Source: Bloomberg, Jan 2011
A prospective customer enters a high-end jewelry store and sinks into a leather couch. A sales rep hands her a glass of Champagne and an iPad packed with images of jewels for her to choose from to make a custom piece. She flips through them and, with the help of a wireless connection, flicks her creation onto an iVIP, a small table fitted with a touch screen. There, she rotates or enlarges the image. As soon as she sends it to the iVIP, it also automatically emerges on a V-Cube, a triangular display device mounted at eye level next to the table. From the luxury of the couch, she watches the V-Cube rotate 3D images of her creation. Using the iPad or iVIP, she tries it on, using an avatar instead of waiting for the real piece to be crafted.
It sounds complex, but this is Zhongjie “Sunny” Jiang’s vision of the jewelry store of the future. It’s a model that has intrigued Chinese jewelers looking to cut retail-space costs and online jewelry outlets seeking to distinguish themselves. The former head of consumer operations and search quality for Google China, Jiang founded his information technology company, Waltz, in Wuxi, China, in 2009 to sell luxury retailers technology to display and sell their wares better. Today, Waltz designs software and hardware (including the iVIP and V-Cube), renders 3D animation of products, and customizes and installs its display gadgets for clients. Mainland and Hong Kong jewelers, such as Yuehao Jewelry, TTF Jewelry, and Chow Tai Fuk, use iVIP and V- Cubes, and Celinni in France, ZS Diamonds in the U.K., and Dimend SCAASI in the U.S. use Waltz for their websites’ 3D animation.
The fashion industry is aggressively looking for new ways to use multimedia and information management systems to sell their products and track their inventories. China is the second-largest luxury consumer market in the world and the fastest-growing one. My old Google China colleagues started their own businesses, but as far as I know, I am the only former Google China employee who started a business in a traditional industry.
Multi-touch screen technology has been in existence since the 1990s, but Apple only recently popularized it. Now Apple holds patents for its multi-point touch screen, but many companies are out there with similar patents and products as cool as iPad. As soon as an Apple product is launched in China, a copycat enters the market in Shenzhen. The technology behind V-Cube is not a secret, though we do hold intellectual property rights, including a pending patent. Holographic technology has been extensively used in museums, in large-scale exhibitions, and on television. It has rarely been applied in the commercial world, however, especially in the retail market. There are a couple of reasons why. First, there’s been little consideration for how to create small holographic machines for in-store display. Second, learning how to mass- produce lifelike images of 3D jewelry and other luxury products at low cost has been a challenge. [On a consumer level,] it’s not meaningful to display only a few images, as the museums do.
Q: You’ve said you want to be the Apple of China. What do you mean?
A: Apple is good at generating cool stories, designs, and ideas. Apple is successful because of its marketing and advertising capabilities. That’s what I admire and hope to emulate with Waltz. I’d also like to create a diversity of Waltz products, as Apple has done with MacBook, iPod, iTunes, iPad.