ChainLink: An Answer to Counterfeit Watches

counterfeit watches

It may come as no surprise to many of you, but counterfeit watches truly are a scourge to the luxury watch industry. I’m not sure how easy it is to get accurate numbers on the impact of fake watches, but it’s estimated that the luxury watch industry loses over $1B per year. Manufacturers in China and other countries have gotten so good at reproducing Swiss and German watches, that at first blush, the fakes can be indistinguishable from the real thing. Now, if you fully inspect a watch (i.e., look at the movement), that should typically be a dead giveaway, however, there are many times where it’s already too late, and someone has been duped. If you’re thinking you’re safe because you always buy watches with box and papers, think again. It’s not just the watches that are faked; it’s the whole package. Luckily, there’s a new company looking to wipe the counterfeit market off the map, and it’s called ChainLink.

Last summer I was contacted by ChainLink Co-Founder, Adam Hayes, who was initially interested in seeing if I’d write an article about his new company. After getting a brief intro to what he was doing with ChainLink, I was excited to get involved beyond just writing an article. Since then, I’ve been helping ChainLink connect with various brands to test the viability of their product. However, my involvement shouldn’t detract from the point of this article, which is to get the information out that there’s potentially a solution to the problem of counterfeit watches.

Utilizing the ultra-secure blockchain, ChainLink has developed a digital certificate that is 100% tamper-proof. It might sound like hyperbole, but 100% really means 100% in this case. If you’re familiar with Bitcoin, you’ve likely heard of the blockchain; if you’re not familiar with Bitcoin, fear not, this isn’t a volatile digital currency. In short, the blockchain is the publicly viewable ledger where all Bitcoin transactions are recorded. Once data is embedded into the blockchain (whether a Bitcoin, a ChainLink digital certificate, or something else), the amount of energy required to change that data is so vast, the payoff is dwarfed in comparison. In effect, it’s virtually impossible to tamper with data that has made it to the blockchain.

So, how would ChainLink’s product work in practice? At the point of manufacture, watchmakers would create the digital certificates using the serial numbers of each watch. Wherever brands create the serial numbers – and presumably enter them into their internal database – would be the only point of issuance for ChainLink digital certificates. These points would be considered “Issuers of Trust”, leaving them as the sole creators of the given brand’s certificates. From there, the certificates are transferred, along with the corresponding watches, to the next step in the chain of ownership.

As an example, Rolex creates a Submariner and a digital certificate in Bienne. Next, the watch is shipped, and the certificate is transferred to the 5th Ave boutique in NYC. At this point the boutique owns both the watch and certificate. The boutique cannot alter the certificate; they are merely the holders of it. Sometime thereafter, a customer comes in to buy said Submariner, and at the point of sale, they are also transferred the certificate via ChainLink’s downloadable app. This chain of ownership is entirely viewable via the blockchain, and again, cannot be tampered with. If you’re worried about personal information, the end consumer’s identity is not revealed on the blockchain, only the unique transaction code. However, Rolex’s name will be shown as the issuer of trust, so the consumer can see where the watch originated. All watches purchased with a digital certificate can be stored and seen from the application, essentially acting as a digital watch box for your collection. And for what it’s worth, I’ve used the app; it’s incredibly intuitive and easy to use.

For the watchmakers, outside of punching counterfeit watches in the face, the benefits of using ChainLink’s certificates include up-to-the-second tracking of their inventory across the retail space, as well as storing warranty information and service history. The former could potentially hurt grey market dealers, as the brands wouldn’t be able to turn the other way to watches going out the back doors of retailers as easily. I’m not sure how all that would play out, but it would be interesting to watch. The grey market’s relationship with the brands is a topic for a different article, though.

For the end consumer, the benefits of digital certificates don’t stop at the point of sale. We all know that the secondary market for luxury watches is huge, and I’d be willing to be a lot of you are exclusively buyers of pre-owned watches. In this case, when buying pre-owned, the provenance of a digital certificate will be paramount. Assuming ChainLink’s technology has been adopted, you would demand that the digital certificate accompany the watch you want to purchase. Knowing the certificate cannot be fabricated or stolen from the current owner, it would act as the ultimate proof of provenance and title of ownership. These digital certificates would put to rest any worry of being duped by a random forum seller.

There are other companies looking to utilize the blockchain for similar applications, including medical instruments, fine art, as well as other luxury goods. At this point, ChainLink, with its working demo, is the furthest down the road in terms of development. Watches are obviously near and dear to me, but the blockchain will no doubt have a huge impact on the world in all sorts of areas (banking, healthcare, etc.). What you’re seeing with Bitcoin, and now ChainLink, is just the beginning. The challenge for ChainLink at this point is adoption. The luxury watch world isn’t exactly known for its desire to jump on technology trends. Hell, most of them still use handwritten paper certificates. Brands like Rolex and Hublot have moved onto printed cards that can be scanned at the boutiques and retailers, but those are being faked as well. Of course, only a legitimate one will scan properly, but that’s not going to help you when buying a watch from eBay or WatchUSeek. ChainLink’s certificates would bring watch authentication to the 21st century, and now it’s up to the brands to see that.

Please tell us what you think of ChainLink’s technology in the comments. Co-founders Adam Hayes and Craig Siel will be around to answer any questions you might have.


Feature photo courtesy of

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Shane is one of the founding members of Wound For Life and a contributor to several other publications. A lover of all things mechanical, his true passions lie with watches and adventure. To keep up with the latest from Shane, you can follow him on Twitter (@shanegriffin1) or Instagram (@shanegriffin25). If you'd like to get in touch with Shane, email him at


  • February 3, 2016


    How is this technology going to wipe this counterfeit market off the map?

    Counterfeiting is damaging watch brands by copying their designs, their intellectual property. Why would manufacturers care? They know that the watch they sell is real…

    Meanwhile, counterfeit sellers do not care about this. Their customers just want the expensive looks for a small price.

    • February 3, 2016

      Shane Griffin

      If this technology, whether ChainLink or otherwise, is implemented across the industry, no longer will buyers be duped by fake watches that are passed off as the real thing. Of course, you can never stop someone from purposely seeking out fake watches, but that’s a different story. The genesis of ChainLink came from Adam’s bad experience buying a fake Rolex that was passed off as genuine. Everything was faked, all the way down to the box and papers. With these digital certificates, you’ll know the watch is legitimate by the fact that the certificate is being held by the seller and can be transferred to you.

  • February 4, 2016


    What’s to prevent me from selling a counterfeit watch with a digital certificate and then selling off the watch that went with the certificate separately?

    • February 4, 2016


      You can’t fake the certificate so you’d never obtain one with a knock off in the first place. So in your case, you’d pass the real digital cert. with the fake watch.. Assuming you commission a fake with the same sn as the real. Then you can’t prove the real is real anymore, and if you tried to get a new cert generated for it the system would reject it on the grounds that the same make,model,an combo already exists. There is no economic incentive to do this. If I understood you correctly..

  • February 4, 2016


    I wonder what’s there to stop this from being breached in all of the same ways that SSL/traditional web certificate security has been breached.

    Could go from anything to anything – at a super-basic example level, e.g. intercepting a real certificate (“Hello real Rolex boutique, could you please demonstrate this chainlink thingy? *Saves copy* Ah, interesting, thank you. I MUST BE OFF!” ->> Copy multiples of, distribute along with fake rollies), or issuing a false lookalike certificate (“Watch sold at BROLEX BOUTIQUE 01, Verified (C)(TM)(R) by: BROLEX SWISS”).

    Who holds the ultimate authority over what is legit and what isn’t? Good luck getting Swatch, Richemont, and all german/swiss/etc. independent brands to either a) agree to share the authorization duties/enforcement/IT support, or b) agree on a third party authority agency to entrust with their wares’ authentication.

    • February 4, 2016


      We offer an end-to-end web to mobile solution leveraging the attributes of the blockchain data structure (a.k.a. distributed ledger technology), allowing customers (manufacturers and other authorized entities) to issue, store, and transfer 100% tamper-proof, digital certificates of authenticity. ChainLink certificates cannot be altered, copied, forged, or destroyed once they are issued. Transferring ownership of our certificates is easy, secure, and the change of ownership is unambiguous. ChainLink certificates also record changes of ownership so that provenance can be obtained at all times, with complete certainty and reliability.

      The manufacturers/brands and “authorized verifiers” who make up the ChainLink ecosystem will be the ones that issue ChainLink certificates. There is no copy and paste functionality in terms of the ability to copy a ChainLink certificate nor can there be more than one ChainLink certificate associated with the item that it represents as the system doesn’t allow for it.

    • February 4, 2016


      Blockchain is an immutable data structure. Even if the encryption is broken (which is nearly 0% chance), no data could be retroactively changed or deleted