In 2010, Jerry Wilmink’s grandfather got up in the middle of the night for a glass of water. While he was up, something went terribly wrong: His grandfather fell and broke his hip. He was unable to call to his wife upstairs, and his injuries ended up being fatal.
Wilmink was devastated and wanted to do something to prevent the same thing from happening to other seniors. So, in 2013, he launched a company called WiseWear in his garage. His original plan was to create a hearing aid that could measure when a wearer was at risk of taking a spill, and would react by telling the wearer to sit down. The hearing aid never came to fruition, but in the development process, Wilmink created something groundbreaking: an antenna system that could transmit bluetooth signals through metal. This sparked a new idea: smart sensing technology embedded in sleek, beautiful metal jewelry that women would actually wear.
WiseWear’s line of luxury bracelets is called the Socialite collection. Like other wearables, they track fitness and can receive mobile alerts. But unlike most other wearables, the bangles can also send a distress signal to emergency contacts should something go wrong.
"It’s a safety device for women," Wilmink says. "Imagine a woman is at an event and leaves late at night, walks into a dark parking lot, and someone unusual comes up. She can tap the bracelet three times, and it sends a distress message to loved ones with her location. They know exactly where she is." And if someone falls and can’t get up, like Wilmink’s grandfather, they have a way of calling for help.
WiseWear’s patented antenna technology means its accessories don't need screens, which makes them both inconspicuous to would-be attackers and incredibly beautiful to observers. "We’re the first to truly fuse fashion and technology," Wilmink says. The bangles caught the attention of fashion icon Iris Apfel, who loved the idea so much, she agreed to be the face of the brand, and will design several new pieces for future WiseWear collections.
"Aside from measuring other things, it does put you in immediate touch if you are at risk," Apfel says. "That I think is fantastic, not only for older people but also a lot of young people. And the idea that you’ll be able to do it in a handsome piece of jewelry is great."
Indeed, one of the largest hurdles for adaptation of wearables is that they’re not particularly sleek or sexy. You’re unlikely to see an Apple watch being worn with a red carpet gown. WiseWear's bracelets have two parts: the bottom holds the smart technology, and the top is just for looks and can be swapped out for other WiseWear designs, depending on the wearer's current fashion mood.
"Together we’re trying to bring it up to high fashion," Apfel says, hinting that belt buckles and necklaces could be in the works. She admits she hasn’t used the bracelets yet, but says she’s eager to do so, especially since she is prone to dehydration, which can cause fainting.
The Socialite collection offers three styles: the Duchess, the Calder, and the Kingston, and they each cost $300.