The arrest of 33 people in France and Antwerp last week suspected of belonging to a major international criminal network involved in the concealment of luxury watches once again sheds light on the difficulty for brands to protect themselves against organized crime.
Rolex, Audemars Piguet, Richard Mille and other Patek Philippe top the list of objects targeted by criminals. Timepieces between 10,000 and 400,000 francs that represent a new means of washing the fruits of their crimes. Indeed, it is easier to travel with three or four watches, the resale of which will enable the purchase of a property or a luxury vehicle, than to carry briefcases filled with money.
To The world, police were alerted back in August 2021 by a surge in luxury watch thefts in Nice, Saint-Tropez and Paris, as well as in several European tourist cities. Thefts are not insignificant, as they are regularly committed with violence, including threats of a weapon or kidnapping. The head of the Nice Criminal Investigation Department explained during a press conference in Marseille on June 27 that watches are now the subject of a speculative market. “The prices have exploded and arouse covetousness as a predator for thugs or as a hoard for investors who can thus store several hundred or even several million euros in a safe. »
Blockchain against counterfeiters
If several big houses concerned admit in an informal way that they are sometimes helpless in the face of the sophistication of the methods used by the traffickers, it is a small French brand that could have found the parade in collaboration with a Swiss company. Awake, which produces 5,000 to 6,000 watches a year, officially presents a world premiere on July 1st. A watch whose sapphire crystal is equipped with an invisible chip that connects it to the blockchain.
“Blockchain technology was developed to ensure the authenticity and security of the information stored on it,” explains Lilian Thibault, founder of Awake. Each watch is therefore equipped with a unique, tamper-proof identifier embedded in its sapphire crystal. A formidable anti-theft device and an unstoppable shield in the fight against counterfeiting at a time when criminals have every technological means to completely camouflage watches. This was brought to light by the French police investigation.
In fact, the first elements collected show that the number of the confiscated documents was “typed out”. They are also accompanied by a real fake certificate of authentication as well as the original packaging. Goldsmith’s work. always acc The world, in the criminals’ address book, investigators found high-level specialists, particularly people from luxury watch manufacturers, who were able to modify and renumber parts”. Such is the talent of these counterfeit jewelers that certain timepieces from a classic series have been converted into special limited series that sell for two to three times more expensive.
“To bring the full value of blockchain technology, it had to be integrated directly into the watch and no longer externally via a card or accessory. A project that we developed in collaboration with the Swiss manufacturer Stiss and the Arianee protocol, the latter is a major player in Web 3.0 (3rd generation of the Internet, which allows data to be linked together in a decentralized manner to resist the impact of the digital giants). This required more than six months of development,” explains Lilian Thibault.
And to specify: “Our goal is to offer maximum transparency and continuity of information and to allow our customers to always have their certificates available.” models of the brand will be integrated.
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Joe Courtine, Founder and CEO of Winwatch, owner of Stiss (Swiss technology in the Smart Sapphire), states that the process for integrating the chip into the glass was developed last year and launched in November. “Digital ID glass offers the ability to track the lifecycle of the watch, while buyers can connect to data on the watch’s provenance.”
“Our chip cannot be hacked”
The main difficulty is to bypass the effects of the Faraday cage (which blocks electromagnetic fields) to allow information to be transmitted without an active chip. “Because our chip is passive, it works completely self-sufficient in terms of energy and therefore cannot be hacked,” explains Joe Courtine. Founded in 2012, Stiss has already launched a contactless payment system that is also integrated into the watch glass. This premiere with Awake will perhaps open the doors of the big factories to the Valais company, which are the most secretive.
On behalf of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH), Jean-Daniel Pasche admits that he has not personally heard of Stiss, but emphasizes the importance of any innovation in the fight against theft and other counterfeiting. Not without pointing out that 55% of people who purchase a counterfeit watch do so knowingly.
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