Digital Passports: The Future of Luxury Goods?

Earlier this month, Italian horology brand, Panerai, announced the upcoming official launch of digital passports for its timepieces on October 3, 2023. The digital passports were developed in partnership with Arianee, a leading digital product passport solution and web3 consumer engagement platform with whom it had worked on an earlier project, the Radiomir Eilean Experience Edition, a limited-edition timepiece with an accompanying NFT.

Digital product passports: a brief explanation

While a dozen definitions may exist for it, a digital product passport is simply a detailed history ‘book’ on a product and may include, among other things, its provenance, the source of origin of the raw materials used in its production, and the authenticity of the product itself.

Digital passport of Panerai
Digital passports, like Panerai’s, provide chronological and detailed information on the products they are linked to. Image courtesy of Robb Report

Early use case suggests that digital passports were geared primarily towards addressing the issues around sustainability, circularity and ethics. Authenticating the product itself was definitely part of the features, and while it did not appear to be a primary concern at first, it is now one that underscores the service.

The rise of digital passports for luxury brands

Panerai is not the first luxury brand to adopt digital passports for its products. Breitling was the first in the horology industry to issue passports on its timepieces, and in 2022, teamed up with Arianee once again, as well as Sourcemap, to make its first fully traceable timepiece, the Super Chronomat Automatic 38 Origins.

The Breitling Super Chronomat Automatic 38 Origins is full traceable
Breitling was perhaps the first to make a fully traceable timepiece. Image courtesy of Breitling

Digital product passports however seem to be more commonplace in luxury fashion. The Aura consortium issues a certificate of guarantee for the products in its programme, and Chanel has its own digital passport it gives for its bags. Pangaia and Yoox Net-a-Porter use the Eon Connected Product Platform to issue digital twins for their products, complete with their provenance and other details.

But that seems to be about the scope of usage. Other horology brands like Audemars Piguet, Dubuis and Vacheron Constantin are part of the Arianee consortium but do not have their digital passports out yet. In fact, it appears that a significant reason why fashion brands might perhaps be more inclined to issue them can be linked to government intervention in this regard. The European Union, for example, is looking to set up an EU digital product passport in the Ecodesign for Sustainable Regulation that would legally force EU-based companies to integrate them into their production process. It also has a Circular Economy Action Plan that mandates businesses in the textile, industrial and electric vehicle battery and construction industries to include digital passports in their products by 2024.

Are digital product passports about to become more commonplace?

The short answer? Yes.

Paneral Luminor Marina may come with its digital passport
Government policies are pushing luxury brands towards adopting product passports. Image courtesy of Panerai Watches

Even if government mandates did not happen, the persistent rise and evolution of counterfeit goods would have driven luxury brands to introduce modern technology to fight an ancient, never-ending problem.

As it stands, the push for more transparency in the industry, coupled with superfakes threatening the exclusivity that is one of its pillars, and increasing legal mandates would push luxury brands to integrate digital passports into their processes and products. How well it would solve the challenges that bedevil the industry is another matter entirely.

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