It would seem that NFTs—or non-fungible tokens, verified by blockchain technology—are everywhere. Following record-smashing sales of digital artwork and virtual fashion, the first NFT watch was developed by Swiss cybersecurity company WiseKey in March 2021. The token was presented on the OpenSea NFT marketplace at an auction to raise money for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and is offered by Jean-Claude Biver, an industry veteran who emerged from retirement to collaborate with WiseKey for the sale.
When Biver was Hublot’s CEO in 2009, he worked together with the cybersecurity company to launch SmartCard, the first digital certification of a luxury watch, and the new partnership has resulted in the NFT, a digital twin of the Hublot Bigger Bang All Black Tourbillon Chronograph Special Piece, one of the most important watches in Biver’s private collection.
But why would anyone pay for a timepiece you can’t strap onto your wrist, you might ask. And what exactly is an NFT watch, anyway? Unlike other digital assets, NFTs have unique identifying codes containing built-in authentication, which serves as proof of ownership. Anyone can view the Hublot Bigger Bang All Black Tourbillon Chronograph Special Piece online for free but not everyone can own the original image.
At the most basic level, NFT watches that exist purely as digitally rendered substitutes for the real thing give bragging rights to collectors. For innovative watchmakers who want to take things further, the NFTs can act as a vehicle to resuscitate hype around ultra-rare collectibles that are otherwise unattainable, create immersive storytelling experiences, serve as wearables in the metaverse, unlock exclusive perks for users or allow them access to events.
These are just a few examples of how tokens can be applied to the watch industry. Anything digital can be traded and sold as an NFT: images, music, videos and even real estate if you’re capitalising on the metaverse. Republic Realm, a virtual real estate development company, spent a record US$4.3 million on a parcel of land in The Sandbox, one of several popular metaverse worlds where, perhaps even more surprisingly, Snoop Dogg is building a community called the Snoopverse. At the end of last year, an unnamed fan paid US$450,000 for a plot next to the digital replica of the rapper’s California mansion, which is currently being built.
Fashion houses have already started to invest in the metaverse. Last year, Nike and Ralph Lauren offered avatar accessories through game creation system Roblox. More recently, watchmaker Louis Moinet partnered with premium e-retailer Exclusible for an NFT inspired by its Space Revolution model that can be worn by characters on gaming platforms. The watchmaker collaborated with 3D digital creator Tafi to create 1,000 limited-edition digital timepieces. Breitling’s chief digital and technology officer Antonio Carriero, however, recommends watchmakers take a different approach to the NFT marketplace. “For Breitling, NFT watches aren’t [simply] fancy pixelated versions of physical timepieces made for the metaverse.”