Counterfeiting has grown into one of watchmakers’ greatest concerns over recent years, and their worries are not yet over as the number of fakes has increased as quickly as purchasing power has fallen in these credit-crunch times (see Focus). “Counterfeiting has become a daily reality for watchmakers,” Jean-Marc Jacot, CEO of Parmigiani Fleurier, recently commented. “With timepieces now occupying every segment of the market, consumers don’t buy watches in the same way. Brand names have a much greater influence on their purchases, hence the proliferation of fakes. We Swiss are not entirely without blame either. By sourcing parts from Chinese suppliers who use machines we provided and were trained by our engineers, we have contributed to a transfer of knowledge that has now come home to roost.”
A random pattern of bubbles
While Parmigiani is far from ranking among the most counterfeited brands, with annual production of around 5,000 units and half its revenues generated by watches retailing at more than CHF 100,000, the manufacture is no less determined to fight back. “Customers are more and more demanding. They want authentic products. Most importantly, they want the means to authenticate the timepieces that catch their eye,” Jean-Marc Jacot continued. With these demands in mind, Parmigiani set out in search of a secure certification system for its watches, not just to combat counterfeiting but also to forge a more personal bond with its customers. The French company Prooftag and its Bubble TagTM technology met these specifications spot-on.
Put simply, a product with Bubble Tag™ security is easily distinguished from a fake.
Franck Bourrieres, Prooftag’s managing director, explains how the system works: “A physical reaction causes bubbles to randomly form inside a translucent polymer. This three-dimensional pattern of air bubbles is the key to authenticating the product it certifies. The size of a coin, this pattern varies indefinitely, meaning each code is unique and impossible to reproduce, exactly like a fingerprint. With 1080 possible combinations, the chances of generating the same pattern twice are virtually inexistent. Put simply, a product with Bubble Tag™ security is easily distinguished from a fake.”
Prooftag has adapted its system for Parmigiani as a warranty card in standard credit-card format. It specifies the watch’s reference number and the Bubble Tag™ number. These are visible through a transparent window for visual authentication. “Verification is a simple two-stage process using an Internet connection from a PC or a mobile phone,” Parmigiani explains. “No special equipment is required. The watch’s owner connects to the warranty card pages on the Parmigiani website and enters the Bubble Tag™ number. This opens a personal web page for that model which displays an image of the Bubble Tag™ on the customer’s warranty card. They then visually compare the two for immediate proof of the watch’s authenticity. This is a simple, instant and intuitive system. The eye immediately sees the elements present on the photograph to complete authentication.”
This unique and non-reproducible tag also gives Parmigiani’s customers access to specific and often personalised information about their watch, from technical specifications to the expertise that went into making it. Entering a second code takes them to a private space, open only to owners of a Parmigiani watch. Jean-Marc Jacot concludes: “We were looking for a user-friendly solution that would also be practical for our retailers, who simply validate each watch with its corresponding warranty card. We were very much opposed to putting electronic devices in our purely mechanical watches; the Bubble Tag™ system makes this possible. Our next project, specifically for the pre-owned market, is a Bubble Tag™ affixed to the watch’s case which will dissolve after being worn for six hours.”