Technology is shrinking, but that doesn’t mean it’s getting more subtle. Smartwatches are gaining popularity in the wearable world, but most make themselves painfully known by looking like high-tech gadgets. Not all wearables are fashion crimes, though; there’s a sector of smart jewelry trying to thrive in this space by fighting against the cold, gadget-like aesthetic.
These devices take the shape of traditional jewelry—like bracelets, rings, and necklaces—but include technology that lets them track basic activity, health, and other data. While devices like Fossil’s Q hybrid devices toe the line between smartwatches and smart jewelry, other devices focus more on style and personality than they do on tech.
I tested out a few of these pieces of smart jewelry to see if their fashion sense, combined with their tech chops, really set them apart from their traditional wearable counterparts.
The Warren Buffet-backed Ela line keeps the sentimentality in jewelry while adding smart features. Let’s take a look at Ela’s design—all of its bracelets have a large, rounded-square stone of Italian marbleized quartz as the main decor, fitted on either a leather strap or a metal bangle. Underneath the stone is an LED that glows in eight different colors depending on who’s calling or messaging you. In the Ela app, you can assign colors to contacts so you’ll be alerted when they contact you even when your phone is out of sight. The bangles are luxurious, while the leather straps give the bracelet a more relaxed look. The design is attractive yet simple enough to go with any kind of outfit, but I wouldn’t say the overall look warrants the $195 price tag.
The Ela bracelet tracks steps throughout the day, but it doesn’t do so by default. You need to turn the feature on in the Ela app, and it warns that doing so will decrease the device’s battery life. Ela recommends charging the bracelet every night when you go to bed, which makes sense since most people don’t wear jewelry when they sleep. But the company only promises two to three days of battery life for the bracelet when step tracking is disabled. When turned on, you will certainly need to charge the battery every night.
Compared to today’s technology, that’s kind of crazy—Fitbit’s $99 Flex 2—which you can style with accessories to be arguably just as pleasant as an Ela bracelet—tracks steps—has color-coded LED notifications and gets five days of battery life without breaking a sweat. Battery life may be less important for a device like Ela because you don’t wear it to bed, while the Flex 2 needs that extra juice to track movement and sleep over five days. Regardless, a device like Ela that does relatively little compared to a device like the Flex 2 shouldn’t need to be charged every night.
Data and Memories
Arguably the most idiosyncratic feature of any Ela device is Memories, which lets you save photos and audio clips to the device that can only be seen by you and the device’s wearer (or only you, if those people are one in the same). The concept makes the most sense when giving an Ela bracelet as a gift. Imagine you purchased the bracelet for your significant other for their birthday. Before gifting it, you can connect the device to your smartphone and, using the Ela mobile app, save content to the device that your significant other will see immediately when they pair their new bracelet to their own smartphone.
Ela jewelry doesn’t have a screen, speakers, or onboard storage, so saving content to it really just associates the content to that device and stores it in the cloud. Those photos and clips live in the Ela app, so you’ll need to revisit the app whenever you want to see those memories, and you can only save about 100MB work of data as Memories. Jewelry, smart or not, can often evoke memories, so this is a modern way of making those memories more accessible.
However, the accessibility of this content makes it feel a little less personal. Anyone could open up the Ela app on your phone and immediately see those special photos and clips. On the flip side, now many of us look back, deep into our smartphone’s photo albums, to relive past memories via photos, videos, gifs, and more.
Maybe I put too much emphasis on the sacredness of memories between two individuals, but I’d rather be given physical photographs or special objects instead of a piece of jewelry attached to an app that holds a few digital images. Those who grew up reliving memories through a screen and the Internet may not feel the same way. Personally, the novelty of Memories would wear off for me after a few weeks. Also, there’s no real use for Memories if you buy an Ela bracelet for yourself. Sure, you can populate it regularly with your favorite photos and audio clips, but you probably already do that in other apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Spotify.
I feel safe predicting that Ela’s LED-and-vibrating contact notifications will be more useful than Memories in the long-term. It may seem like a lot to remember if you assign all eight colors to different contacts, but that many color-coded contacts is not unheard of. Companies like Fossil Group use color-coded lights or windows on watches and bracelets to show incoming calls and texts from important contacts. I only program three to four colors on any of these devices, so I never have a hard time remembering that a text from my mom will make the bracelet glow blue while a call from my boyfriend will produce a pink light.
Bellabeat’s Leaf activity tracker will likely appeal to nature-lovers at first glance. The device’s design mimics a minimalist plant with a metal leaf-shaped case surrounding the activity tracking module. You can get the Leaf Nature with a module made from natural wood that’s splash-proof, or you can get the Leaf Urban with a module made of a wood-composite with the appearance and texture of stone. I tested the Leaf Urban, and it’s a bit more resistant to water than its Nature counterpart because it’s not made entirely out of wood.
Weighing 0.59 ounces and measuring 1.8 x 1.1 x 0.43 inches, the Leaf is small enough to fit on a necklace or bracelet. However, it might be too big to comfortably wear on certain clothing—the metal case construction lets you clip the Leaf to your clothing (the company shows it worn as a decorative brooch on your collar). But it seems slightly heavy for flimsy or flowy fabrics like rayon.
After wearing the Leaf as a bracelet for a few days, I promptly switched it to its necklace chain because I couldn’t stand the included double-wrap wristband. It’s difficult to secure mainly because the two hooks that attach to the Leaf’s metal case aren’t malleable, so the Leaf module easily falls out of one or both of them because of the size of the hooks’ openings. You also have to wrap the band around your wrist twice, which not only takes more time, but it also gives the Leaf module more time and opportunity to fall out of the secure hooks. The bracelet combination looks nice when you finally get it on your wrist, but it’s not worth the hassle when you also get a necklace with the device.
Data and the Bellabeat app
The only reason I’d recommend wearing the Leaf on your wrist is for sleep tracking, which it does automatically. Wearing a necklace to bed seems like a recipe for entanglement, but to each their own. The Leaf’s sleep tracking has pros and cons—it automatically enters sleep mode (there are no buttons on the device, so it has to do that), but it’s not that great at estimating exactly when you fell asleep. After the first night I slept with the device, I synced data to the Leaf smartphone app and the device thought I fell asleep two hours after I actually did. Thankfully, an in-app pop-up lets you immediately edit sleep and wake-up times. The Leaf did get better over time, mostly with more accurate wake-up times as it never totally got my fall-sleep time correct.
Aside from sleep, the Leaf tracks activity, stress, mediation, and menstrual cycles for women. Activity stats are generic but still accurate as far as step counts go. I wish the Leaf could identify periods of intense activity like workouts, but it doesn’t, and you’ll have to input those yourself. The menu of activities you can log is vast, which is a great perk, and a small star over your activity bar graph indicates when during the day you met your move goal. Along with a daily activity graph, the app also shows you daily and weekly averages of active time, steps, and distance, as well as calories burned through activity and resting.
I’m not the best at meditating regularly (I’m trying to get better), but I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of the meditation program in the Leaf app. After you set goals for how often or long you meditate, you can choose from a number of pre-made programs in the app. Categories include “feeling grounded” and “de-stress,” among others, and have at least four or five guided meditation programs to complete. In total, there are about 25 meditation options to choose from if you want the Leaf app to guide you, otherwise you can log meditation minutes manually.
Each meditation session has a long and short version. I typically completed the four-minute short versions, but there are eight- or 10-minute versions as well. Each has a soothing voice guiding you through a fanciful scenario meant to relax you, while instructing you to breathe deeply, close your eyes, and other small body movements. There are sound effects involved (one “back pain” session I did featured the sounds of a babbling brook, chirping birds, and peaceful winds), but not much music because you’re meant to focus on your own thoughts, breathing patterns, and the instructions of the app’s voice coach.
The Leaf’s guided meditation sessions proved to me that the hardest part of meditation is setting aside time and doing it. I enjoyed the few four-minute sessions I completed, and I felt relaxed after each one. Most wearable companies are incorporating guided breathing exercises into their wristbands, but they typically involve on-screen animation and no sounds or voice coach. Using a mobile app that provides soothing sound effects and a helpful voice, on the other hand, immerses you in the mediation world better than a silent, blinking screen can.
Leaf also estimates your “stress level” as well as giving you a way to manage that stress via guided meditation. This is the most peculiar piece of data in the Leaf app because the program estimates both your level of stress and how prone your body may be to getting stressed out. Leaf uses every piece of information at its disposal to predict stress habits, including how much sleep you got, when you went to bed, how active you’ve been, how much (or how little) you’ve meditated, and more. Stress level is represented by a colored geometric shape with four points that lean toward different health aspects that affect stress: steps, sleep, menstrual cycle, and meditation. A red shape indicates high-stress sensitivity while an orange shape indicates a moderate stress sensitivity. A green shape shows you have “everything under control,” presumably because every trackable health aspect is balanced.
Leaf makes stress tracking more complicated than it should be because the device essentially says you will be highly sensitive to stress when you haven’t been meeting your health goals. The app presumes that when you’ve been slacking on your movement, meditation, and sleep (and when you’re close to That Time of the Month), you’ll be more stressed out because your body isn’t performing at its peak. Personally, I know when I haven’t slept well or when I’ve missed a workout or two. I don’t need to see those points laid out in an app to know when my body isn’t in balance—but others may have other priorities and responsibilities that get in the way of that kind of self-awareness.
This isn’t the most accurate way to determine stress levels because it’s based on the accuracy of the information Leaf detects and the information you provide. The Leaf doesn’t track heart rate either, so it won’t be able to tell you if something physiologically strange is going on. While no fitness tracker or smartwatch can account for the mental factors that may cause stress, I trust devices with heart-rate monitors to provide insight into stress levels more than those without pulse sensors.