Over the past twelve months or so, a growing number of watch brands have embraced blockchain technology, pioneering what some are already describing as the next big revolution after the internet. The subject was broached during one of the debates organized by the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie at Watches and Wonders Geneva 2021. One of the panelists, Angela Au-Yeung, who is Chief Digital Officer at Vacheron Constantin, clearly expressed her conviction that “this technology will radically change the way customers and brands interact. The blockchain will be part of everyday life. It will take time to get there, but it will happen. The very real benefits of blockchain were confirmed by Pierre-Nicolas Hurstel, CEO of Arianee, a start-up developing a global digital certification standard that recently raised 8 million euros ($ 9.5 million) during round the table. “Blockchain creates digital value that can be traced, exchanged, transferred and stored,” he said. “The fact that you can digitally prove that you own a product gives access to communities, services and experiences. This is where the revolution lies.
Anonymous watch owners
When watch brands started experimenting with blockchain, Breitling and Vacheron Constantin being among the first, they did so primarily as a means of authenticating a product and, by extension, as part of the fight against counterfeits. Since then, the projects have grown in parallel with the transformations of the business environment. The growth in e-commerce sales, the growing demand for second-hand watches, the digital shift in customer relations, not to mention the pressure for transparency and traceability of the supply chain, as well as sustainability and CSR , impose new requirements on watchmaking companies. Blockchain can be part of the solution. In practice, a watch is given a digital identity or a passport that it will keep throughout its different life cycles and from its different owners – taking into account the longevity, even the durability, of a timepiece. of Haute Horlogerie. The information is stored in the form of a succession of tamper-evident blocks. “Think of it as storing information securely and anonymously in a digital safe,” explains Pierre-Nicolas Hurstel. “The customer is the only person who has access to this safe, via their phone, without ever having to provide any personal information.”
The Hour Club isn’t just about certification. It is a full-fledged watchmaking universe.
In addition to authenticating the watch, the digital passport can also store content that brands could complete, as Angela Au-Yeung explains: “We started with a pilot project for our Les Collectionneurs watches. These are vintage Vacheron Constantin timepieces that our Heritage division is tracking on the second-hand market. These watches are authenticated, reconditioned if necessary, then offered for sale to our customers. We were able to use our incredible archive to add stories and information about these watches to their digital certificate using blockchain. Later this year, we’ll start rolling out the next step, which is to issue a digital certificate for our new watches. We have a lot to offer and the blockchain is a way for us to interact digitally and securely with our client, whether they are the first owner of the watch or potentially one of its future owners. Vacheron Constantin calls this new environment The Hour Club and insists that this exclusive digital customer platform encompasses more than blockchain certification: “Thanks to The Hour Club, connoisseurs and owners of Vacheron Constantin watches will be able to discover a world of experiences with content. developed specifically for them, including invitations to events organized by the Maison. The Hour Club is a full-fledged watchmaking universe. With the new digital blockchain certification, customers take control of the quality, authenticity and traceability of their watch and its environment.
An open source solution
The company behind Vacheron Constantin’s blockchain advances is Arianee, which has also won over the Richemont group and its Panerai and Roger Dubuis brands, as well as Breitling, Audemars Piguet, MB&F and Manufacture Royale. This independent, non-profit consortium is developing a global standard for the digital certification of valuables based on an open source protocol: a snub to the almighty Gafam (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft). The key is transparency. “Brands are committing to a digital passport,” explains Pierre-Nicolas Hurstel. “It is then up to them to decide what type of information they want to share with the client, knowing that this information can be certified, via the blockchain, by a third party. The ethical sourcing of gold would be an example. This traceability can help brands gain the trust of consumers who, as Alexandre Wehrlin, Managing Director of the European Business School Geneva concludes, “are putting more and more pressure on brands to step up their efforts in this area. sustainable development and procurement. Blockchain can certainly help with this.