Timepiece NFTs Expand the Watch World’s Metaverse

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Brands big and small say they’ll embrace the NFT universe, despite mixed results.

The Brazilian soccer player Dani Alves, with one of the models from the Alves Trophy Collection by Backes & Strauss, a series of 43 watches celebrating 43 trophy moments from his career.

NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, are being offered for almost everything these days. Works of art. Digital racehorses. And — increasingly — even watches.

Nima Behnoud, formerly the creative director of the jewelry and watch retailer Jacob & Co. and an ex-artistic director for the watch retailer Tourneau, had been wanting to add a watch to the mix of his clothing and accessories brand Nimany when “this whole NFT vibe happened,” he said in a recent video interview from his studio in New York.

In February 2021, Mr. Behnoud had been putting together designs and receiving prototypes to create a watch when he entered a Clubhouse chat room about NFTs and began learning more about them.

After creating — and selling — some NFTs of his own artwork, he decided that he no longer wanted to release just a physical watch but also an NFT version, one with a gaming element and different levels.

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So, in late April of this year, he introduced Nimany Club, his collection of 1,810 digital watch NFTs.

NFTs are digital assets that have been verified using blockchain technology. They have experienced increases in both popularity and price over the past year and a half, especially in the art world, though the luxury and fashion sectors, including jewelers and watchmakers, have also been experimenting with the technology.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that NFTs will hold their worth over time.

“It is hard to predict if this will pick up in the long run,” Deependra Pandey, the founder and chief executive of the Switzerland-based Luxury Venture Group of investors, said in an email. NFT activity “strongly depends on the broader NFT adoption for the collectibles market,” he said.

Last year, the Swiss watchmaker Jean-Claude Biver, who stepped down in 2018 as president of LVMH’s watch division, put up for auction a digital photograph of the prototype of Hublot’s Bigger Bang All Black Tourbillon Chronograph, but the NFT did not meet its reserve price and did not sell. More successful was Jacob & Co. when it released a 3-D animation inspired by its Epic SF24 travel watch as an NFT in April 2021: It sold in a 24-hour auction for the equivalent of about $100,000. The brand re-entered the NFT space in April 2022 with its Astronomia Metaverso collection, in which eight watch designs were turned into NFTs that it planned to auction in June (five of the designs were available as actual watches).

Over the past year, brands including Hublot, Bulgari and Panerai have also embraced the possibilities of NFTs as a way to release works by notable artists inspired by the companies’ watch designs, to serve as a mark of authentication and ownership and to enhance customer experiences.

“We’re excited about this new digital world,” Ricardo Guadalupe, the chief executive of Hublot, wrote in an email, “and we are looking forward to the way it can improve traceability with blockchain technology, giving also added value to owners of our watches.”

The Panerai chief executive, Jean-Marc Pontroué, wrote in an email that the brand’sgoal is to leverage value to transform the relationship we have with our customers and our community in the decentralized internet.” By 2023, he said, the company intends to introduce digital passports for all its watches through NFTs as a way to provide proof of ownership after a watch purchase and to unlock other services and benefits for customers.

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Mr. Behnoud’s Nimany Club features watch NFTs organized in differing numbers within levels he calls Ceramic, Freak, Steel, Gold and the rarest, Unicorn, each priced at 0.1 Ethereum in crypto currency, or about $181. Holders of the Gold and Unicorn levels have the opportunity to exchange them for a physical Nimany-brand watch in a lottery-esque prize draw scheduled for June 15. As of early June, 65 buyers had purchased 270 of his NFT watches, he said.

“Watches are very similar to crypto technology,” Mr. Behnoud said, explaining that both items continually increase in value. Watch collectors can — and should — join the NFT scene, he said — it’s just that “they have to leap over this technology curve.”

The British watchmaker Backes & Strauss has added a sporting element to its NFTs. A partnership with the Brazilian soccer player Dani Alves, who plays for FC Barcelona, and the Metaverse consultant ColossalBit was announced in May to produce NFTs relating to the Alves Trophy Collection, a series of 43 physical timepieces celebrating 43 trophy moments from Mr. Alves’s career.

What is the appeal for the heritage watchmaker?

“It’s definitely about wanting to engage with a new audience,” said Nick Tolfree, the business development manager for Backes & Strauss, “and being aware that customers are buying into brands very differently than they did 10 years ago.”

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