There’s a lot of negative sensations the human body can experience. One look through YouTube videos of skateboarders mistime their rail slides, slamming down on their reproductive organs, you can’t help but feel a sympathetic sense of powerful nausea.
But probably, for the watch collecting community, the worst feeling of all is realizing that the watch you’ve just purchased is fake and that the seller has now evaporated into the ether of the internet, which is one of the biggest risks of online pre-owned watch shopping.
One of my favorite Instagram pages belongs to my friend Zoe Abelson, who is co-head of the pre-owned watch business Watch Box, in Hong Kong. One of her best series of Instagram stories involves posting fakes with a few real watches, and challenging you to tell which is which. The problem is, it’s damnably hard.
Because these Chinese “Superfakes” – which retail for around five hundred US dollars — thanks to manufacturing advances such as 3D scanning and printing — watches that are seriously hard to call out as bogus.
They have ceramic bezels, they have sapphire crystals, even their movements are cloned with alarming similarity to the original. And of the hundreds of millions of watches that are in circulation today, the proportion of fake watches is getting greater with alacrity. Says a well-known watch retailer, “These watches have even fooled staff at the service centers and it’s only when they open the casebacks and trace the serial numbers do they realize that the watch is a fake.”
The watch industry has attempted for many years to combat the tsunami of fakes, using different techniques ranging from micro laser engraving their rehautes, to positioning the subdials of their chronographs in unconventional locations in more extreme cases. But until recently the only way to ascertain with certainty that a watch was authentic was to physically have it in hand and undertake a microscopic level of scrutiny combined with research, on the whatever identifying markings that may exist.
But as you can imagine this is a painstaking and labor intensive task that was difficult to implement and challenging to scale. But Vincent Perriard and his foundation, ORIGYN based in Neuchatel, Switzerland feels he has a solution. And even better the tools needed to scan and authenticate any watch encompass nothing more than the ORIGYN App and an iPhone. Says Perriard, “We were working on this solution for some time but the real breakthrough happened with the latest generation of iPhones that have cameras that are so sensitive they can be used to scan the millions of references points at a microscopic scale to register a watch and add it to our database.”
This process, which Perriard calls “Minting” a watch can be performed by anyone, anywhere with this App and their mobile phone, empowering any retailer, service center or boutique to both mint and authenticate watches easily, quickly and without hassle.
The way it works, Perriard explains, is as follows, “If you examine a watch at a microscopic level, no two are alike. There are always tiny but distinct differences from one dial to the next for example. We use artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze millions of references points captured by the high resolution cameras in smart phones. The information is then stored on a block chain that is impossible to hack or access without authority. When someone buys a watch his information is added to a watch’s history. If he sells it, the new owner’s name can be added to this history as well.” There of course have been attempts made by several brands to create a digital passport for their watches which stores data and warranty information.
Says Perriard, “In each instance there is no direct link with the watch. Every solution previous to ORIGYN relies on a device that is outside of the watch. With ORIGYN we rely on the watch itself. Think of it as facial recognition for watches combined with all the data related to that watch stored in the most secure digital facility.”
The plan is to offer ORIGYN only to watch brands and at this stage not directly to the consumer. Though it makes sense that the App be made available to pre-owned resellers who might have perhaps the most to gain from it.
According to Perriard the brands have already responded in a big way. He says, “We have some of the biggest and most entrenched players in Swiss watchmaking very interested.”
Part of the attraction is that Perriard and his partners, tech legend Mike Schwartz, California technonpreneur and Gian Boschsler a specialist in crypto-ecosystems have set up ORIGYN as a nonprofit and even given ownership of it to the brands that participate. Brands will be given equity in proportion to the size of their business. Perriard and his partners of course have retained a small percentage of ownership. But looking at ORIGYN’s vast potential it seems like a matter of time before it is adopted by the entire Swiss watch industry and deals a mighty and possibly fatal blow to the fake watch industry.