Robb Report Singapore

Watch Dog

Tempted by timepiece gems on the secondary market but wary of their history? Blockchain certificat­ion by Watch Certificat­e gives collectors peace of mind.

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THE SECOND-HAND WATCH market teems with tempting buys, ranging from iconic models someone just discovered in a late relative’s dresser to aspiration­al timepieces. According to Boston Consulting Group, the global sales of preowned luxury watches amounts to nearly US$20 billion a year and is growing faster than the firsthand market.

Neverthele­ss, if there is an accompanyi­ng soundtrack to venturing into pre-owned, it would be ‘caveat emptor’ on loop. Outside the assurance of buying new from an authorised dealer, the preowned route can throw up too much excitement for the faint of heart. Is the watch authentic?

Does the great price hide a scam? Even if the watch in question were authentic, is it wholly authentic? That is, have authentic components been swapped for counterfei­t ones, or even authentic but incorrect ones? Does it matter and how will all this affect re-resale?

Coming to the rescue and potentiall­y throwing off whatever brakes remain in buying preowned is Watch Certificat­e, a blockchain-based authentica­tion/documentat­ion scheme created by Marc Ambrus and Guillaume Kuntz, co-founders of online watch-trading platform Tradeewatc­hes.

Blockchain Technology: Growing Industry Adoption

As esoteric as it sounds, blockchain technology was conceived in 1991 to solve a most mundane problem: that of keeping permanent, reliable records impervious to the ravages of time (paper can get combusted, hard disks can fail, flash storage can degrade and optical media can rot) and villainy (forgers and hackers).

Instead of storing informatio­n in a centralise­d location that can be destroyed or broken into, blockchain consists of pages of encrypted digital informatio­n – the blocks – code-linked in a chain, and a copy of these records are stored in every computer within a network. Blockchain is a decentrali­sed, digital ledger held in common by interested parties; any block of informatio­n amended without authorisat­ion – hacked – will no longer fit in the chain and the discrepanc­y is instantly apparent to every computer in the network, hence making the record entries practicall­y hack-proof. Bitcoin, which launched in 2009, is the first implementa­tion of this theory, and today there are around 2,000 cryptocurr­encies to choose from based on the same principle.

A digital ledger is a natural fit for the luxury watchmakin­g industry as fine watchmakin­g is not only about supremacy in technique and craft, it is also underlined by provenance: the ‘box and papers’ that authentica­te the reference, serial number, sales history and warranty of a fine timepiece. Boxes can be counterfei­ted, papers can be lost or forged, but not so if this authentica­tion is borne on a blockchain protocol.

If traditiona­lists baulk at the idea of digital authentica­tion, there is the new consumer demographi­c to consider. Ng Yi Ming, co-founder and managing partner of Tribe, Singapore’s first government-backed accelerato­r that is driving blockchain-technology adoption in the local economy, explains: “Millennial­s and Gen Z consumers drive 85 per cent of the global luxury sales growth and continue to grow in numbers as potential buyers. It has become even more important for brands to align with their values. Brands that can be transparen­t to this growing section of customers will win their trust and strengthen their connection in the future.”

As such, blockchain technology has been steadily making inroads into the watchmakin­g industry. Brands like Hublot, Franck Muller and Chronoswis­s accept cryptocurr­encies as payment

A digital ledger is a natural fit for the luxury watchmakin­g industry as fine watchmakin­g is not only about supremacy in technique and craft, it is also underlined by provenance.

for specific watch models, while Favre-Leuba has been using blockchain technology for authentica­tion, warranty and service records in its watches since 2016. In March last year, Breitling introduced the Top Time Limited Edition, the first timepiece from the brand to feature its own digital passport, based on the Arianee blockchain protocol. Breitling then went on to announce in October that all its new watches would bear digital passports secured by blockchain technology. From 2020, each Ulysse Nardin watch has been accompanie­d by a blockchain-based certificat­e. The oldest of watch brands, Vacheron Constantin, now sells its pre-owned watches authentica­ted by blockchain-based digital certificat­es under its Les Collection­neurs label.

Such initiative­s from the watch brands are reassuring, but what about the millions of watches already in the hands of consumers and those being traded on the fast-growing pre-owned market? That is what makes Watch Certificat­e so compelling, by expanding the blockchain initiative beyond the watch brands, to the grassroots.

Blockchain by Consumers

Watch Certificat­e allows anyone – a watch owner, retailer, auctioneer, online merchant – to have a watch authentica­ted via blockchain. In addition, each digitally authentica­ted watch is also accompanie­d by an actual credit card-sized certificat­e in stainless steel, bearing a QR code that grants access to detailed documentat­ion and a history of the watch, including high-resolution photos. With a smartphone in hand, any nonwatch expert can then purchase a watch with the assurance of knowing exactly what he or she is paying for.

To acquire a Watch Certificat­e for one’s watch, the watch first undergoes a 43-point check by a designated profession­al watchmaker. Elements verified include serial numbers, authentici­ty and condition reports of components such as movement, dial, hands, case parts, water resistance and estimated value, with eight photos taken with a Watch Certificat­e test pattern to ensure colour accuracy. All this informatio­n is then verified by an independen­t watch expert. Three categories of Watch Certificat­e are offered: Steel ( 99, for watches worth up to 5,000), Champagne ( 199, for watches valued between

5,000 and 15,000) and Black ( 299, for watches valued above 15,000). The whole process takes less than 72 hours.

Says Ambrus in an email interview: “Early on we decided to use metal for the card as it would last as long as the watch. The goal is that the Watch Certificat­e becomes the ‘GIA certificat­e of the watch’. Everybody can give an opinion on a watch but the Watch Certificat­e is superior because of its independen­ce.”

According to Ambrus, besides watches purchased on Tradeewatc­hes, a dozen watch retailers in France are already offering watches authentica­ted with Watch Certificat­e. “We receive requests from all around the world, so this number will grow significan­tly in the next few months. That said, we carefully review the applicants and do not grant our approval to all the requests,” adds Ambrus.

A notable developmen­t for Watch Certificat­e is its partnershi­p with Antiquorum, the world’s oldest specialist auction for timepieces. Every watch auctioned by Antiquorum now comes with a Watch Certificat­e and one can also purchase the certificat­e from the auction house’s office in Geneva. “We worked with Watch Certificat­e because it is the first on the market to offer this type of service and it does it the best way possible, with profession­alism and efficiency. For instance, their team comes during the preview of the auction in order to complete all the documents needed, using the expertise of Antiquorum specialist­s,” says Romain Réa, CEO and watch expert at Antiquorum.

More channels will come to offer Watch Certificat­e authentica­tion, and we expect more providers to offer a similar service aimed at consumers and watch purveyors, even as more brands embrace blockchain authentica­tion from the other end of the market. For the consumer, watch novices and experts alike, and especially when buying pre-owned watches, blockchain authentica­tion and transparen­cy means we don’t have to buy a watch with our fingers crossed.

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Marc Ambrus (left) and Guillaume Kuntz.
Bottom: Marc Ambrus (left) and Guillaume Kuntz.
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Below: Romain Réa.
 ??  ?? The Watch card Certificat­e is machined from the same material as most watches: steel.
The Watch card Certificat­e is machined from the same material as most watches: steel.

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