Jewelers and watchmakers debate when to enter the metaverse

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Bulgari’s “Colors” exhibition saw 10,000 people tune in to the virtual reality version of the show, in which users could create an avatar and explore the exhibits © Bulgari

For Jean-Christophe Babin, CEO of Bulgari, the question is not whether luxury brands should enter the metaverse. . . but how. He worries that his high-end jewelry is “carried by a cubic avatar that looks like three pieces of Lego put together.” But he can imagine a Bulgari “gem finding game”.

Metaverse is a term coined by Neal Stephenson, in his 1992 science fiction novel Snowfallfor a “computer-generated universe” in which people communicate through avatars.

Today, its meaning varies. “[It is] part a dream of the future of the internet and part a way to encapsulate current trends in online infrastructure, including the growth of real-time 3D worlds,” according to Metaverse and Money: Decrypting the Future, a report released by Citi GPS in March.

Ronit Ghose, global head of banking, fintech and digital assets at Citi Global Insights, says the metaverse is “immersive, it’s persistent and it’s a shared virtual space.”

“If you have a business model that somehow touches the internet, or if you think your next generation of consumers will use the internet to experiment, choose, decide, transact, then you have to look at the metaverse,” he says. .

“It’s just the next generation of the Internet if you take that broad definition.”

Video: Game on: how tech companies are betting on the metaverse | FT Movie

Citi’s report estimates that the target market for the metaverse economy could be worth between $8 billion and $13 billion in 2030, so it’s no surprise that watch and jewelry brands have increased their investments.

At Bulgari, improving technology to make avatars “more elegant” is one of the tasks of its innovation business unit, launched in 2020 and having a creation laboratory in Rome.

Meanwhile, Tag Heuer, the Swiss watchmaker, advanced its digital strategy last month with the launch of a non-fungible token reader for its Connected Caliber E4 smartwatch. This feature, available as a free update, allows owners to view NFTs – digital tokens stored on a blockchain, representing unique assets such as art or media, and viewable on wallet apps – on their dial. The watch connects to the owner’s wallet app to verify authenticity.

An illustration of a monkey wearing a hat and biting on a slice of pizza is on a dial

Tag Heuer launches an NFT viewer for its Caliber E4 connected watch

Frédéric Arnault, chief executive of Tag Heuer, which is owned by LVMH, says it “seems natural” for the company to investigate this world but it doesn’t “want to jump on it too quickly”. “We don’t want it to come across as opportunistic,” he says. “We want to come up with a real vision that we can support and that will generate value.”

Arnault, an NFT collector, says his brand is going after NFT enthusiasts. “Acknowledging and respecting the community is very important as a starting point, and so we deliver a feature and product that is useful and exciting to the community,” he says.

In May, Tag Heuer began accepting 12 cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin and ethereum, for purchases on its US website, but it has yet to issue its own NFTs.

Thomas Chauvet, head of luxury equity research at Citi, believes that outside of smartwatches, brands are not yet ready to explore business opportunities in the metaverse, in the same way they were initially reluctant to. embrace e-commerce.

Instead, he says, they’ll focus on it as a “communications tool” or “authentication opportunity.”

Panerai Radiomir Eilean buyers received a digital wallet with NFT artwork

Purchasing the Bulgari Octo Finissimo Ultra also grants buyers access to an NFT piece of art

Panerai, the Italian watchmaker, launched its first NFTs last month to “enhance the customer experience”, according to Jean-Marc Pontroué, chief executive.

Buyers of the Radiomir Eilean Experience Edition watch – it’s limited to 50 pieces – were invited to sail along Italy’s Amalfi Coast aboard a classic yacht that gives the watch its name and received a digital wallet . This included an NFT artwork, by Skygolpe, which unlocked exclusive content, services, events and offers.

“We wanted to add this NFT to provide added value to customers by telling them that we will connect with you before the experience begins, during the experience and after the experience,” says Pontroué. “NFT is a modern platform to connect people who love our brand.”

Panerai, which is owned by Richemont, plans to give every watch a digital passport next year. It’s something Breitling has been doing since 2020 to allow owners to prove a watch’s authenticity, as well as access the warranty program.

The two watchmakers have partnered with Arianee, a French company that helps brands create and distribute NFTs and leverage tokens. Pierre-Nicolas Hurstel, CEO of Arianee, calls it “a new loyalty tool”.

It transforms the relationship between brands and communities, he says, because the customer retains control of their data. At the same time, the brand is regaining control of its digital presence as it no longer needs to rely on platforms such as Instagram to reach customers.

The right hand holding a cell phone that shows an image of a silver men's wristwatch

Digital passport services are offered by watchmakers like Breitling

“The overriding goal is to build a decentralized database of owners that you can then engage through the mechanisms of NFTs, to whom you can offer a seamless journey through [digital, physical and immersive] channels,” says Hurstel.

In March, Bulgari launched the Octo Finissimo Ultra, the world’s thinnest mechanical watch, limited to just 10 pieces. Each watch has a QR code on the barrel ratchet wheel that gives the owner access to an NFT piece of art. They can also access a 3D virtual tour of the movement and practical data such as the maintenance log.

Two necklaces from the latest high jewelry collection, Bulgari Eden, Les Jardins des Merveilles, have QR codes that link to NFT artworks. The house also unveiled the digital-only Beyond Wonder, its “first NFT gem,” at the same time.

Bulgari launched three new NFT jewels alongside the high jewelry collection in Paris © Bulgari

The Magnifica Ruby Metamorphasis is one of the three new NFT jewels launched by Bulagri © Bulgari

Babin says the challenge of expanding this technology is to make digital assets “truly dynamic”. “But I believe that [with] on this side of the metaverse we link clients [to the brand] in a much more intimate, emotional and immersive way,” he says.

Its first priority, however, is to create “more touchpoints” to reach potential customers, as the metaverse opens the door to “better visibility” and a “wider audience.” He is aware that as a luxury brand, Bulgari must be selective: its breakthroughs will be “extremely beautiful”.

Last year, the Bulgari Colors exhibition drew nearly 50,000 people to Seoul, South Korea. More than 10,000 people downloaded an app to experience a virtual reality version of the show, in which users could style an avatar and explore exhibits.

Users of Drest, a fashion game, were able to style an avatar of Kate Moss with pieces from the supermodel’s high jewelry collection with Messika. The jeweler joined the app for two weeks this year to boost brand awareness and nearly 4 million people viewed the content.

“There are more and more young people who are rich, and they want to know new brands, and this new generation has a new way of living, a new way of consuming [content]», explains Valérie Messika, the founder of the French diamond house.

Ghose also points to the “enormous amount of wealth creation in the tech industry” that luxury brands may wish to target, people who are “digital native” and invested or interested in the metaverse.

He says there’s a lot of experimentation going on behind the scenes as companies adapt their digital strategies. ” Ignore [the metaverse] going to be very dangerous in three years,” he said.

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