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Bringing a Heritage Brand into the Digital Age

Sean Kiernan, our CEO, sat down recently with Ali Walker, Chief Creative Officer at luxury and heritage brand Asprey Studio to discuss its interest in NFTs, its partnership with Bugatti and how Web 3.0 and metaverse evolution might benefit – and impact – the luxury brands market.


In business for an astonishing 242 years, jewellery and goods designer Asprey may well be the UK’s oldest ‘luxury brand’, with showcase offices (and bespoke jewellery manufacturing) based in London’s Mayfair. It is exciting to see how Asprey is embracing – and innovating in – the digital age, through partnerships and collaborations and specifically, with respect to leveraging the burgeoning NFT industry.


“The pandemic – and prolonged closures of our physical premises during lockdowns – presented the ideal opportunity to really focus on how we might reach a younger buying demographic. This resulted in the launch of our Asprey Studio, a separate department that was tasked with taking the Asprey ‘DNA’ and brand principles and gear it to a younger, Web 3.0 audience. It’s a long-term investment and commitment” – Ali Walker.


The first activity of the Studio was to look at the Asprey workshops (silverware, leather and jewellery) and the master craftsmen working within them – the DNA of the brand – and look to see how these activities might use digital technologies to streamline workflows around the development of small, unique collections. As part of this discovery process, Asprey identified Bugatti as a partner that shared many common brand and production characteristics.


The first output from this collaboration was a ‘limited edition’ NFT issue creating digital ownership of 261 unique sculptures. This was an instant sell out – with 120,000 people applying. The huge number of applications was whittled down using Web 3.0 technology to identify those holding sufficient funds in digital wallets, and further refined by getting remaining applicants to declare their interest in owning the NFT, with the specific aim of eliminating market speculators. Based on the success of this first launch, Asprey – in association with Bugatti – launched the Asprey Studio Club – a small, select group of 242 members – one for each year of its existence. Interestingly, the age group of these members ranges from 18 to 50, from young gamers to hedge fund and crypto entity owners. What they have in common is an interest in high fashion, big brand collections including watches, cars and home wear. (Interestingly, they are less interested in designer clothing brands like Gucci). Essentially, the Club represents a digital-first engagement, albeit with the ability to see physical goods in the new Asprey gallery. The gallery will also showcase unique works, aligned with the Asprey brand (and design aesthetic) and produced in collaboration with select artists.


“It is very much a generational thing. Younger people active in the digital gaming world have a greater understanding of digital wealth than almost anybody else. The gaming industry has built a community of people happy to spend thousands of pounds on and in games. Even before Web 3.0, the concept of owning digital assets was there.” – Ali Walker.


Ali notes that the only way to make a digital asset increase in value is if it is a one-off asset or in a small collection linked to a blockchain that can ‘assure’ that it is only one of a specific number in existence. For example, in the case of a collection of comic books, over the years many will have been discarded which means, logically, that the few that may remain in circulation will be worth a lot more money than their original purchase price. In a digital scenario, blockchain creates an immutable record of the number of items in a collection that can’t subsequently be altered (to reduce or increase the number in the collection to influence their value).


The metaverse – a watching brief

From Ali’s perspective the metaverse “is just a rebrand of what is already out there” in terms of Web 3.0 interaction, albeit built in siloes “on engines that have been around for yours but haven’t really taken off”. A truly universal Metaverse, however, will only be achieved when it is possible to enter into and between different metaverses without having to download a new type of world. The real challenge currently is that people – and young people in particular – aren’t very active in them; they may be playing computer games and spending lots of money but it’s not primarily in the metaverse space. While recognizing that a lot of digital-native and start up companies are seeking to establish a presence and ownership in this space, Asprey is taking a more cautious “watch and wait” approach to jumping straight in. This position may change, of course, down the line with a properly constructed digital universe where people can ‘port’ between metaverses, although even then Ali “doesn’t really see the point of a ‘second world’ that exactly mirrors the real world”.


Ali also accepts that there will likely come a point where IP and ownership of digital brands and artworks in the metaverse will create competition with real world assets – the Aspreys and Bugattis of the metaverse, if you will – but this is some way down the line.


In concluding a hugely interesting discussion, and on the potentially tricky question of IP, ownership and privacy protections in English law, Ali notes that Asprey filed multiple IP applications for its NFT issue, cognizant of the Madrid protocol on copyrights. He also observes that the whole industry is “pretty much led by the US” with respect to ownership and privacy regulation. As Greengage CEO Sean notes, however, “the UK Law Commission has done quite a bit in the space to encourage business based in English law and has published its final recommendations for reform (28 June) to ensure that UK law is ‘capable of accommodating both crypto-tokens and other digital assets in a way which allows the possibilities of this type of technology to flourish’.”


Regardless of where IP applications are made, it is typically an expensive business, and with respect to the artwork in its first Asprey Studio NFT release (generated largely on the Bugatti side in this instance), a key first step in the Asprey/Bugatti collaboration and partnership was agreement to share the IP between them.


To learn more, listen to our podcast series, The Gage Episode 18