I t is fitting that Ressence should be the first watchmaker to offer a non-fungible token, or NFT, at a Sotheby’s auction. Founded in 2010 by Belgian industrial designer Benoît Mintiens whose portfolio ranged from the interiors of aircraft and highspeed trains to medical devices to hunting rifles, Ressence quickly earned a reputation as an avant-garde innovator working within the centuries-old Swiss mechanical watchmaking industry. Its latest model, the limited-edition SPYMASTER, is set to go under the hammer at the Important Watches sale (23 April, Hong Kong) to raise money for a charitable foundation.
What sets Mintiens’s watches apart is the patented Ressence Orbital Convex System, where separate sub-dials for seconds, minutes, hours, and days orbit each other, suggesting planetary movement. The result is a watch face in constant motion, a reminder of our place in a heliocentric system. Though it is a niche player—the company makes around 500-600 watches a year in Switzerland, it has gained a strong following among serious collectors.
The SPYMASTER Series
The SPYMASTER, numbered 008 out of 21, will be the first of the limited edition to go on sale. The watches were jointly created with SPYSCAPE, "a museum and experience brand in New York which aims to use stories, products and experiences based around secrets to inspire people to connect with their inner superhero." Based on Ressence’s popular Type 1 Slim model, the SPYMASTER comes with two watch straps, and a Grade 5 titanium case, which is particularly scratch resistant and can be polished. The face is a matte gray and the dials black, lending the timepieces a stealthy look. Indeed, Ressence watches are the antithesis of bling. To paraphrase Mintiens, these watches aren’t worn to confer status, they are for people who already have it.
First-Ever Series of NFT-Certified Watches
Each watch comes with a unique NFT record on the blockchain that captures a moment in the creation of each timepiece in a video, which runs on an infinite loop*, providing an immutable record of provenance.
In the same month, Sotheby’s will be teaming up with Pak, an anonymous creator at the forefront of digital art and crypto media, for a different NFT auction. By offering an unlimited number of NFT digital cubes during a limited time period (the online sale runs from 12-14 April) Pak explores the notions of scarcity and value by turning the concept of digital NFTs on its head, selling each unique NFT for a fixed price of US$500.
While NFTs have been grabbing headlines for the eye-popping sums being paid for virtual assets such as the US$2.9 million paid for Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s first tweet, or the US$612,333 (the value of 300 Ethereum coins on 20 February when it was sold) winning bid for a digital animation of Nyan Cat uploaded in 2011, tokens are also beginning to be employed in the market for physical goods as blockchain technology continues to gain wider acceptance.
The concept is simple. For example, when a watch or a painting is registered on Ethereum’s platform for the first time, for a fee as low as US$500, that forms the first “block” in the chain. A unique crypto ID is generated each time an NFT object changes hands, information available in a “public wallet” which guarantees authenticity. A private wallet, accessible only to the buyer and seller, ensures that ownership remains anonymous.
NFTs could potentially play a big role in the market for high-end luxuries and collectibles as both provenance and authenticity are ensured on an indelible ledger saved in the blockchain. Sam Hines, Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Watches says NFTs could be an important feature in the fine watch market going forward. He notes that traditional certificates of origin that come with timepieces can be lost, damaged, or even forged, while an NFT makes these problems a thing of the past. Currently, watches with authentic physical certificates sell at premiums of 20% and 30%, and he sees watches accompanied NFTs commanding higher prices.
Auction to Benefit Make-A-Wish UK
The proceeds of the sale will be donated to the UK chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Founded in 1980 by a former Arizona highway patrolman, it provides life-changing gifts from laptops to bedside visits from sports stars and celebrities to children with debilitating and critical illnesses. It now operates in close to 50 countries.
This is not Sotheby’s first philanthropic partnership with Ressence. Last year the two teamed up to raise funds for COVID-19 relief by soliciting designs from the public. The winning design of the one-of-a-kind watch was chosen from hundreds of submissions for its visually arresting colours – Mintiens nicknamed it the Mondrian watch. The primary colours also symbolise the battle against the pandemic: blue for the heroic medical staff and other frontline workers; red for human interaction and the importance of handwashing in preventing the spread of the disease; and bright yellow at the center of the hour sub-dial to recall the sun at the center of our solar system, underscoring the watch’s orbital concept. The watch sold for HK$375,000 to an online bidder, more than twice the retail price of the Ressence Type 1 Slim on which it is based.
Hines is hopeful the auction of the SPYMASTER, which is also based on the Type 1 Slim platform, will be equally successful. While charity sales normally earn high hammer prices, the NFT factor might also buoy the bidding. “I expect people will be willing to pay a premium to own the first watch offered at auction with an NFT,” says Hines. “People will be drawn by the novelty.”
* This story has been updated to correct the description of the NFT Video, and it now accurately reports that the video runs on an infinite loop.