French blockchain companies offer traceability for Swiss watches


Buying a second hand luxury watch online is becoming more and more popular. Andrew Poplavsky

The second-hand luxury watch market is booming. But it is not easy for the average consumer to distinguish a fake from an authentic item and determine the true value of a particular timepiece. Certificates based on blockchain technology could provide more transparency.

This content was published on November 24, 2020 – 11:00 am

Watch fans who want to get Rolex’s new dive watch better be patient. The official retailers of the famous brand with the crown logo always give the same answer: launched this fall, the latest version of the iconic timepiece will not be available in stores yet in a few years.

There is already a long waiting list and shortages are handled with care, according to the golden rule of luxury marketing: rarity increases palatability. Patek Philippe’s Nautilus model certainly holds the record for the most sought-after watch ever: aspiring customers have to wait 11 years in the hope of one day getting their hands on this holy grail of the watchmaker’s craft.

As a result, the price of these collectibles is skyrocketing on the second-hand luxury watch market, which is currently quite hot. According to a recent study by Boston Consulting Group, the world market for second-hand watches is currently worth 16 billion francs (17.5 billion dollars) and is expected to enjoy an average annual growth of 8% between now and 2025. By comparison , total sales of new watches are estimated at 50 billion francs per year.

Security needs on the web

The study shows that most watch enthusiasts are open to buying a second-hand luxury product. However, they also have “clear expectations regarding the safety, convenience and service of purchases”. As there is a gray market where counterfeits and misrepresentations abound, traceability is becoming a key feature in brand strategy.

A solution could come from blockchain technology for decentralized storage and transmission of information, which has been in vogue in recent years. “Blockchain means you can issue a unique digital certificate, which cannot be forged or duplicated, and is ultra secure for every watch. It is the ultimate solution in the fight against fakes,” says GoodsID co-founder Loys de La Soudière.

Loys de La Soudière, founder of GoodsID. Lavieille Philippe / the Parisian / Lavieille Philippe

Over the past three years, this French start-up has been developing blockchain-based certificates of authenticity for the luxury industry. In 2018, GoodsID was able to secure € 1 million investment funds from the private sector and the French Public Investment Bank (BPI) to carry out this development work.

Swiss watchmakers are a priority market for GoodsID. The start-up has recently opened an office in Biel / Bienne, the watchmaking center of the canton of Bern, to get closer to the main Swiss companies in the sector. “We are conducting advanced negotiations with two major brands and we hope they will decide to adopt our solution in the coming months,” says La Soudière.

Digital revolution

The rise in popularity of online shopping, which has only been boosted by the coronavirus situation, is rapidly changing the way of thinking in the watch industry, which has a reputation for being conservative and not very open to the “digital revolution”.

Breitling announced in mid-October that it will issue an encrypted passport for each of its new watches, making the paper certificate of authenticity used up to now obsolete.

This watch brand, specializing in aviator’s watches, has decided to partner with Arianee, a French non-profit consortium that aims to establish an independent world standard for digital certification of high-priced goods.

Vacheron Constantin’s “Les Collectionneurs” watches have been digitally certified using blockchain technology since May 2019. Keystone

Advantages of the blockchain

In addition to ensuring security and traceability, digital certificates using blockchain technology allow watch brands to adopt a targeted marketing approach in a very precise way. “When a sale takes place on the second-hand market, the watchmaker who originally made the product can notify the new buyer with maintenance tips or suggesting that they explore the world of the brand at one of its stores. So he can use the product as a communication tool, ”says La Soudière.

With one click, the new owner of the watch can certify the ownership and authenticity of the item, maximizing its value on the second-hand market. Finally, the digital certificate simplifies warranty claims, and can also be considered a kind of theft insurance.

All of these benefits are prompting industry experts to say that blockchain technology could become routine in Swiss watchmaking. “Swiss manufacturers are beginning to realize that it is in their best interest to be able to identify their products using modern technology. It’s a positive development, “says Michel Arnoux, who heads the anti-counterfeiting department of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

The fakes keep coming

Several companies active in the field of digital certification have courted the Federation in the hope that their solution could be adopted as a standard for the entire Swiss industry. “At the moment, this is a problem for every single watch brand,” however, Arnoux points out. “There is no legal mechanism under which a single standard could be imposed.”

Not all hope should be pinned on blockchain technology either, adds Arnoux. “The certification of authentic products is intended to reassure the customer. To think that this technology can put an end to counterfeiting is an illusion, ”he says. Most people who buy fake Swiss watches are quite aware of what they are doing and have no interest in certification.

The counterfeiting market continues to grow, in stark contrast to the unprecedented collapse of the Swiss watch industry. Seizures of fake watches by Swiss customs have already increased by 25% this year, and at the moment almost double the number of fake watches sold worldwide compared to real ones, the Federation says.

Arnoux sums it up: “With all the blocks in different countries, consumers have had plenty of time to browse the Internet for fakes that cost far less than genuine Swiss watches, which are often out of reach for the average buyer.”

Translated from the French by Terence MacNamee

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