Imagine if you could pick up your phone, open an app, take a photo and see all the details of a watch’s identity, provenance, history and ownership. As simple as that. As a means of authenticating watches, the digital revolution could well be on its way to toppling the counterfeit economy that undermines brands’ image as well as their bottom line: it’s currently estimated that 40 million fake watches are manufactured each year compared with 20.6 million genuine Swiss watches, resulting in an estimated loss of $224 million on the primary market.
Taking up arms in the fight against fakes is Origyn. Based in Switzerland, this non-profit foundation has developed a digital certification tool that uses a combination of decentralised technologies, artificial intelligence and machine learning. “It’s always surprised me when luxury groups talk about blockchain as the ultimate weapon against fakes,” says Vincent Perriard, one of Origyn’s three co-founders. “Blockchain is part of the solution but is missing the essential link that connects the product to an infallible proof of its identity. Currently, the watch has to come with a separate physical document or certificate that proves it is authentic. With Origyn, the watch is its own identity. Its biometrics are its built-in certificate of authenticity.”
Shazam for watches
A kind of Shazam for watches, the technology Origyn has developed rapidly identifies and authenticates a watch from a photo by analysing a multitude of reference points captured from images and/or sounds made by the movement. “If you examine a solid product enlarged a million times under a microscope, you get to see the infinitely small,” says Vincent Perriard. “It’s exactly the same with Origyn. We can individually and precisely photograph all the components of a watch, from its hands to the screws or the rotor or the barrel. It’s mindboggling. Like our own DNA, a watch contains elements that make it totally unique.”
For this new technology to go mainstream, brands first have to get onboard. “For the project to work, brands have to get behind it from the start by generating ‘digital twins’ of their luxury products at the production stage,” explains Vincent Perriard, adding that these ‘twins’ will be tamperproof and impossible to counterfeit. So what’s the advantage? “The technology underlying Origyn is built on the Internet Computer, an open and decentralised protocol. Thanks to this, we can maintain a revolutionary and accommodating governance system. Brands remain fully independent within this system. Each retains its own brand identity while helping to govern this future industry-wide standard. The challenge now is to convince brands we have developed a reliable solution and a valid economic model.”
People who buy a luxury watch want to know they will be able to sell it on at a later date.
A boost for vintage?
The Swiss foundation’s solution would provide end customers with a guaranteed means of distinguishing genuine from fake. “Having a tamperproof certificate of authenticity is a decisive factor,” says Vincent Perriard, “especially given the phenomenal growth these past five years of the market for certified pre-owned watches, which is now worth between CHF 25 and 30 billion. Increasingly, people who buy a luxury watch want to know they will be able to sell it on at a later date. Our protocol will link each new watch to its owner and, should it be lost or stolen, record that information. It will also make it easier to transfer ownership and liaise with insurers. Customers who own a luxury watch from a previous generation, that hasn’t been registered, can contact a boutique, an authorised retailer or the brand itself and have a ‘digital twin’ generated.” Provided brands support the project, this range of services will be available as an app from summer 2021.