Are NFTs overhauling the luxury watch industry?

The world of luxury watches can officially no longer be accused of resting on its laurels. This exceptionally traditional industry has been all but uprooted by the sensational upswing in the popularity of blockchain technology over the last couple of years. But how exactly are these two industries interconnected? And is everyone willing to embrace the digital age, or are some manufacturers simply too set in their ways to get with the times?

Where It All Began
The breakthrough into the realm of digital horological assets was made back in 2021 by Jacob & Co., a high-end jeweler and watchmaker that claims to push the boundaries of conventional luxury. The New York company tested the waters with a ten-second animation of their SF24 Tourbillon model, a timepiece limited to 101 copies and valued at around $230,000 on the secondary market. Flanked with other exclusive privileges such as a private dinner with the company’s CEO and the chance to get involved with the next collection, the NFT fetched a respectable $100,000 at auction on the ArtGrails platform. The news naturally made waves in the watch community, with many attributing the crossover to a passing fad or even a cash grab. But whether that’s true or not remains to be seen, as this year, Jacob & Co. followed up with an entire collection of luxury watch NFTs. This time they took a different approach. Out of the eight extravagant designs in their Astronomia Metaverso series, five come with a tangible watch, while the remaining three are reserved exclusively for the crypto sphere.

Other Bands and Functions
As previously mentioned, Jacob & Co. are known for their pioneering spirit and elaborate watch designs; it would be inaccurate to classify them as a traditional watchmaking brand. This begs the question: Have the big names in traditional Swiss watchmaking tried their hand at digitizing their creations? The answer is a resounding yes, though it’s fair to say that most brands use the technology in conjunction with their standard portfolio. For example, brands like Breitling provide an NFT with each watch purchased as a form of proof of ownership and authenticity. This also suggests that such technology might replace the original papers that typically come with expensive watches, and which are crucial for determining resale value. TAG Heuer, on the other hand, has taken a bolder approach and created a smartwatch that allows the wearer to display their NFT artwork on their wrist.

Will Rolex join the ranks?
The biggest NFT news comes from industry leader, Rolex. The brand with the crown is well known for its tendency to resist trends, preferring to set them instead. However, news recently emerged that Rolex submitted a trademark application to the US Patent and Trademark Office for services relating to NFTs, cryptocurrencies, and digital wallets, among others. Whether Rolex is really cooking something up in its facilities in Geneva, or if this move was only made to protect their name under trademark law, “just in case,” is cause of great speculation. After all, the creator behind Gen Watch sells watch NFTs inspired by classic Rolex models to great success. Rolex also revealed in a press release at the start of December 2022 that it will be certifying and selling pre-owned watches for the first time in the company’s history. Could this be the dawn of a new era for the industry giant?

Where We Go From Here
With both luxury watches and digital assets relying on exclusivity as a unique selling point, it’s not all that surprising that Web3 is gaining a greater foothold in the world of haute horologie. But the similarities don’t end there: both cryptocurrencies and the secondary market for luxury watches slumped in mid-2022, and the buyer sentiment is one of caution. It will certainly be interesting to see what the year ahead holds for these markets, individually and collectively.