Vacheron Constantin, which was founded in Geneva in 1755, has plenty of mechanical enhancements and eye-catching timepieces, but part of its plan to entice clients involves selling watches using Blockchain. The company has announced that it will use the technology to track its famous, vintage timepieces. The move will end the need for paper certification, which can be easily forged.
Blockchain, according to a 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review is, “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way.”
“Open” means Blockchain is available, free to anyone, and “distributed,” as Harvard defines it, which means that the technology has no owner and no central control.
Blockchain, which is the technology behind Bitcoin, consists of, as its name implies, chains of data and every link in the chain is a block of data.
What does all this have to do with buying a Vacheron Constantin watch?
First, consider the type of watches Vacheron is selling using Blockchain technology. Like some other high-end watch brands, Vacheron is now selling its own vintage watches. Presently, only the brand’s vintage offerings are on sale using Blockchain technology. Vintage era (1920s through mid-1980s) watches come with a lot of data: the year it was manufactured, serial number, model name, case metal, movement number and type, date and place of purchase, names of original and subsequent owners, service histories, and more esoteric information collectors love.
Of course it is reasonable to ask if this chain of data is secure and how it will benefit watch aficionados.
In fact, security is central to Blockchain’s appeal. While use of the technology is free and open, having a private network by restricting access to distinct chains is possible. As Blockchain does not have an owner or central control but is “distributed”—in the words of the Harvard Business Review—data is stored, well, just about everywhere.
If a system has an owner, data is located on the owner’s servers. Owner-less systems store data on innumerable servers. Anyone wanting to change one block of data has to locate all the servers and change the data simultaneously on each server. Changing one link requires certain information about all the proceeding and succeeding links. So cracking Blockchain is beyond the skills of even the most dedicated hacker.
If you purchase a watch (or anything else) on a Blockchain network you remain anonymous. Over time you may add information about the watch to the ledger. Then, when you sell the watch all that information is revealed to prospective buyers. Because of Blockchain’s privacy protection features anyone simply curious about the watch, as well as the final purchaser, never learns your identity.
The benefits of Blockchain for watch collectors are largely about information. As complete a history as possible to compile for any watch you purchase is available, and it’s easily accessible, and scrupulously accurate and tamper proof.
In an email, Angela Au-Yeung, Vacheron’s chief digital officer, puts it this way, “The implications of this digital certification via the Blockchain are immense in bridging the history between our clients, their timepieces, and the Maison. By securing the digital certificates on the Blockchain, we can now follow our products through their lifetime, and communicate critical information to the owners without asking them to compromise the privacy.”
Put another way, new technologies will not always replace—but may actually help to sell—old technologies.