It is customary in art to sign your work. Besides being an integral part of the artist’s style, it is also a means of authenticating a work. Some watch brands have adopted this practice, with an approach that goes beyond mere branding. Signing a piece means more than just putting your name on it. It indicates the rarity of a watch, its origin, its authenticity, using processes which by their very nature are discreet.
Paradoxically, some secret signatures are no such thing. They have become so well-known that they have lost their furtive status and become an integral part of a brand’s identity. Cartier, which was copied very early in its history, had initially thought up a strategy that has since become indispensable: the bar of the 10 or 8 in Roman numerals which decorates most of its dials is not solid: you can read the name Cartier in it.
Secret signatures can also be found on the movements themselves. The star of Vaucher Manufacture or the initials ARP of Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi can be read on the calibres that these manufacturers supply to Richard Mille.
An elaborate cartridge surrounding the initials is the seal of Chopard’s L.U.C manufacture.
And who knows about the new signature on the creations of Bovet? The Virtuoso II manufacture calibres are surrounded by a maxim that the brand hardly talks about: they are “Faictes de mains de maistres. Pour servir ponctuels gentilshommes. Ce par quoi attestons longue valeur.” This expression, written in archaic French, translates as “Made by hands of masters. To serve punctual gentlemen. Whereby we attest long-standing value.”
Some high-end dials are signed, which is even harder to spot. For example, at Breguet, all watches with an engine-turned dial have an engraving on either side of the 6 o’clock position.
The brand shares with Blancpain the penchant for a transparent engraving on its enamel dials, which is almost invisible and thus very difficult to capture on a photograph.
The artistic crafts pieces by Vacheron Constantin that have a miniature or enamel painting bear the initials AP. It is Anita Porchet that signs these creations, the most delicate by the Geneva brand, and thus has her talent recognised by the brand according her a place on the face of its watches. For its Quai de l’Ile model, Vacheron Constantin even joined forces with a banknote printer to create a watermark under the sapphire crystal, the ultimate weapon against illicit reproductions.
Anything that can be seen can be copied. Each design element on a watch, its dial, its case, its movement, if recorded by someone with malicious intent, could be reproduced, counterfeited. The only truly effective remedy against copying, even of the high-quality kind, is even higher quality. The know-how should be so precious and applied in such detail that reproducing it destroys the copy’s reason for being: its affordable price. It is, therefore, the quality of work, combined with the widest possible awareness of the general culture of watchmaking, that can preserve brands, watches and customers from deceit.