eb3, the new version of the internet that we’re told will be immersive and decentralised, encompasses such a broad range of realities (or “virtualities”, perhaps) that it can be difficult to identify any common ground between them.
That certainly goes for what Web3 might mean for watchmaking. The possibilities range from “merely” replacing a paper guarantee certificate with a traceable address on the blockchain (or biometric recognition of the watch itself), to creating avatars complete with accessories (including watches) in the metaverse. In this virtual realm you can play, interact, buy things and, as Mark Zuckerberg fervently hopes, establish a permanent presence. This vision is part hopeful optimism and part dystopian nightmare, depending on who you’re talking to.
While the ability to track watches appears to provide genuine added value, particularly in the booming second-hand market, a virtual watch nevertheless looks, to many people, like a negation of the art of watchmaking, which has enjoyed a welcome renaissance in the last thirty years thanks specifically to the resurgence of appreciation for craftsmanship. Are we in fact shooting ourselves in the foot?
While the ability to track watches appears to provide genuine added value, particularly in the booming second-hand market, a virtual watch nevertheless looks, to many people, like a negation of the art of watchmaking.
Advocates of the metaverse will respond that it provides a virtual entry point into what could eventually become a lifelong passion for (physical) watches. The argument is similar to what we heard when smartwatches first appeared. More optimistic commentators touted them as a stepping stone into fine watchmaking. In the meantime, however, the stepping stone appears to have stepped all over the more accessible end of the watch industry.
The reality is that these two worlds – virtual and “hard” luxury – feed each other through their very contradictions. The rise of the smartwatch appears, paradoxically, to have strengthened the attraction of the heritage watch. An overdose of virtual reality could easily spark a counter-revolution, thereby raising the value and prestige of the painstaking and highly tangible exercise in precision that is mechanical watchmaking.
From where we stand now, the swift rise and brutal fall of cryptocurrency and NFTs looks like nothing so much as a speculative bubble that has burst, and a series of scams uncovered, which will likely turn off the many watchmakers whose future growth relies heavily on their brand image. At the same time, the FOMO is strong and there’s no shortage of self-proclaimed “early adopters”. As always, it’s difficult to tell the difference between true potential and hype. “The crypto dream is not dead. We hope the delusions are,” investor Danny Rimer wrote recently in Fortune. We can only join him in this hope.
The reality is that these two worlds – virtual and “hard” luxury – feed each other through their very contradictions.