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Digital certificates enter the collecting scene

BLOCKCHAIN

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July 2020


Digital certificates enter the collecting scene

Digital certificates are about to infiltrate the world of collectors’ watches via an initiative by the authors of the famous “Only” watchmaking book series, Anthony Marquié and Grégoire Rossier. These experts are launching a new platform, WatchFID, which makes it possible to exchange vintage models securely using blockchain technology. They explain their approach, which aims to better structure the collection market and make it more transparent for the end customer.

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t was in 2014 that Anthony Marquié and Grégoire Rossier made their appearance on the collector’s watch scene with “Moonwatch Only”, which quickly became the bedside book of choice for all lovers of the Omega Speedmaster. The authors, the former an aeronautical engineer and the latter a biologist, embody the growing world of enthusiasts who can dedicate whole days to investigating the history of watchmaking.

Since the turn of the millennium, collectors have occupied a prominent place in the watch industry. Largely thanks to the internet, they now have a voice. Watch brands actively seek to win over connoisseurs, who have become more uncompromising because they are better informed. After Moonwatch Only, the two authors followed up with a series of successful books on Omega (the Speedmaster again, and the Flightmaster), and then on Nivada – which, incredibly, led to the brand’s recent relaunch (read our article here)!

“Moonwatch Only”, a success of watchmaking literature
“Moonwatch Only”, a success of watchmaking literature

Now, Anthony Marquié and Grégoire Rossier are back with a very different project: a watchmaking “ecosystem”, baptised WatchFID, which proposes a series of services dedicated to collectors’ watches, based in particular on providing evaluations and digital certificates thanks to blockchain technology. We interviewed them to find out more about the philosophy behind this ambitious project.

Europa Star: We knew you from the vintage watch world, and here you are in the blockchain world. What’s the common thread that links the two?

Anthony Marquié: All our reasoning, since 2014, has aimed to bring more coherence and tools to a collection market that remains rather heterogeneous and unstructured, operating in a somewhat old-fashioned way. The “Only” books are guides to help collectors find their way in this universe. They are the first pillar of our platform. But we wanted to go further in the number of tools we could offer collectors, in order to better structure this market.

Grégoire Rossier: The second pillar of the platform is an advisory service and expert evaluations. For the latter, we provide collectors’ watches with detailed assessments based on our “Only” methodology, which we offer in the form of a printed book of around thirty pages. The third pillar is of supreme importance: blockchain-secured digital certificates, designed to ensure transparency, traceability and security. These certificates will rapidly become indispensable in watchmaking. We believe in them!

The WatchFID platform offers collectible timepieces, accompanied by a Blockchain certificate and an expert's report in printed and digital book format.
The WatchFID platform offers collectible timepieces, accompanied by a Blockchain certificate and an expert’s report in printed and digital book format.

There are a growing number of digital certification projects in the pipeline, but most of them so far are offered by contemporary brands (such as Czapek & Co most recently).

Grégoire Rossier: Indeed, at first glance it would seem easier to associate a digital certificate with a new watch, because the question of authenticity does not arise. In the case of vintage watches, issuing a certificate at “Time 0” is more delicate, because the authenticity of the watch must be verified, in order to avoid incorrect information being permanently recorded. It is at this stage that the professionalism and rigour of the certificate issuer make all the difference.

Anthony Marquié: We believe we are pioneers in the integration of collectors’ watches into the blockchain. But given the promise of this tool for watchmaking, we certainly won’t be alone for long! The technological barriers have already been lowered – it’s a bit like with the internet. In the beginning it was difficult to create your own website, today it’s just a click away. The big challenge now is knowing what to put around this technology. The blockchain is a tool at the service of our collection philosophy.

Access to the digital certificate makes it possible to trace the life cycle of a timepiece in a secure manner.
Access to the digital certificate makes it possible to trace the life cycle of a timepiece in a secure manner.

Could you tell us, in concrete terms, what are the advantages of the Blockchain for collectors’ watches?

Grégoire Rossier: In addition to providing traceability and facilitating transactions, one huge advantage is the reliability of the information, which will remain associated with the watch on its digital certificate, whatever happens. Hence the need to ensure that the snapshot of the timepiece used to create the certificate of origin is absolutely correct. This transparency must be accepted in order to benefit from its advantages, including the guarantee of authenticity.

How does WatchFID make use of this technology?

Anthony Marquié: The watches for sale on the platform are registered in the Blockchain and are therefore delivered with their own digital certificate, which is part of the WatchFID package offered to collectors. The models offered are not necessarily ours: our platform is open to all. But for this to happen, sellers must agree to add their models to the Blockchain. We are convinced that, in five to ten years’ time, not doing so will be a competitive disadvantage, because collectors demand guarantees that only this technology can really offer. Integration into the Blockchain will be a customer requirement.

“We are convinced that within five to ten years, not offering Blockchain certificates will be a competitive disadvantage. Collectors are demanding guarantees that only this technology can really offer.”

Anthony Marquié, CEO and co-founder of WatchFID
Anthony Marquié, CEO and co-founder of WatchFID

Not everyone in the very secretive world of watchmaking is ready for this degree of transparency.

There will be an upheaval in the market; it’s going to happen! We’re not necessarily going to just make friends. We advocate transparency, but not everyone does. Eventually, collectors are going to impose transparency on the market and brands anyway, thanks to new digital tools and social networks. This is already happening to a large extent.

“Collectors are going to impose transparency on the market and on brands, thanks in particular to new digital tools and social networks. This is already happening to a large extent.”

Are writers, like you, or journalists, like us, destined to become watch sellers?

Anthony Marquié: No, because selling per se is not what WatchFID is all about. We offer an ecosystem that anticipates the evolution of the collector’s market. We could have been content to sell vintage Speedmasters, as many have suggested, since we have accumulated expertise in this area. But we were not interested in being just two more salesmen. On the contrary, our goal is to propose a new, open concept, without competing head-to-head with all the others. It’s about embracing a moment that has witnessed the emergence of the figure of the collector, which requires trust and transparency.

Grégoire Rossier: With WatchFID, we give collectors the opportunity to specialise by giving them tools they can use: books, expertise or blockchain technology to establish the authenticity of watches. When a collector buys a watch, he also acquires its entire ecosystem. This is what we have been wanting for ourselves for a long time.

Do you authenticate in person all the models that are offered on the platform?

Anthony Marquié: It depends on the source. We authenticate all watches sourced from private collectors ourselves (or with the collaboration of experts). This can be a problem if the collector lives on the other side of the globe, but we prefer to be strict because the very credibility of the concept is at stake. We plan to gradually create a network of affiliated offices to cover the main markets.

For the models offered by professionals wishing to sell their watches on our platform, we have devised rigorous procedures to make the approach more fluid. These professionals are expected to have the appropriate expertise and to prove it. They become WatchFID trusted partners by signing a charter of ethics, which commits them to maximum transparency. In addition, they must produce an evaluation sheet for each watch, which is then checked by us. After these steps are completed, WatchFID alone is authorised to issue a certificate.

“Some collectors prefer to have a watch in perfect condition but restored, while others prefer to have the original with its flaws. Our role is not to decide for them, but to give them the opportunity to decide.”

Grégoire Rossier, co-founder of WatchFID
Grégoire Rossier, co-founder of WatchFID

You also apply a rating system to the models. How does that work?

Grégoire Rossier: For our “Only” books, we developed a methodology to determine the conformity of the main components of the watch. We’ve added a rating system for the WatchFID Expert Reports. The first evaluation criterion is the conformity and consistency of the components, the second is the condition of the components and the third is a weighting according to the relative importance of each component. For example, in the case of the Speedmaster, we consider a dial to be more important than the crown, and we weight the score according to this criterion.

Anthony Marquié: There are also a number of cases in which this rating is not sufficient on its own, because other external factors must also be taken into account. These might be a famous owner, a tropical dial, the presence or absence of accessories, or the publication of the watch in a collector’s book – in short, everything that makes a watch special. These factors generate bonuses or, more rarely, maluses, to produce an overall rating.

Grégoire Rossier: Once again, the goal is transparency. A watch may not be 100% compliant. But as long as the potential customer is informed, it’s not a problem. With the Blockchain, you can’t cheat any more.

Anthony Marquié: Thanks to the transparency of the information, all clients are free to set their own priorities. It’s like with a vintage car: some collectors prefer to have a model in perfect condition, but restored, while others prefer to have the original with its flaws. Our role is not to decide for them, but to give them the opportunity to decide.

“The goal is transparency. A watch may not be 100% compliant. But as long as the potential customer is informed, it is not a concern. With the Blockchain, you can’t cheat any more.”

Digital certificates establish the authenticity of models by “freezing” their information. But do certificates have the ability to evolve?

Anthony Marquié: You can make a static certificate, a bit like a car registration, and leave it at that. But we have chosen a much more dynamic solution, with a certificate which, from its issue at T0, will be able to record events related to the watch at T1, T2, etc., whether that’s a service, the installation of replacement parts, the addition of documents or photos, loss or theft.

Examples of collectors' timepieces for sale on the platform
Examples of collectors’ timepieces for sale on the platform

This could also help avoid certain scams, for example when the papers of a model have been lost.

Anthony Marquié: Exactly. Let’s imagine that a salesman presents you with a chronograph that has a superb tropical dial. He will, quite logically, ask a premium for this particular dial. But if a digital certificate exists and the original photos show a standard black dial, you’ll know that at some point, someone has replaced the dial. You might still decide to go ahead with the purchase, but you will be aware of the substitution. Blockchain also improves the chances of identifying and recovering a stolen watch.

Grégoire Rossier: The digital certificate is the watch’s virtual identity card, while preserving the anonymity of its owner because no personal information is embedded in the blockchain. During a transaction, the seller transmits the certificate in real time to the new owner, and then no longer has access to it. The holder of a certificate can therefore only be the current owner of the watch.

Anthony Marquié: I know a collector who kept all his watches in his safe, along with a list of all his models. He was burgled. Within minutes, he had lost everything, including the serial numbers of the watches, so he had no information, no proof of purchase. Had he had one of our digital certificates, he would have had access to 100% of the information, greatly simplifying the theft report procedure. Besides traceability and transmission, the other great advantage of blockchain is security.

“A collector was burgled and lost everything, including a list of his watches’ serial numbers. Besides traceability, the other great advantage of blockchain is security.”

What’s your relationship to established brands, especially the ones whose vintage models you cover in depth?

Anthony Marquié: Brands understand that our work on watch heritage ultimately benefits them as well. However, they often operate under pressure, with quarterly sales targets, and our usefulness is not immediately applicable or measurable to them. Awareness of these issues is needed, as it will change the way the watch trade operates. Those who think in the long term will be at an advantage; this is particularly visible at the moment. But for many, this requires a change in mindset.

LINK TO WATCHFID

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