy to forget where the Hudson River is.
"If you're wearing this piece, you know when you are facing the river," she said. "In that sense, through spatial orientation, it brings a new awareness of the natural world."
In the future, she hopes the necklace can easily link to Google Maps to help the wearer navigate their path without having to constantly look at their phone. In that sense, it seems as though Wass and Lang have created a piece of jewelry—a tracking device—that's also a wearable compass in disguise.
"It's a nice marriage of the pre-internet, pre-cyborg era and a future in which wearable technology is a common feature," said Wass.
Elements is meant to be a commentary on how we measure and pass time in the digital era, as time often slips away behind the screen.
"In our days, there's less of an emphasis on seasons and natural day and night cycles because our time is structured by the economic system we live in," she said. "This piece references a time before 75-hour workweeks and an obsession with productivity."