The luxury of innovation

On March 31, 2021, Swiss watch industry veteran Jean-Claude Biver and WISeKey CEO and founder Carlos Moreira made history. Again. They hosted the first Non Fungible Token (NFT) auction of a luxury watch. 

Rewind to Baselworld 2008 and readers may recall their presentation of anti-counterfeiting watch technology – a smartcard masterminded by WISeKey, the Swiss cybersecurity company. Biver (then CEO of Hublot) explained how the smartcard would provide assurance of authenticity to owners by incorporating a chip to hold an encrypted identification code specific to the watch. Owners could use their card to log on to a private website to access more detail about their new acquisition and interact with other Hublot clients.  

WISeKey was the first company on the planet to combine dual-factor authentication with blockchain technology to protect luxury watches. Since 2010, the company has collaborated with luxury watch manufacturers to integrate its technology on semiconductors – tags that enable the brands to store, validate and modify a digital certificate of authenticity as well as dematerialize and create a digital twin with corresponding NFT. The technology has received a patent in the US. 

Fast-forward to present day and the pair’s collaboration on the auction of a timepiece on the Open.Sea NFT MarketPlace, which already facilitates the sale of artworks. Biver chose the “Bigger Bang All Black Tourbillon Chrono ‘Special piece’” – his favourite watch and the first to have a digital life with certified ownership – for the occasion. The winning bid would secure its digital twin, the “authentic” double of the physical watch that was a reference for tourbillons and complicated watches during Biver’s time at Hublot. His favourite remains part of his personal collection.  

In a press statement, Moreira said he was delighted to join Biver again in demonstrating how technology can disrupt an entire sector such as the luxury watch industry. The NFT auction served to demonstrate the WISeKey technology and hopefully encourage luxury watch houses to use it to auction their high-end timepieces. 

Sector developments 

Secured by Arianee. Three little words that now bring more peace of mind to the modern watch owner or buyer. For luxury watchmakers aligning with sector developments in digital technology, affiliation with this company is a question of pride. Pride in their own product and pride in the service they deliver to esteemed clients who want the assurance that their timepiece is the real deal and traceable to them as verified owners.  

In 2018, Arianee revealed their solution to building “the first perpetual, anonymous and trusted record of all valuable assets in the world” and luxury watchmakers sat up and took notice. Many of the brands had long been victim to copycats who reproduced their precious creations, with varying degrees of skill, and sold them as genuine products.   

The luxury protocol, presented at Viva Technology 2019 in Paris, France, is designed to record all genuine products and objects of value – anonymously. Data protection is key. 

Backed by blockchain, these records hold a lifetime of product information and cannot be destroyed, forged or breached. Buyers of new timepieces can register their purchase in the Arianee app, an online repository with decentralized, independent verification. This way, a preowned watch specialist or the brand itself can verify the piece and certify its authenticity easily and smoothly. That is if it’s not already preregistered by the brand. 

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The certification never expires and is transferable as the watch changes hands, if and when it is sold. The protocol also facilitates brand-client communication. Owners are fully in control of their data, choosing what to share, when and with whom. Today, this is true luxury. 

Certification and traceability 

When it comes to developments in digital technology, the world’s oldest watch manufacture in continuous production is not content to simply keep up. Vacheron Constantin turned to Arianee’s blockchain technology platform to further enhance their client offering.  

Vacheron Constantin applied the technology first to its Les Collectionneurs collection in May 2019. The vintage watches are prized by heritage specialists and made available to connoisseurs at exclusive boutique events.  

Being able to prove authenticity makes the maison’s sought-after pieces easier to insure, validate ownership, and recover in the case of loss or theft. The technology allows the maison to add extra information to its certificate, such as the history of the timepiece, in addition to details on both the collection and the manufacture. It also helps perpetuate the connection between customers and maison, and allows them to track their products throughout their life cycle.  

Ulysse Nardin soon followed suit. The brand, along with Kering’s Innovation team, was keen to be among the pioneers to implement major technological innovations such as these for the benefit of their customers.  

Since November 2019, all their collections have been protected through blockchain. Every Ulysse Nardin owner of a watch purchased via their official reseller network receives a tamper-proof extended warranty certificate, generated and digitally signed by the brand. This is either emailed to the owner or sent to their Ulysse Nardin user account, further authenticating the origin and quality of purchase.  

Technological innovation 

Meanwhile, Genus, winners of the Mechanical Exception Prize at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2019 for the orbital hours and minutes complication housed in their GNS 1.2 WG Limited Edition piece, also joined forces with Arianee.  

Owners of a Genus masterpiece receive a digital passport with their prized possession. The blockchain technology allows Genus to free itself from paper-based authentication (which can be faked) for its timepieces and guarantees traceability of the piece throughout its life cycle, even if ownership changes. 

The protocol is able to record the specifics of each timepiece, which is even more vital for bespoke creations, the sale and/ or transmission to a new owner, the service book, and proof of ownership/ declaration of theft. The digital passport is accompanied by a photograph of the new acquisition with its unique serial numbers – not merely a catalogue photograph. This opens up a new channel of communication – permanent, secure and anonymous – between the brand and the owner of the timepiece. 

Product DNA’s respect-code is another pioneering methodology in product traceability. It’s been a key focus area for the company for more than 15 years. Based in Lausanne, Switzerland, the independent team believes in a transparent economy in which consumers are informed about the origin and journey of their purchasing goods. It’s where they found synergy with Le Rhöne.  

Established by childhood friends Loïc Florentin and Timo Rajakoski, Le Rhöne was among the first Swiss watchmakers to use blockchain technology in their traceability process. Le Rhöne haute horlogerie timepieces are 100% manufactured in Switzerland. And their artisans hail from the Swiss valleys that are renowned for showcasing the best in watchmaking craftsmanship. “Each part of your timepiece is now referenced and traced. We believe in full transparency and authenticity, for a unique customer experience,” they said in a press release. 

To that end, product DNA aims to use respect-code to make traceability universally accessible – and ideally a decision-making norm for responsible consumers. 

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