Probably the most important question about a watch is its provenance. Where did it come from, and can you prove that it came from where you say it did? For centuries, this has meant having a watch’s “box and papers” to sell alongside the timepiece itself. These box and papers are thought to provide proof that the watch is legitimate, and that the buyer can proceed with confidence.
In reality, there’s not a full-proof way to be sure that the box and papers being offered alongside the watch are legit. These papers can be forged, faked, or tampered with, and with the money to be made in vintage watches, the motivation certainly exists.
Vacheron Constantin is hoping to use blockchain technology to chain that. A blockchain, by design, is an open, distributed ledger that can record a transaction between two parties in a verifiable and permanent way.
Vacheron is launching the pilot project with its high-end Les Collectionneurs timepieces, but if successful, will expand from there. Additionally, Vacheron is owned by Richemont, and the luxury conglomerate views this as a pilot for all its watch maisons; if successful, Richemont hopes to roll it out to its other brands.
“Blockchain certification has the potential to replace paper authentication, which can easily be forged. This new technology makes it possible to create a forgery-proof digital certificate of authenticity, which follows the watch throughout its life, even if that involves several changes of owner. A unique number is assigned to a unique object, making the two inseparable and securing data relating to the property, value, nature and authenticity of the timepiece,” Vacheron Constantin explained when unveiling the technology.
So the idea is this: alongside a paper certificate, a purchaser of a new Vacheron Constantin timepiece will also be issued a digital certificate, guaranteeing the watch’s authenticity. Only Vacheron will be able to issue a new digital certificate. Additionally, Vacheron will offer a mobile app that will enable the digital certificate to be updated when the watch is re-sold or serviced. The digital certificate will record important information about the watch, including the case number and movement number.
Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a mechanical watch company experimenting with blockchain technology to record transactions: Favre-Leuba says it now does the same for sales of its watches. Tracking high-value sales like this has long been thought to be one of the potential “killer apps” of blockchain technology, so it will be interesting if it actually proves to have value for Vacheron.
Or, it might be an attempt by a brand that has struggled to keep up with its fellow brands that make up the “holy trinity” of Swiss watchmakers (the other two being Patek Phillipe and Audemars Piguet) to throw buzzwords at a problem in hopes of making a splash. I won’t begrudge them for this though; Vacheron (and other companies) know this is a problem, and implementing new technologies is the only way to actually solve it. If done right, and in an open, public manner, it can facilitate the sale and re-sale of its watches, making the pre-owned and vintage market more transparent. That’s a win for everyone.