WiseWear, Maker of Iris Apfel Tech Jewelry, Still Testing Med Device

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company’s intellectual property, is what enabled WiseWear to make its fashion-focused jewelry line out of metals, instead of more casual rubber materials, like many wearables. The jewelry line designed by 95-year-old Apfel is for sale online and at stores like Saks and Nordstrom for $295 to $345.

Other companies, including FitBit, have made metal devices, but they need to have holes or gaps in the metal in order to transmit the signal, Wilmink says. It can also be transmitted through a smartscreen. WiseWear’s jewlery, on the other hand, doesn’t need gaps or a screen, giving it a more “gilded” appearance, Wilmink says. (Coincidentally, Wilmink says he grew up attending University School near Cleveland, OH, with Fitbit founder James Park.)

“People see it and think it’s beautiful, and they don’t realize it’s not possible without that technology,” Wilmink says.

Now, WiseWear is working on other new products, such as smart apparel and other more “rugged” devices that could be used for military applications, Wilmink says. WiseWear is planning to launch a new product, possibly this year, that is focused is on safety and security for the entire family, Wilmink says, though he won’t provide more detail yet.

WiseWear works on its new products in a 5,000-square-foot factory in San Antonio called design lab Sense Technologies which it acquired in 2014. Before the bracelets, WiseWear tried to launch a fitness focused wearable device through IndieGoGo, but canceled the campaign after it failed to meet its goal.

Before founding WiseWear in 2013, Wilmink researched biomedical applications of radio frequencies for the Department of Defense. That’s where Wilmink and co-founder Elam met, developing the expertise that led to WiseWear, he says. The idea for jewelry came in at the CES conference in 2015 when Wilmink was chatting with a colleague about his transmitter technology, and the colleague suggested applying it to clothing items, such as jewelry.

“I was laughing because we’re a bunch of hardcore technology guys and we’re in Texas,” Wilmink says. “You just wake up one day and you’re making smart jewelry. It was 12 pivots along the way.”

Wilmink is keeping funding for jewelry and other consumer wearables separate from the hearing aid device, which would require clearance as a medical device. If things work out for the hearing aid, WiseWear may try to license it to a larger company in that industry for marketing and other “heavy lifting,” Wilmink says.

For the consumer products, WiseWear has raised about $6.2 million in funding, including a $2.5 million round in late 2015. The company hasn’t taken traditional venture funding, and with some revenue from the jewelry, it may not, Wilmink says. WiseWear is planning to bring its product to other countries, however, which requires costly intellectual property filings, he says.

Similarly, WiseWear may begin trying to license its technology to businesses, such as jewelers or original equipment manufactures, that might want to use it—rather than let those companies try to reverse engineer it, Wilmink says.


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David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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