What is digital jewellery? NFTs, Virtual dressing, Crypto & Blockchain
Non Fungible Tokens are to the 2020s what IT girls were to the 2000s: ubiquitous and securing online attention wherever their name is attached – particularly literal in the case of Paris Hilton’s recent metamorphosis into NFT aficionado and champion. Digital artworks across the entire spectrum of possibility include faithful representations of real-life objects, like Sebastian ErraZuriz’s ‘Digital Diamonds’ series, to the creator of the world wide web Tim Berners-Lee auctioning 10,000 lines of the source code to the original web browser which built the internet as we know it.
by Jodie Marie Smith
June 29, 2021
Digital jewellery already exists across all platforms imaginable, from gaming – where heritage Japanese pearl jeweller Tasaki collaborated with Animal Crossing to produce a limited collection for in game avatars – to social media, where DressX offers anyone the chance to wear digital accessories by artists like Alejandro Delgado through their e-commerce site. How can you wear your NFTs though? Depending on the part of the metaverse your digital self inhabits, the artist can dress your avatar in their design. Some of the biggest releases of jewellery NFTs came via celebrity collaboration: Lil Pump ‘Esskeeetit Diamond VVS’ was meant to mimic some of Lil Pump’s physical jewellery collection, with the rapper positing that the digital jewels will allow his fans to “live like him.”
These digital assets are backed by the security of blockchain technology – which provides a tamper-proof digital ledger of all information on any product – and is becoming an increasingly appealing protocol for transactions as we enter an age of hacking, spyware and digital fraud looming as an ever-present threat. The exploding popularisation of cryptocurrencies has eased even ardent traditionalists into conversations about these nascent assets. For some, all of this tech merely represents a new frontier for wealth accumulation, whereas for a great deal of artists, the unending possibilities for wearable digital artworks mean an unparalleled creative (and potentially financial) freedom from the mechanisms of the art, fashion and jewellery industries as we know them.
Blockchain technology also offers solutions to some of the biggest specters haunting the world of jewellery; intellectual property rights, false documentation and uncertainty in supply chains and provenance to name but a few. These transaction models have driven the excitement around the deregulated finance (DeFi) ecosystem which allows digital creators using blockchain to sell and authenticate NFTs without the gatekeepers of luxury or art deciding on what is valuable, precious, or indeed, appealing – all of this is simply in the hands of the consumer.
Gucci have showcased their latest high jewellery collection ‘Hortus Deliciarum’ with a digital presentation, demonstrating that the biggest names in commercial luxury are embracing the universe of possibilities that virtual jewellery creates. Traditional jewellers are exploring this new world too, with Simone Faurschou (a Central Saint Martins trained designer and goldsmith, whose resumé ranges from CompletedWorks and Iris Van Herpen) releasing a jewellery NFT titled ‘Blockchain’, seeking to examine the concept of connection through technology. This idea was digitally represented with 12 floating ‘gold’ blocks dappled with diamond-like crystals that combine to form a hollow circular shape.
Digital artists who are championing virtual jewellery include Carol Civre, aka @carolthekitty, who most notably designed a digital editorial for Vogue Italia presenting Chanel’s A/W 20/21 costume jewellery, and collaborated with Vivienne Westwood on the designer’s jewellery campaign for the same season. In their independent creative work, Carol’s #3dgirl characters are often bedecked with extraordinary face jewellery, larger than (seemingly) possible lip and nose piercings, chokers, and earrings.
Jewellery’s ever-evolving definition throughout history has reached a new and perhaps final iteration: the categorisations of jewellery, make up, fashion and art have been fractured, blurred and meshed to the point that it is almost impossible to say what is and isn’t digital jewellery in these virtual spaces. Beyond this, with popular Instagram filters augmenting and overlaying videos of millions of us in real time, we are already challenging what it will mean to ‘wear’ whichever pixels we choose to call jewellery in the future.
Ines Alpha is already a renowned digital creator, designing (by her own definition) virtual makeup; though her breakthrough work with Dior and make up artist Peter Philips promoting Dior’s AR makeup service in 2019 visualises multi-coloured glittering crystals across the model’s face and floating into the surrounding ether. A great deal of Ines’ works could arguably be identified and understood as jewellery, with variations on a shining, translucent, pearlescent and sparkling appearance, and – in this virtual realm – what defines jewellery anyway?
This is the first out of five articles on Digital Jewellery commissioned by Current Obsession and written by Jodie Marie Smith.
This series seeks to explain, suggest, hypothesise and forecast the landscape of digital jewellery in our immediate and short term futures. From today’s NFTs, blockchain gems and cryptocurrency diamond auctions, to the metaverse of VR, gaming and the social networks of internet 3.0 – jewellery has evolved beyond the physical, beyond the bounds of our reality, and beyond all definition.
Jodie Smith is a San Francisco based writer, trend forecaster and creative consultant specialising in the jewellery industry. Newly transplanted from London with a background in fine jewellery, Jodie has written for The Future Lab, Rapaport, 1st Dibs, Adorn Insight, The Adventurine, Retail Jeweller, Jewelry Connoisseur and The Jewellery Cut, amongst others. Uniquely positioned between journalists, diamond specialists, luxury brands and digital artists, she reports on every facet of the jewellery world – from the designs we covet, to consumer identities and the our digital futures.