This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on August 22, 2022 - August 28, 2022
Wayne Lau was born into a family of jewellers from Taiping. The family business was started by his grandmother, Madam Go, in 1965. Tai Hee Jade and Jewellery specialised in sourcing jadeite and other precious gemstones and Go soon developed it into a wholesale business.
Through generations, the family continued to venture into various aspects of the jewellery supply chain, including distribution and catering to the ultra-high-net-worth market.
Wanting to continue the family’s legacy, Lau and his wife Emily Tan started their own boutique jewellery brand, Vana Fine Jewellery (VFJ), in 2016.
“We have always emphasised protecting our heritage by living up to what our ancestors did. However, we wanted to continue the lineage in our own way,” says Lau.
Earlier this year, he launched demi-fine jewellery range, Lineage by Vana Fine, dedicated to meeting the demands of the luxury jewellery market, and their first jewellery non-fungible token (NFT) collection, Verdana.
Setting it apart from existing pieces, VFJ worked with Meta Universe Solutions Sdn Bhd — which offers Web3 solutions to businesses that want to expand into the virtual world — to create pendant designs for each birth month that are then sold as NFTs.
Each pendant is decorated with a birthstone, along with other elements such as gold and silver. The Verdana designs are not released in order and will be launched in two phases. The first six designs are currently available from OpenSea.
Unique, indivisible, transferable and capable of proving their scarcity — these are the main characteristics of an NFT that enable it to represent the real world, including luxury items like jewellery.
Lau, who has an intrinsic interest in digital assets such as cryptocurrencies, felt that NFTs and the metaverse would be the best medium to diversify VFJ’s business.
NFTs are more efficient and reduce the likelihood of fraud due to the transparency of information in the blockchain, he says.
“We aspire to be the pioneer in the metaverse landscape, especially in the jewellery NFT [market] in the region, if possible. We want to share our craft with more people.
“Instead of following our predecessors’ footsteps, we want to break boundaries. We are looking to have our precious and semi-precious designs on a new platform,” says Lau.
VFJ’s foray into the digital space focuses on curiosity and scarcity.
“We want to create curiosity for the new market, and also scarcity as we only have 1,200 pieces — 100 pieces for each of the 12 months — of this specific design [Verdana],” says Lau.
Jewellery NFTs have been making waves since 2021. Jacques Voorhees, CEO of Icecap — a blockchain-based diamond NFT marketplace — told Vogue Business that he believes that diamond NFTs will able to solve the issue of diamonds losing value as they are not a tradeable, hard liquid asset, unlike gold or silver.
However, French luxury goods conglomerate Cartier expressed scepticism about the NFT market in the same report.
In March this year, L’Dezen by Payal Shah paved the way for jewellery NFTs by becoming the first fine jewellery company to launch diamond earrings that are available in the phygital — a portmanteau of physical and digital — world. The NFT owners will get to feature the diamond earrings on their profile picture NFTs and redeem the physical version after their e-wallets have been verified by L’Dezen.
To pull off the feat locally, VFJ decided to partner with Meta Universe to guide them through the new market.
“Linking up with Meta Universe allowed us to focus on our creativity. My wife and I are creatives, and they [Meta Universe] told us what we need to deliver,” shares Lau.
Meta Universe assisted VFJ by helping the latter mint the designs and in setting up their OpenSea and crypto wallet accounts.
Meta Universe is involved in client servicing in the virtual world as well. It even created a Discord community to connect VFJ with people who share a common interest in jewellery and those responsible for revenue collection by converting cryptocurrencies into fiat currencies via regulated digital exchange platforms such as Luno, Tokenize Xchange, SINEGY and MX Global.
Hoping to change the perception that NFTs are merely digital collectibles for people who have a fear of missing out (FOMO), VFJ wants to provide deeper and significant meaning to its NFT holders.
To achieve that, all NFT holders have ownership of the jewellery design of their choice, says Lau.
“Buying an NFT [of a jewellery design] bestows the right [to use the design]. You also have an option to turn it into tangible jewellery; one can contact us if one wants to do so.”
The owner of the jewellery NFT who wishes to convert it into a tangible form has the privilege of customising the existing design further, from altering the size of the pendant to adding more or fewer details, making the piece uniquely his or hers. NFT owners are also entitled to enjoy VFJ’s future members-only initiatives.
“The NFT is like a ticket. You can even use it in terms of entering our private events and programmes that we plan to curate in the future.
“These private events can have educational portals, such as webinars to guide the market space,” adds Lau.
Like everything in cyberspace, NFT marketplaces and metaverses are also prone to attack. To ensure the property of their customers is protected, VFJ and Meta Universe have undertaken extensive measures for safe trading and to protect the community.
Although merchants like VFJ are not able to access customer data, they still have access in terms of verification and due diligence surrounding the ecosystem.
The jeweller strictly uses reliable apps and websites to track addresses and smart contracts tied to each NFT in the blockchain. For instance, VFJ mints its NFTs on OpenSea and checks addresses through the MetaMask wallet. It also communicates with its NFT community through official community channels such as WhatsApp and Discord.
Lau adds that VFJ uses polygon chain as a form of minting, which is proven to be a trusted blockchain solution.
“Actually, yes and no,” answers Lau. “I’d say that it really comes down to the brand strategy, what the business is actually aiming for.”
Lau believes that the NFT industry is more practical for creatives such as themselves, as a way to access a larger global network.
“At the end of the day, we believe that education and awareness are key. We build curiosity first [and] let the brands see whether this is a suitable space. Perhaps they can also work with teams like Meta Universe [to expand their business into the digital space],” he suggests.
For local brands that are interested in embracing the digital space, Lau advises them to collaborate with experienced partners and to study the virtual landscape.
On VFJ’s part, once all 1,200 pieces are sold, it plans to celebrate the milestone by organising a contest for NFT holders. All NFT holders will stand a chance to win tangible jewellery of their existing NFT design, or a super rare jewellery NFT.
VFJ will also be partnering with Meta Universe to set up a virtual gallery in the metaverse for both NFT holders and the public to visit. The jeweller aspires to venture into gamification by making its jewellery NFTs wearable by metaverse avatars or creating specific thematic designs for games such as Fortnite. There are some individual NFT pieces that can be turned into GIFs.
Not limiting the NFT designs to Lineage by Vana Fine, VFJ is looking into creating redeemable NFTs across all brands to reach a larger market space while making its designs more accessible to the digital masses.
“We will see how we can actually expand our design and also our business, on top of connecting it with the ownership of tangible jewellery,” says Lau.
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