At the height of the Covid lockdown, fashion-loving pharmacist Dr. Zuzana Bastian made a couple of important realisations. She wanted to look as stylish during Zoom calls as she had previously done irl, and she wanted to do so in an environmentally sensitive way.
Putting her solutions-finding skills to work, Bastian created Jevels aka “the first NFT platform bringing jewellery and fashion accessories into the metaverse”. Since launching in October last year, Jevels has become the digital denizen’s go-to marketplace for virtual designer jewellery and accessories.
Keen to find out more, Adorn’s Maia Adams caught up with Zuzana to learn about the challenges and rewards of innovating in this fast-moving sector, her vision for a future in which virtual craftsmanship is rewarded and valued, and the joys of personalising her jewellery at the click of a mouse.
Maia Adams: Tell us a bit about how Jevels came about.
Zuzana Bastian: I’ve always loved fashion and jewellery but was becoming increasingly aware of the huge negative impact the fashion industry has on our environment. When Covid struck, and we completely shifted to remote working, I started thinking - do we really need to buy new fashion and jewellery physically, if we only want to wear it in the virtual world?
My sister works in business consulting, mostly advising technology companies, so her advice was and still is very valuable. The acceleration of digital technology has reinforced our thinking about digital fashion. I like to say that accessories are the exclamation point of an outfit. So having analysed filters and use cases in games or virtual worlds to see what items would get the most use, we decided to go with virtual jewels, aka Jevels.
Metaverse starter kit for style lovers by Aurelia + Icarus
MA: What are the challenges in creating virtual jewellery?
ZB: Most digital fashion designs can still not be worn due to technical issues. At Jevels we make sure that each design can be worn - either through augmented or virtual reality.
We work with established designers who advise us on the quality and functionality of the designs that are put on the website. The market is still developing itself so there are no experts. We are all just following our hearts and the vibes we get from our community.
MA: Imagine I’ve purchased my favourite new Jevels design. What do I get?
ZB: All designs on our website are tokenized as NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain. After purchase you receive the GLB file of the design which is a 3D file format that’s used in virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), games, and web applications because it supports motion and animation. As the owner of the NFT, you therefor receive the whole package - the files and filter links for AR. The GLB file can be then adapted to the specific virtual reality environment it wants to be used in. We are however working on a process where the obtained file is interoperable from start.
L-R: Crystalline circuit pendant earrings by Alterrage; Aether earring by Sara Locci
MA: Jevels customers can own their jewellery in both physical and virtual versions. Do the different iterations serve different needs or functions?
ZB: We also have phygital jewellery which means the physical jewellery pieces have a digital twin. I believe that this will be the case with most things we will own in future. If the jewellery was gifted at a special occasion or by a special person, having both versions is important.
If you own the digital copy of your design, you will be able to bring it with yourself into any room you enter - even the virtual ones. Recently, I was interviewed while sitting in a virtual room and I was looking at my avatar hands without any jewellery through the VR headset. It felt strange because I couldn’t identify with these hands. I always wear my rings and I would love to wear them also on my avatar in the virtual space.
Furthermore, the digital piece can be personalised to fit the current need, for example it can be changed in colour or size. With our phygital earrings, the NFT owner can decide if the stone which is yellow IRL is green, blue, black, or any other colour in the virtual version, just with one click! In addition, we can add animations to enhance the experience in the virtual space, something which is unthinkable in the real world.
L-R: Look up in the library choker by Gabrielle; Jubilee Crown by Gary James McQueen
MA: What are the plus points of investing in virtual jewellery?
ZB: Sustainability, creativity and long-term investment. Virtual jewellery uses only sustainable resources - like the designer's imagination. No mining for metals and gemstones is required, there are no workers being exploited. Rather, a jewellery designer valued for their work. We don´t need to worry about waste and dangerous toxins being released into the air and water.
When we wear digital jewellery we can be more creative than with the physical jewellery, because no laws of physics have to be followed - so a necklace does not have to hang on my neck, it can rotate or just levitate in the air.
In addition, digital jewellery can’t get damaged and can be worn over and over in the virtual world! It saves time, because we can get dressed with one click.
For now, we at Jevels are focusing on wearability on social media and during video calls but we believe that as technology is advancing in big steps, wearing digital jewellery will be possible on more and more occasions!
MA: Do you have plans to design jewellery, Zuzana?
ZB: I would love to but first I need to work with the digital tools! There will definitely be a Jevels collection one day and in my imagination it will consist of designs that cannot exist in the real world - enhanced through new materials, animations and possibility for personalisation.
Jevels founder, Zuzana Bastian
MA: A recent survey of gamers found that many put the same importance on looking good in-game as they did to looking good in real life. Can Jevels pieces be worn by digital avatars too?
ZB: The biggest challenge right now is interoperability. Each avatar system requires other specifications, that is why we chose the GLB file because it is the file where all information of the design is stored. If the system allows it, and the avatar can be enhanced with such kind of file, all designs from our website can be worn in any environment.
MA: Materials, craftsmanship, sentiment, uniqueness – these are all things that we use to ascribe value to physical jewellery. What does ‘Preciousness’ in the digital space look like?
ZB: Jewellery has a special emotional value, and this is what we want to leverage in the virtual space.
Imagine you own something physical that is so precious you are afraid to bring it on vacation in case you lose it. In this situation a virtual copy which can be worn on your pictures through an AR filter has enormous value. With a digital twin of such a precious item you will be able to wear your favourite jewellery in any room you would like - the real rooms and the virtual ones.
At Jevels, we want to bring this value for virtual-only jewellery pieces too. We aim for a future, where virtual assets are just as valuable as the physical ones. I’m looking forward to living in a world of these endless possibilities, where buying new things that exist virtually means preserving the environment and owning something unique, precious and unimaginable in the physical space at the same time.
MA: How can you achieve this?
ZB: We have to open doors for virtual craftsmanship and create opportunities where mastering these techniques is valued and rewarded. Therefore at Jevels we are supporting our community of designers to learn emerging technologies as well as teaching our customers to have the abilities and tools to fully experience these unique designs so that they can be fully appreciated.
ETH/halo by Alanatheweb3girl
MA: Finally, why is it important for commercial jewellery brands to start considering a move into the virtual space?
ZB: This can be a challenging move for many brands - mostly because launching a new virtual collection or dropping an NFT is accompanied by a lot of media attention.
When we get approached by brands who would like to dip a toe into the virtual space we ask which target group they want to attract and what is their long term expectation (e.g. new revenue stream, media attention).
As mentioned previously, at Jevels we’re working to bring value into the virtual space by moving the attention from physical to virtual and enabling more creativity, inclusivity and sustainability.
We believe that brands can provide their customers with incredible experiences in the virtual space - customers can easily personalise their products, adapt them to their needs and do good for the environment. At the same time brands can engage with their community with services beyond their products and leverage from the close connections the virtual space offers them.