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Watches: how will timepieces work in the virtual world?

There’s much talk about the metaverse – and watch companies are getting involved, too

Published: 27 Jan 2023

Have you tried explaining the metaverse to an elderly relative? A multi-dimensional digital world is a big leap from looking up your grandchildren on Facebook. And you can’t blame Grandma – even the eggiest heads in Silicon Valley can’t agree on what the metaverse will actually be like. But with uncertainty there is opportunity, and watch companies don’t want to miss out.

Soon we are going to be encouraged to spend increasing work and leisure time in a place that is going to feel a lot like a giant video game. And freed from real world restrictions, we’ll all soon be able to own a £100k watch and a million-pound car, right?

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Not exactly. Speaking to insiders, one thing they agree on is the importance of maintaining brand value. So if a watch costs £100,000 in the real world, you can’t just give it away in the metaverse, because you devalue it. And if you ask full price for a digital copy, people will think you’re crazy. This is a quandary for the industry. What is a fair price for a copy of something that costs a lot of money to develop? One way is to give away digital versions, but only to people who have bought the real thing.

What about fakes? Once something has been produced digitally, making a copy is easy. But blockchain technology used in NFTs makes checking authenticity in the virtual world easier than the real world. So you could theoretically get a fake Rolex and Ferrari, but everyone will know they are fake. And everything leaves a digital footprint, so if you infringe copyright, they can sniff you out.

Forward-thinking watch companies are getting metaverse-ready by dabbling with NFTs and cryptocurrency, as seen from Hublot, Breitling and others. Tag Heuer, often on these pages due to its motoring links, is emerging as a metaverse contender in no small part because of the appointment of a videogaming enthusiast as CEO.

Frédéric Arnault is in his 20s and the son of Bernard Arnault, boss of parent company LVMH and one of the richest dads in the world. Doubters muttered about nepotism, but young Arnault has impressed since taking over a couple of years ago. Arnault senior might be elderly, but he had the foresight to ask Frederic the right question. Namely: “So, son, what is this metaverse all about?”

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