Dec 3, 2014 · 2 minutes

Can anyone make wearable devices that don't look like cheap props from a sci-fi film? Intel hopes to find out through a new partnership with the Luxottica Group, an eyewear company responsible for several famous brands like Ray-Ban and Armani.

The obstacles standing between tech companies and the fashion market -- which is what the wearables market is, at least in part -- have been described before. Arguing that these products need to look good is like declaring that smartphones need to have a touchscreen display: nobody is going to argue the point, and many people might wonder why you still worry about something already accepted as common wisdom.

So it's not like Intel has had some revelation about the wearables market. But if there is any company that might figure out how to make an attractive pair of smartglasses -- or can at least partner with a company that knows how to make fashionable eyewear and leaves all the technical mumbo-jumbo alone -- there's a fair chance it will be Intel.

Intel has been caught in a perilous position over the last several years. Its chips didn't make the jump to mobile quick enough, and falling PC sales have left the company in a bind. Instead of giving up when the smartphone devoured its business, however, it tried a different tack: inspiring manufacturers to make products people might like.

That inspiration has taken the form of what Intel calls "reference devices," which are basically products the company develops in-house to demonstrate all the possibilities afforded by its newest processors, which are the real products Intel plans to sell. The reference devices are supposed to give manufacturers a roadmap to follow; once they do that they can sell more PCs, which means they'll buy more Intel chips, in theory.

Here's the thing about these reference devices: they often look quite good. I can't think of an ultrabook (the Windows laptops meant to compete with the MacBook Air by being thin and light and often quite expensive) I've wanted as much as I wanted the reference device Intel showed off during my trip to CES back in January 2013.

The same could be said for the other reference devices Intel has developed over the last few years. I don't know if any of them would have stood up to actual use, but I do know that I have been more willing to give them a try than to waste even a few moments of my time fiddling around with products made by other companies.

Intel could probably continue that cycle with whatever eyewear products it makes with the Luxottica Group. The question, then, is whether or not that will inspire other manufacturers to create something just as good or if it'll lead to more dashed hopes.

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]