The perception of augmented reality (AR) is that it’s a futuristic technology that will one day shape the retail landscape. However, the techniques for generating realistic virtual jewels for consumers to try on already exist.
In January, Cartier announced the launch of the Looking Glass — an in-store device capable of rendering jewelry on customers’ hands in high resolution. It fits neatly on a desk and requires a lamp-like camera, an iPad, and a desktop computer to function, according to Wired magazine. The customer wears a black band on the chosen finger to serve as a motion-capture device. The software then superimposes a ring over the band and displays the results on the iPad.
The Looking Glass is being tested globally in a handful of Cartier stores. It allows shoppers to try 13 different rings, with a sales associate on hand to provide further information about each item.
The launch of such a product by a big name like Cartier has ignited a conversation around AR in the luxury retail environment. However, the developers behind the tech — French artificial intelligence (AI) firm Jolibrain and California-based Blue Trail Software — had to face the challenges of ensuring the quality of the results matched the high-value nature of the goods.
Keeping it real
The Looking Glass employs an AI-led neural network that “has been trained to execute the realistic rendering of a ring in real time, without being explicitly written by a programmer,” explains Jolibrain CEO Emmanuel Benazera. The benefit is that a 3D model, or “digital twin,” of a ring doesn’t need to be made in advance. “The AI system is trained from just videos of the target ring,” making it “simple and easily scaled to full catalogs,” Benazera says.
Blue Trail Software worked with the Cartier Retail Innovation Lab to develop the Looking Glass application and integrate the Jolibrain AR tech. “Cartier wanted virtually no latency between hand motion and its rendering on the iPad,” says Blue Trail president Remi Vespa. This rendering had to be “perfect in terms of colors and illumination.”
This highlights another jewelry-related AR challenge: the materials themselves. Jewelry is “difficult compared to other things you could virtually try on,” according to David Ripert, CEO of London-based 3D and AR company Poplar Studio. Issues include “the reflection and transparency of the stones,” as well as the reflections and shine from precious-metal settings.
The Looking Glass uses subtle trickery to get around this. “On every generated image, the way the stone reflects light is wrong in terms of what the exact true underlying physics should be,” Benazera explains. “But the trick is that our brains can’t tell.”
Ahead of the pack
All this effort has so far resulted in only 13 rings to try on. While that would be a problem for an e commerce site, this project is for the store environment, where the goals are different.
“From a buyer’s perspective, AR provides a more immersive and engaging experience,” says Vespa. “Cartier is clearly ahead of the pack. Their solution enhances the purchasing experience…by providing potential buyers with many more options” than are present in the store. He believes the move may spur Cartier’s competitors to follow suit, but that internal naysayers could be the biggest hurdles for companies.
In that vein, Ripert sees brand adoption of AR, more than the technology itself, as the next frontier.
The above article is from the March-April 2023 issue of Rapaport Magazine. View other articles here.
Image: A demonstration of the Looking Glass, Cartier’s AR try-on technology. (Cartier)