Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are on a whirlwind tour of Australia, New Zealand, and the surrounding environs. Meghan has been predictably helping brands sell out shoes and garments she’s been wearing at appearances there, thanks to the ” Markle effect.”
But now it seems that Harry might be the next royal influencer, all because of a mysterious gleaming black ring he was spotted wearing. Not since Sam carried Frodo on his back up that smoldering mountain has a ring caused so much commotion. (Not even Ariana Grande’s short-lived engagement ring.)
People first noticed the ring on Harry’s hand when he was in Melbourne earlier this week. The Sun called it “bizarre.” The Daily Mail said people were “baffled” and asked whether Meghan gave it to him.
Harry is no stranger to jewelry. He wears a metal bracelet that he bought on a trip to Africa shortly after his mother, Princess Diana, died, and he and Meghan have worn matching beaded ones in the past. He chose to wear a wedding band, while his brother William does not. But this ring is neither sentimental nor ornamental; it is high tech. It is a sleep, fitness, and “readiness” tracker.
People magazine “exclusively” and excitedly identified it as an Oura ring, after much speculation on social media and in online publications. His is the $299 black Heritage version, though there is a silver version with diamonds that costs $999. It makes sense that he chose this trip to debut the ring; traveling from the Western hemisphere to Australia is a difficult transition for your body and sleep patterns.
The tracker focuses on sleep primarily, though it also reminds you to get up if you’ve been inactive for too long, and it tracks steps, workouts, and calories like any number of trackers out there. “The tiny ring also has Amazon Alexa support, so you can check your fitness stats using your voice, instead of having to faff around with the app,” writes the Evening Standard. Because who has time for faffing when you have people to hug!
Oura’s website claims that it tracks body temperature, “measures your blood volume pulse,” and “detects the amplitude and intensity of your body movement” via a “3D accelerometer and gyroscope.” Using all of these metrics, with sleep as a main focus, it also claims to evaluate your readiness for certain tasks and will recommend recovery when it thinks you need it.
The Oura has the support of Silicon Valley types, both financially and in attitude. According to an NBC News report, investors include a co-founder of Amazon’s video game streaming platform Twitch, a former Apple Health researcher, and a dude who developed Skype. The CEO told NBC that the company was starting a “mass market push” imminently on the product, which has been around since 2016. (Though this picture shows that the design has been much streamlined since its original, much more bulbous, incarnation.)
It’s not clear whether Harry bought the ring or was given it as a gift by the company, but the attention certainly seems to have kick-started that push for the company. It’s going to be very busy, at least if the auto-response to Vox’s inquiry via Oura’s press email is any indication: “Thanks for messaging us. Due to a large number of requests, our response time is currently a bit longer than usual.”
Some digging around reveals that Oura’s early adopters have been millionaire biohacker types, which the company alludes to on its website, exhorting users to “Hack yourself.” Biohacking is the process whereby people try to improve their own bodies and increase their performance capabilities with the ultimate goal of living longer and maybe even living forever. They implant chips in themselves, eat highly regulated diets, take supplements, perform cell experiments in home labs, and, especially, fanatically track their body’s data.
The Oura got a shoutout in early October in Men’s Health by Geoffrey Woo, an entrepreneur in biohacking who sells so-called “nootropic” supplements intended to improve performance and brain function. Millionaire tech guy Serge Fuguet, who “intends to live forever, merging with robots and becoming an ultra human,” according to a story in the Guardian a few weeks before that, also wears an Oura. A biohacker on Twitter smugly welcomed Harry to the club, while also taking the opportunity to offer his discount code to any followers interested in buying one:
Oh, and a former Real Housewife of New York, those OG biohackers, is in on the Oura secret, too. On Oura’s Instagram in July, Jill Zarin appears to be wearing one of the rings while posing in front of an Oura-branded table at a fundraiser she threw for thyroid cancer research. (The comments on the post are full of complaints about how long customers have been waiting to get their rings. According to the website, it can take up to eight weeks.)
Sleep and how to get more of it is a very trendy topic right now since everyone is stressed out and worrying about things like nuclear war and the impending flu season. Increasingly, one of the lowest-tech activities you can possibly engage in is being monitored by some of the highest tech gadgets on the market. The Verge, in its report from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), notes that new sleep gadgets are prevalent but that “companies’ ideas for improving sleep are moving faster than the research.”
Wearables are projected to be worth about $25 billion by 2019, and rings definitely seem to be the new frontier, according to the extremely niche site, Wearables.com. Oura’s biggest competitor, at least aesthetically, is a brand called Motiv. But Oura is clearly winning the battle with this silent royal endorsement, gleaming from Harry’s hand to the millions of people ogling the pictures from his official trip Down Under.
To paraphrase J.R.R. Tolkien: “One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them; One sixth-in-line-to-be king and in Australia bind them.”
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