What you are looking at is the result of the latest marketing and product experiment from Swiss watchmaker Hublot. Never satisfied with only producing ballsy watches, the luxury timepiece maker also likes to flirt with novel ways to tell its brand story. As the fourth collaboration between Hublot and the renowned Japanese artist and fashion icon Takashi Muramaki, the duo creates a series of new physical pièce unique wristwatches along with corresponding digital NFTs. More so, on top of 12 one-of-a-kind watches that a pool of fewer than 350 people is eligible to buy, the pictured Hublot Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami Black Ceramic Rainbow watch is available to only one person who (within a limited timeframe) completes a great question. First, read our original story about this current 2023 Hublot x Muramaki NFT project.
If all of this sounds like a very expensive way of playing a video game, it sort of is. Japan is an expert when it comes to combining game-playing, collecting, and consumerism. Anymore from Japan or familiar with its culture can tell you all the ways in which Japanese products and entertainment try to gamify the experience of being a consumer. One of the most popular examples is Pokemon, which started as a collectible card game that incentivized fans to spend more money in order to beat more enemies. Takashi Murakami, known for his celebration of traditional Japanese culture mixed with modern trends, was fascinated by how his interest in collecting intersected with the still-novel world of trading unique digital assets (we are talking about NFTs). Murakami personally saw how using trading platforms like OpeaSea allowed consumers to engage in compulsive and competitive behavior, similar to how some gamers might compete with one another in large-scale multi-user video games. The intersection with luxury and art was obvious for NFTs, which might not be ready for the mainstream but still enjoys a lot of enthusiasm in niche groups. It is this group that Hublot and Murakami are targeting with their latest artistic timepiece collaboration. The entire launch of these Classic Fusion Murakami Black Ceramic watches is not to sell the watches — as most people cannot even buy them. Rather, it is to showcase, yet again, how Hublot is making a product and experience for a particular community of consumers. Doing this helps Hublot meaningfully connect with a variety of people out there; a practice that, over time, allows a brand to form very deep relationships with a diverse group of people.
The first Hublot Classic Fusion Murakami watch came out in 2021 and was an all-black version of the watch pictured here. It featured a 45mm-wide black ceramic Classic Fusion case and employed a new dial with a spinning flower shaped like those made popular by Takashi Murakami. A year later, in 2022, Hublot released both a sapphire crystal-cased version of that watch with a rainbow gem-set spinning flower and a set of 324 NFTs. Those NFTs were 8-bit style graphics of the Hublot x Murakami watches. An interesting point is that Hublot freely gave those NFTs to people who purchased the existing Murakami watches, along with other VIP collectors.
In 2023, the story gets more layered and complex. Takashi Murakami has introduced the competitive gaming element of the story. In March 2023, at Watches & Wonders, Hublot will unveil 12 unique new Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami Black Ceramic watches. They are not confirmed yet, but I believe that they will each have gem-set flowers with stones of one color (i.e., one watch per color). Only this 13th version (which debuted in early February 2023 in New York City) will have the rainbow effect on the spinning flower dial. Note that for photography purposes, this particular watch has a “blocked” flower that wasn’t spinning.
To purchase one of the 12 upcoming pièce unique Classic Fusion Murakami watches, you first need to own one of the 324 original Hublot x Murakami NFT graphics. If you don’t have one, you can ostensibly trade for one on the OpenSea platform. To purchase the Black Ceramic Rainbow version pictures in this article, you will need to somehow own all 12 of those NFTs. How is this possible? First, the NFT that comes with the watch isn’t tied to it. It just comes as part of the purchase. Thus, you can trade away the NFT while keeping the physical watch. Second, the OpeaSea allows you to contact the owner of an NFT to ask them about acquiring it. The whole point of NFTs is to be something unique that is easy to transfer. Accordingly, the platform wants to facilitate this and actively allows people to do business with people who own digital assets they may want. In other words, the identity of the owners of the 12 upcoming NFTs is not a secret, and you can reach out to them to negotiate for their digital assets. Whether or not they will want to trade with you entirely depends on them and what you offer. The point is that the platform makes it relatively easy to find the owners of the 12 NFTs and gives one person the chance to negotiate for all of them. If one person can collect all 12 NFTs in a one-year period, then the possibility to purchase this 13th watch becomes available. Mind you that each of the watches costs more than $50,000, and the owners who hold the NFTs probably won’t want to let go of them easily (even if they keep the actual watches).
I have no idea how likely it is that one person will somehow be able to get all of the 12 NFTs in a year’s time. They would have to be very well-funded, very good at negotiating, very patient, and very diligent. It almost sounds like a challenge from the book Ready Player One. If no one gets all the NFTs and decides to also purchase this 13th watch with its rainbow charms, then the timepiece will be auctioned off for charity (and possibly attainable at a price below what it would cost to also acquire 12 NFTs). It is anyone’s guess at this point what will happen a year after the 12 2023 Hublot x Murakami watches are sold, but I, for one, really want to find out.
The Hublot Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami Black Ceramic watches themselves are interesting. Technically, they are the same as the other models with the same case shape, movement, and dial. What is new here is really the combination of colors and materials. Now a black ceramic watch is combined with a colorful dial. The dial is really the most interesting part of the watch, as it requires engineering effort. The spinning flower moves very elegantly like an automatic rotor and is mounted on ball bearings. It sits right above the hour and minute hands. To create a sense of depth, the watch has an applied “face” section for the flower. Like the spinning petals, it is decorated with stones. In total, the watch face has 384 individually set stones.
The 45mm-wide case is water resistant to 50 meters and is 13.45mm-thick. It actually doesn’t feel that thick, but we are talking about a wider watch here. The Classic Fusion style makes it less wild than many Hublot timepieces, so this really is a mix of flair and being understated (but by Hublot standards). What I continue to find interesting is that Murakami probably wanted to make sure the watch had an in-house movement, so Hublot used its UNICO caliber movement — but for a three-hand watch. The UNICO is normally a chronograph movement, but here, all the other complications have been taken out. Of course, you still get the 4Hz operational frequency and three days of power reserve. You can see the UNICO movement through the case rear’s sapphire crystal window. Attached to the watch is a black rubber strap on a matching black deployant clasp.
I am cognizant that, while many people can appreciate the fun Murakami flower design on the dial, the entire NFT concept and positioning of this watch are confusing to many traditional timepiece collectors. Rather than try to make too much sense of it as a consumer, I see this as a story about marketing experimentation and how a generalist luxury watch brand like Hublot is able to rather skillfully work with disparate niche interest groups and sell each of them brand products. That’s not something most of today’s luxury watch brands can claim. Not taking into consideration the actual and time costs of owning the various NFTs you might need to purchase the watches, each of the Hublot Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami Black Ceramic piece unique watches has a retail price of 50,000 Swiss Francs, including the pictured reference 507.CX.9099.RX.TAK23 Rainbow version. Learn more at the Hublot website.