Watchmakers have finally cottoned onto the value of the pre-owned watch market in recent years. They reacted in different ways—independently-owned brands such as Audemars Piguet and MB&F chose to start their own refurbishment and resale programmes, while Richemont Group purchased Watchfinder, a UK-based online retailer for pre-owned timepieces. The rise of resale, has, however, brought the concern over the authenticity of watches into sharper focus—counterfeit watches have always posed a problem on the resale market, after all. Fortunately for the industry, however, blockchain technology exists, enabling brands to tighten the authentication process.
What is Blockchain?
Blockchain, for those unfamiliar the concept, is what is called distributed ledger technology. Essentially, it is an incorruptible record of all transactions made using the technology. Whenever a transaction is made on the blockchain, it creates a timestamped piece of data (i.e. a block) on every single record of the products and currency involved in the transaction. That block is bound and secured to the previous and next block using cryptographic principles, thus forming the chain. The nature of the technology means that that record is present on each of the millions of computers in the blockchain network. And because each record notes each transaction independently, it would be almost impossible to falsify any one transaction—and even if you did manage to falsify a transaction on all of those millions of computers, there would be a record of the falsification, as transactions cannot be erased. Those concerned over privacy should rest assured, however—the blockchain functions anonymously and accounts are only identified using numbers.
So how would this aid in certifying that a watch is genuine?
Well, an authentic blockchain-certified watch would presumably be able to trace its ownership history all the way back to the original retailer—Vacheron Constantin, in this case. According to the brand, a unique ID number will be assigned to each blockchain-certified timepiece, making the watch and its certification inseparable and guaranteeing their authenticity.
Vacheron Constantin has chosen to pilot this programme with its Les Collectionneurs collection, which comprises a selection of 20th century vintage watches hunted down by the maison’s own heritage specialists. The watches are only made available to connoisseurs at dedicated Vacheron Constantin events. When a timepiece from the collection is purchased, this new digital certification will be deployed together with the usual physical print certificate. And whenever those timepieces change hands again, the entire blockchain network will know.
The Arianee Update
To operate its new blockchain certification, Vacheron Constantin has chosen to partner with Arianee, a new French startup consortium that aims to “build a global standard for the digital certification of valuable objects.” Its Arianee protocol is open-source and uses blockchain and cryptographic technology to give each valuable object (such as a Vacheron Constantin watch) its own secured, unforgeable, and transferable digital identity. Each certified watch is linked anonymously to its current owner and to Vacheron Constantin, and the owner of the watch is able to insure the watch, declare it lost or stolen, and share or prove their ownership.
Angela Au-Yeung, Chief Digital Officer Vacheron Constantin, explains: “This certification creates bridges and interactions between customers, their watches and our Maison. By securing via Blockchain, we can now track our products throughout their life cycle and communicate with their owners without asking them to compromise their anonymity.”
Vacheron Constantin is the first among all of Richemont Group’s brands to debut the programme, but it certainly will not be the last. We’re particularly interested in how the group will roll out the programme to its Watchfinder timepieces—if they ever do so, that is. Including the blockchain certification would inextricably connect Watchfinder’s pre-owned timepieces to the brands that created them, and create even greater certainty over their authenticity. And that could truly be game-changing for the entire second-hand watch market.