Last Christmas, Lorena Bello was at home making a video for social media to promote a new pair of earrings she had designed. “My mother was behind me and she was watching just my phone,” Ms. Bello, a graphic and 3-D designer from Viana do Bolo, Spain, said in a recent video interview.
When Ms. Bello turned around, her mother asked, “When did you remove the earring?’’
“No!” Ms. Bello recalled saying. “They are not real!” Using an augmented reality (AR) filter, she had been “wearing” a virtual pair of mismatched earrings, a triangle-shaped stud and a long drop design — one of 300 NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, she had created for Jevels, a digital jewelry marketplace.
Established by Zuzana Bastian in March 2021, it is one of a number of platforms and business ventures that are taking jewelry into the burgeoning NFT space. Pioneered by the art world (remember Beeple and his $69.3 million auction sale in March 2021?), it has started to be explored by fashion. The British jeweler Asprey recently announced a partnership with Bugatti to introduce its first NFTs, with plans for clients to commission sculptures and one-off pieces “fused with NFT technology,” a news release said.
Crystalline Circuit Pendant Earrings, designed by Alterrage, are digital-only designs.
It was during the pandemic that Ms. Bastian, 33, who is based in Vienna and is a pharmacist by training, thought “there has to be another way” to dress and be stylish during hours of Zoom meetings each day. Having discovered digital fashion in 2020, she started to talk to designers and consider the possibilities of blockchain, the metaverse and the advantages they could offer. She said she began working on “the concept of a platform or a marketplace where you can find virtual jewelry and fashion accessories that can be worn in AR, mixed reality and virtual space.”
Jevels (the “v” stands for “virtual”) debuted on Oct. 18 with three designs: a mask, a pearl necklace and a pair of earrings. It has been self-funded, run by Ms. Bastian with her sister working as a business adviser. Now it features the work of nine designers and a total of 21 pieces: a mixture of digital and phygital, meaning the piece exists in real life as well as digitally. Prices range from $10, which include Ms. Bello’s work, to $495 and purchases can be made by traditional methods (credit card or PayPal) or with selected cryptocurrencies.
The designs are made in limited editions and, upon purchase, owners receive digital pictures of their pieces, the format needed to share 3-D data and the link to a filter on Snapchat that enables them to “wear” their newly purchased accessories. Ms. Bastian said augmented reality works well with Snapchat, but the process also is compatible with programs like Zoom, Google Meet and others.
There is also “The Metaverse Starter Set for Style Lovers” available at $398, which comes with detailed instructions on how to claim and use virtual jewelry as well as what the brand calls their “physical twins,” pieces to wear in real life.
“For our customers,” Ms. Bastian said, “it’s often the first NFTs they buy because they see the usability.”
In a recent Zoom interview, she switched among eight designs: five pairs of earrings, a necklace, a mask and a headpiece. Some of them glowed and others changed color, all moved as she did and looked surprisingly realistic. She said the designs were made for “the people who spend their time on Zoom and want to wear something special.”
Flavia Bon is a Jevels customer. “I just loved the idea,” she said. “I thought like OK, I mean we’re constantly talking about utility when it comes to NFTs and then she comes with this. OK, we’re making jewelry to wear in everyday life and Zoom calls. I thought, ‘OK, now we’re talking.’” She made a note of the release date and, when the first drop appeared, she bought the Crystalline Circuit Pendant Earrings by Alterrage, a digital and physical fashion brand.
Zuzana Bastian ”wears” a virtual earring from Jevels.Credit…none
Ms. Bon, 37, a self-employed design developer based in the Netherlands, already had been interested by and active in the crypto space for some time, excited by what she saw as its possibilities. She had been following Alterrage when she heard about Jevels, and she now owns more than 200 NFTs, a combination of fashion and art.
In the real world, she said, her style is very minimalist, but now, “I can wake up my inner fashionista” — with different styles for different meetings.
When it comes to NFTs, there is often speculation about whether the value of creations might rise in the resale market. Ms. Bon said she thinks Jevels is too new for its designs to have that kind of appeal. Plus, when you buy an NFT, “you do get attached to it,” she said. “Our brain perceives it as an object we own and we bond with it.”
Jackson Bridges, 21, a college student in Alabama, also is a Jevels customer. Late last year he was thinking about NFTs and jewelry. “I was like, ‘I wonder if somebody’s done this yet?’” he said — and then found Jevels on Instagram.
The first piece he bought (he doesn’t recall the exact price, but thinks it was “about $50”) was a pair of Crystalline Circuit Pendant Earrings by Alterrage: “I think it’s so cool what you can do with it and express yourself in a whole new medium.”
Mr. Bridges said the appeal was wearing the pieces via augmented reality or on avatars. “I’m not really interested in making a profit on it,” he said. “I buy for me and what I like and what I want to wear.” While he is studying finance in college, he is also consulting and plans to make a career in NFTs.
For Jacob Bamdas, 22, who said he had been in the crypto space since 2017, a personal interest in jewelry coupled with his desire to bring something with real-world value to the NFT space produced Chains, which operates through a website and Instagram feed.
What Is the Metaverse, and Why Does It Matter?
Card 1 of 5
The origins. The word “metaverse” describes a fully realized digital world that exists beyond the one in which we live. It was coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” and the concept was further explored by Ernest Cline in his novel “Ready Player One.”
An expanding universe. The metaverse appears to have gained momentum during the online-everything shift of the pandemic. The term today refers to a variety of experiences, environments and assets that exist in the virtual space.
Some examples. Video games in which players can build their own worlds have metaverse tendencies, as does most social media. If you own a non-fungible token, virtual-reality headset or some cryptocurrency, you’re also part of the metaversal experience.
How Big Tech is shifting. Facebook staked its claim to the metaverse last year, after shipping 10 million of its virtual-reality headsets and announcing it had renamed itself Meta. Google, Microsoft and Apple have all been working on metaverse-related technology.
The future. Many people in tech believe the metaverse will herald an era in which our virtual lives will play as important a role as our physical realities. Some experts warn that it could still turn out to be a fad or even dangerous.
The business debuted in January with 10,000 NFT chains, designed by Michael Gauthier of the blockchain jewelry brand Cryptojeweler, which appear very realistic and, Mr. Bamdas said, could be 3-D printed. Each one sells for 0.1 Ether (about $300 on Tuesday).
Customers also are offered hospitality and concierge perks, such as discounts, exclusive accesses and travel, depending on chain ownership. “I thought, ‘Hey how can you really sell these things and expect to get people to invest in your product, invest in your artwork without providing that real-world value proposition?’” Mr. Bamdas said.
One 24-year-old Chains customer in Los Angeles said he doesn’t buy expensive jewelry in the physical world, but bought 10 Chains in one week and thought he had spent more than the equivalent of $2,000.
While Chains might be the equivalent of fine jewelry in the virtual world, Icecap, a diamond NFT marketplace founded in 2020 by Jacques Voorhees, is more the high jewelry category.
He said he established the company — backed by his son Erik, an entrepreneur who was a Bitcoin advocate — to solve what he described as a decades-long problem: that diamonds “should be a valid hard asset diversification choice for hard asset investors.”
“When you try to go upstream — when you take a diamond, you as a consumer, and try to sell it back into the industry, it’s a nightmare,” said Mr. Voorhees, 70. “It’s extremely problematic. Where do you go? A pawnshop?” He said a diamond can lose about half of its value “in the round trip journey between buying it, holding it for a little bit and selling it, irrespective of the value of the underlying asset.”
Icecap buys newly cut diamonds from manufacturers, stores them in an insured vault and makes them available for sale as NFTs, with prices in Ether that achieve a 10 percent margin. “So it creates a level of security, a level of authentication,” Mr. Voorhees said, “that makes it easy for buyers and sellers to trade that back and forth.
“Just as in the gold industry, if you put your gold in a vault you don’t want to carry around your gold,” he added. “You put it in a vault, you take a warehouse receipt, and then that warehouse receipt itself becomes a negotiable instrument that you can buy and sell with others — everyone knowing that the gold is sitting safely and happily in a vault someplace.”
An investor can keep the NFT to trade or can redeem it for the actual diamond.
Prices range from $3,000 to $250,000. “We’re not saying that you have to spend $100,000,” Mr. Voorhees said, but he noted that most of his customers are interested in financial investment.
In its first quarter, Mr. Voorhees said, Icecap did $2,000 in sales; in the second, $39,000; the third, $186,000, and the fourth, $935,000. For the first quarter of 2022, he said, it is on track to achieve $3 million.
And Icecap plans to expand. Recently Mr. Voorhees announced a partnership with the Miss Universe pageant organization and Mouawad, the Swiss-Emirati jewelry and watch brand that created the pageant’s Power of Unity crown.
Set with 1,725 white diamonds and three golden canary diamonds, the crown will be offered as an NFT with fractionalized ownership — allowing a number of buyers to be partial owners of glittering gems.