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