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Over the past few years we’ve seen a plethora of watch registry platforms spring up. There have been a number of reasons for this happening:
- European Union regulations
- Business processes
European Union regulations
The European Commission Health and Digital Executive agency have been championing the idea of digital product passports across a range of sectors including textiles and various manufactured goods. This includes:
- Electrical and electronic equipment
- Food waste
- Packaging and packaging waste
Even if a watch is mechanical in operation and doesn’t come with a sewn strap, it still comes with packaging. Digital product passports mean that watchmakers end up with a watch registry service almost by default for newly manufactured watches.
The EU digital product passport sits at the intersection of a number of EU related policies including the Ecosystem for Sustainable Products regulation and the Cyber Resilience act. The focus on sustainability is designed to facilitate a circular economy of manufactured, serviced and recycled materials. Having a product’s documentation follow it through its life helps prevent fraud and regulatory non-compliance in a similar way to animal passports as part of the common agricultural policy. It isn’t perfect but it makes criminal activities harder to do and easier to uncover. For such a system to work, it would need to resist the efforts of bad actors like Russia.
There are secondary benefits to the digital product passport including inserting friction in the global trade of products made outside of the EU for importation into the trading bloc, such as fast fashion items.
Luxury items, by their nature have less to worry about, but given their high value, at a future date analysing watch registry data may help understand and intercept money laundering schemes.
There have been existing watch registry players for instance The Watch Register which is a spin-off of the Art Loss Register.
As well as using the digital product passport for regulatory purposes and a watch registry. Digital product passports allow product traceability to facilitate:
- Manufacturing including quality control and quality assurance
- Service and repair
- Customer relationship management
- Product recycling or remanufacture
- Proof of authenticity throughout the life of the product, provided as a watch registry function
Non manufacturer related platforms have been very upfront about their concern to help combat watch thefts that seems to have surged. Between 2021 and 2022 luxury watch thefts in London surged over 40 percent. London as a global city has rapidly built a reputation for itself as a centre for watch thefts. It has been suffienctly out of control that a luxury auction house and secondary market dealers have been warning prospective and existing customers of the crime risk. The idea is that by having traceable ownership of timepieces in a watch registry, the stolen watches would be harder to fence and would likely be seized when submitted for service, repair or resale.
For secondary dealer watch related fraud has also been an issue with a high profile allegations against Anthony Farrer aka The Timepiece Gentleman (TPG).
The Watch Register
The Watch Register was founded in 2016. For a 20 percent fee, they will store the details of a stolen watch. Watch dealers then check inventory that they are about to receive against the their database. This is problematic for a number of reasons:
- You can’t register your watch unless it’s been stolen.
- Police are now reluctant to provide a crime number to watch thefts, which you need to register your watch.
- There’s a 20 percent fee for registration
- The watch, its box and papers may have all been stolen. Which might make having the watch number to hand all the more difficult.
Reviews on watch forums of the service have been mixed. Given the forthcoming regulations coming through The Watch Register is likely to be relegated only to older watches and its 20 percent commission fee looks expensive versus both manufacturer offerings and Digital Watch Vault.
Blockchain and Watch registry
Some of these services have adopted blockchain as their technology stack of choice. I am sceptical of blockchain as a technology in general due to its relatively slow transaction rate compared to relational databases and high speed payment networks operated by the likes of Visa, Mastercard and American Express.
Arianee digital passport
Arianee is a SaaS business and a governing body for a protocol. It offers digital passport and membership services that are used by luxury fashion brands, luxury retailers and beauty brands. Several watch brands have adopted Arianee’s digital passport offering. The product is white labelled and different brands might use different functions, but it is based on top of a block chain technology stack.
- Audemars Piguet
- Roger Dubuis
- Vacheron Constantin
Breitling was the first of the brands to launch its digital passport service in 2020, Panerai rolled their version out in October 2023. There isn’t cross-brand interoperability to make a registry of registries. They all seem to operate as ‘shards’ or instances.
Aura digital product passport
Aura is an LVMH led consortium for the deployment of blockchain based solutions focused not he luxury sector. Other luxury groups including Richemont and Prada Group are members. Much of the use has focused on luxury fashion brands like Loro Piana and Prada. Cartier is also involved and the service is pitched at luxury watch makers. Watchmakers involved include
- H Moser
Like Arianee there isn’t cross-brand interoperability for the watch registry function.
Digital Watch Vault
Digital Watch Vault is a platform that has been put together by individuals involved in the secondary market for watch. There is no charge to submit the details of your watch.
Digital Watch Vault is a new service. It has a number of high profile advocates as well as some detractors.
More luxury related topics here.