Here come the fraud busters

Counterfeit goods cost the luxury industry billions a year. Now brands are fighting back with radical technology.

By Mark Ellwood 04/03/2019

On a remote Mongolian hillside, bells tinkle in the distance – a sign that a herd of cashmere-producing goats is nearby. A woman follows the noise, picking over the rocky terrain with a small canister tucked under an arm. In just minutes, she has crouched down and sprayed the underbelly of each animal, leaving no residue; indeed, to the naked eye there’s no evidence she was ever there. Fast-forward a few months to a boutique on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, where a sales associate passes a cashmere sweater over a scanner attached to the register. It displays the date and location that the cashmere was marked that morning in Mongolia, along with the factory where the wool was processed and even the date the sweater arrived on US soil.

“We use synthetic DNA to guarantee the provenance and quality of the garment,” she tells a customer, offering to play a video of its origins on that mountainside. It’s futuristic, perhaps, but trials of this process – where premium raw materials are marked at the source with an indelible, invisible tracker – are already underway. It’s just one of the high-tech ways the luxury sector is fighting back against the ever-increasing boom in fakes.

Counterfeiting remains one of the world’s most lucrative ways to break the law. Already worth almost $693 billion annually, per the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, it’s predicted to reach a staggering $3.2 trillion by 2022; the World Customs Organization believes that seven per cent of all global trade is in fakes. This surge is largely a by-product of the 2008 economic crisis when many consumers who had a healthy appetite for luxury goods had to tighten their belts – from cautious Americans to ruble-toting Russians who’ve seen their spending power torpedoed as the currency cratered. It provided the perfect conditions for a boon in fakes.

Simultaneously, supply chains have grown less reliable: overseas, lower-cost production with less scrupulous oversight allows leakage and extra shifts in the same factories. Added to this, the boom in e-commerce has created a new platform on which to sell those counterfeits, often unchecked. Apparel brands alone spent $8.5 billion last year on their efforts to fight fraud, and other sectors, from art to wine, spent billions more.

Much of that money was allocated to discreet new ways to protect their brand equity and reassure their loyal customers, like the science used in that cashmere sweater. The company behind the DNA science is US-based Applied DNA Sciences, which can apply its synthetic DNA molecules to almost any surface, says MeiLin Wan, vice president of textile sales for the firm.

A unique sequence is created for each customer and is held in its database; against it any product can be subsequently tested. Currently, the system involves swabbing a product with a cotton bud and then sequencing the solution in a machine or dabbing it onto a solution that will glow red if synthetic DNA is present. The firm aims, though, to create near-instant scanning, like the device in that futuristic Rodeo Drive boutique.

It’s virtually impossible, Wan explains, to remove, transfer or replicate the DNA outside the firm’s labs, as the US Department of Defense – another client – found first-hand. Its scientists tried, unsuccessfully, for more than a year to either re-engineer it or move the DNA to another surface.

For firms in the luxury sector, Wan continues, the compelling use for this technology lies in policing and controlling supply chains. Many luxury firms that use DNA tracking also safeguard their product with more analogue methods like those developed by OpSec Security, a British firm with offices across the world. “We’re all chasing the silver bullet of authentication, and combining the physical and the digital gets us one step closer,” says Bill Patterson, OpSec’s vice president of global marketing.

His firm offers a series of near-invisible techniques for additional reassurance, in the supply chain or at retail. Take any clothing item – a trench coat, perhaps – and look closer. The care tag might incorporate a seemingly random number sequence that is, in fact, a serial number, or a piece of fabric might be sewn into the seams that you can remove only if you know where to look, and unpick it in the right place.

Then there’s microthread, an ultrafine nylon or plastic twine sewn into the garment, featuring images or phrases that can be spotted only under a magnifying glass. It could be the brand’s logo or something more creative – an insulting phrase, for instance, like the high-fashion firm that chose to point out how only pirates and prostitutes loved counterfeit goods. Of course, such technology is only watertight once the entire luxury sector adopts it as standard. Until then, verifying authenticity further down the supply chain is vital; the newest tool on this front is artifical intelligence (AI), or machine learning.

New York-based Entrupy’s new anti-counterfeiting system relies entirely on AI via a handy little gizmo that the company’s Devin Battersby, Entrupy’s customer-support lead, demonstrated for Robb Report. Entrupy’s hardware consists of a magnifying lens clamped to the back of a smartphone, which pairs with its own app. Battersby snaps it onto a handset before wielding the device over a pair of seemingly identical purses.

The app prompts her to snap several pictures of specific angles – with the logo, fabric lining, exterior stitching and the like – and she hits submit. The results for each bag are different, though. After a few seconds, the product is either deemed AUTHENTIC, complete with a check mark, or, sadly, flagged as UNIDENTIFIED. It’s Entrupy’s euphemism for a fake. The system is ingeniously designed. Those images Battersby took were uploaded to Entrupy’s master database at a magnification of 260 times what the naked eye can see. Its proprietary algorithms then cross-referenced them with its in-house archive of more than 50 million photos of some 60,000 unique items dating back 80 years.

Near-instantly, then, it could offer that verdict. What’s more, the AI’s performance improves as it gains customers and data. Each scan adds momentum: when the firm first tested the system two years ago, its accuracy reached around 94 per cent. Today, co-founder Vidyuth Srinivasan says it’s at 99.1 per cent. He’s so confident in Entrupy’s system that there’s a money-back guarantee.

“There’s a process to follow then, and if we’re proven incorrect at the end, we’ll happily buy the item off you, repaying you what you had to pay for it,” says Srinivasan. So far, that’s happened just 20 times in the firm’s history; compare that with the $97 million worth of goods it has successfully authenticated. It now has more than 300 paying customers (the device is leased for US$299 [$414] and the monthly subscription service starts at US$99; $137).

These include consignment stores as well as luxury online resellers, the booming sector featuring the likes of the RealReal or Material World. Entrupy launched with a focus on handbags, as these are the most commonly counterfeited items, but it will soon expand to shoes and high-end sneakers. It’s harder for its technology to work on high-reflective surfaces without texture, though, so it can’t be applied to diamonds, glass or porcelain.

Verifying the authenticity of timepieces requires an entirely different approach, as VintageCaliber’s Simon Stern explains – an approach that sometimes involves a Geiger counter.As one of Europe’s top second-hand watch dealers, Stern is fastidious in detecting fakes. Early luminous watches contain small amounts of radium to help them glow, a practice long outlawed for safety reasons, and Stern uses this as his first test.

Swiping a basic Geiger counter over a timepiece that claims to date back earlier than the ’60s will verify the presence of true radioactivity, which was outlawed in manufacturing after that date. Another technique requires that he shine a UV light over the dial in a darkened room. Radium is not only a durable element but also an aggressive one, degrading the sulfides that produce the glow over decades; the result is that timepieces’ luminescence dwindles as they age. “The lume should be very reactive but fade away immediately,” he notes. “If it stays luminous for minutes, that’s a clear indication of restoration or imitation.”

When Stern has doubts about non-luminous watches, there’s always non-destructive spectral analysis, which will break down the chemical content of the metal alloy used in a given timepiece or the paint compound used on the dial. Each is unique to a given manufacturer, of course, and so can be cross-checked with a verified model. Indeed, manufacturers are so keen to stymie future fakes that they’re changing the raw materials they work with. Witness the rise of exotic, hard-to-source tantalum-tungsten alloy, which is fiendishly hard to machine without expertise. Likewise, replicating Hublot’s ceramic and carbon-fibre models is possible, but too expensive to be cost-effective for the counterfeiters. The potential windfall from a fake artwork, though, is sizeable enough to justify painstaking forgeries.

It’s no wonder, then, that the art world is among the luxury sector’s most fake-prone fields. See the downfall of New York’s storied, 165-year-old Knoedler gallery, which closed in 2011 amid a deluge of lawsuits over whether it knowingly, or inadvertently, sold millions of dollars’ worth of fake Rothkos and Jackson Pollocks. That US$80 million ($111 million) scam, the largest in American history, was only unearthed thanks to the painstaking detective work of fraudbuster Jamie Martin.

Tasked with verifying one of the newly discovered Pollocks that Knoedler had touted as genuine, he used a stereomicroscope to spot that the signature was traced with a needle. What’s more, the paint on the canvas included Red 170, a pigment that was only widely available years after Pollock died in a car crash. In the wake of this exposé, Martin’s expertise earned him a new role, as Sotheby’s in-house director of scientific research.

Knoedler should have hired Martin before one of its unhappy buyers did, instead of trusting expertise alone – after all, if attribution is a human process, it’s all too vulnerable to our limitations. And that’s where Artendex believes it has the answer. Artendex is another AI-powered start-up. It collaborated with Netherlands-based Atelier on the Restoration & Research of Paintings project led by professor and AI expert Ahmed Elgammal.

He says the challenge isn’t just the unreliability of human know-how, but also that the techniques used share a common flaw. “The different technologies for detecting forgery in art attribution all depend on the physical property of the art: the canvas, the pigment, chemical analysis via X-ray,” Elgammal explains. Why not instead look at the strokes on the canvas, as unique to each artist as their signature?

Elgammal helped develop an algorithm to do just that. First, the system scanned 300 line drawings by the likes of Picasso, Matisse and Schiele before a deep recurrent neural network began crawling over those same scans, learning the characteristics of each artist’s strokes. Then the team tested it using images it knew to be both fakes and authentic; in initial trials, Artendex’s AI had an 85 per cent accuracy rate. Now, looking to commercialise this service, Elgammal is working on refining the analysis of drawings via art-world partners supplying further samples for the master database.

He also wants to move into other areas, like paintings, though the professor admits that it’s a dauntingly large undertaking. “It’s because the strokes are not necessarily visible; it all depends on the art movement,” he says. “In impressionism, you see them very clearly, but in old masters, you can hardly see the strokes.” If only the walls of those galleries could talk, and if radio-frequency identification (RFID) and near-field communication (NFC) chips had existed hundreds of years ago, they just might.

These microchips can be discreetly embedded in almost anything and used for tracking and monitoring. Early adopters – including fashion brands Moncler, Ferragamo and, most famously, Burberry – have been experimenting with them for some years. When Burberry’s splashy London flagship opened six years ago, customers could wave garments tagged with RFID chips in front of screens to learn more about how they were made. Stefano Ricci has taken this technology further: it started including RFID chips in its core items, mostly leather goods, four years ago.

“It proved a great success in both speeding up the logistics process and making it safer and more accurate, since we could keep track of inventory,” says the firm’s CEO, Niccolo Ricci. Now, Ricci has moved to add NFC chips, the same technology used by the likes of Apple Pay, as well. These can be read using any contemporary smartphone – just wave it in front of a Ricci-branded item with the right app installed, and there’s instant reassurance the product is genuine.It’s the same technology that high-end Napa Valley winemaker Opus One has employed for 10 years.

CEO David Pearson says he’s “very satisfied” with the results, as complaints of fakes have plummeted since the NFC began; they now remain at or near zero. Scanning the chips on Pearson’s bottles not only offers reassurance but also launches a short video of the winemaker. Opus One notes that actual scans each year remain rare. He likens his NFC process to a private security service in your home. “People might drive by once or twice a night,” he says, “but it’s the sign in the yard saying you’re protected that [matters]. People know you’re watching.”

Then again, sometimes it’s useful to make security measures both evident and invisible, as Gillardeau found out. This family-run fourth-generation firm from western France produces the world’s most prized oysters. Each year, 2000 tons of its spéciales, plump and nutty, arrive in restaurants, often costing $11 each or more. Unsurprisingly, this makes Gillardeau’s products prone to counterfeiting and theft. Four years ago, after a flood of such problems, the family invested millions in a laser that etches its signature logo onto every oyster without breaking the shell or affecting the taste.

It also turned to Olivier Descoubes, a local entrepreneur who had watched the problems accelerate – one producer in Mont-Saint-Michel, he learned, had lost 130 tons of bivalves. Descoubes responded with a cunning, but simple, invention: a tracking device disguised in an empty oyster shell. Gillardeau invested heavily in his US$185 ($256) gadget so it could track those oysters from farm to table. Descoubes’s firms take empty Gillardeau shells and install a low-power homing beacon in each.

“The hardest part was moulding the resin to cover all the electronics so it’s waterproof,” he says. “But now we have a secure, robust product.”

With this and other tech, fraud will be reduced to just another easily spotted shell game.

Article from Robb Report Australia & New Zealand’s latest Autumn Edition.


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The Orchards Veue Parkside Will Become a Landmark of Sophisticated Living in Sydney’s North-West

The Orchards Veue Parkside promises residents a harmonious blend of comfort, convenience, and natural beauty; a place to thrive.

By Robb Report 14/06/2024

It’s said that the average person will spend 62 percent of their waking time at home. With such a large part of our daily life spent within the confines of our sanctuary, why not make it fabulous if you can?

That’s the premise of Veue Parkside, a brand-new residential development offering in North-Western Sydney dedicated to sophisticated living. Located in the heart of Norwest in Sydney’s Hills District, Veue Parkside epitomises a new era of apartment lifestyle, seamlessly blending modernity with nature’s tranquillity; natural landscapes, green spaces, and lush parklands make up a large part of this enticing residential community.

But, perhaps, its greatest offering is what’s on the inside.

Featuring a wide array of one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments across a total of 156 apartments, some offering two-storey living. Each home offers a light-filled haven that harmoniously integrates contemporary touch points with natural surroundings. Adorned by lush greenery and expansive parklands, Veue Parkside offers a refreshing perspective on urban living where residents have premium offerings at their doorstep, from delectable dining to world-class shopping, and more.

Sekisui House is behind the visionary project—a name synonymous with excellence in community development and home building since 1960—with every element of this up and coming project thoughtfully considered. From the architectural vision to the selection of materials, no stone has been left unturned.

The Orchards Veue Parkside

Residents will also enjoy exclusive residential amenities, including an outdoor podium, community and function centre including a music room, a communal BBQ area, well-appointed gym, indoor heated swimming pool and concierge. Additionally, the extension of the Linear Park will be accessible to both residents and the public, providing a serene escape within the bustling community.

Of course, Veue Parkside is only part of the picture. The Orchards masterplan spans 8.1 hectares of North-Western Sydney, promising to bring a dynamic mixed-use community to the suburb of Norwest. Upon completion, the ambitious development will boast 1,300 new apartments, extensive open spaces, and a variety of community amenities—one of the most significant residential projects in Australia in over a decade.

The Orchards Veue Parkside

Soon, Veue Parkside will be offering new releases set to celebrate the epitome of modern living in the heart of an idyllic community. To enquire further and learn more about the residential development, visit Sekisui House or call 1800 606 808.

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These Next-Gen Supersonic Jets Want to Replace the Concorde. Will They Ever Take Off?

Skeptics think not, but a core of true believers are inching forward with new designs and test flights.

By J. George Forant 14/06/2024

To dig into the state of supersonic flight these days is to invite an unlikely conversation about cell phones. Three out of five experts in the field compared the smartphone of 20 years ago with a future generation of jets that hope to blow past Mach 1.

“Think of the original iPhone. In those early days, it made huge leaps every year. That’s where we are with supersonic,” says Blake Scholl, CEO of Boom. “Tech advances in S-curves. Products go through periods of slow development, then rapid improvement, then level off again to incremental gains.”

The Concorde, the world’s only commercial supersonic jet, was the big, clunky plastic phone that the very wealthy first had in their cars, while the new breed of supersonic jet is a flip phone with a keyboard that, according to supersonic’s believers, will eventually morph into the sleek, multifunction supercomputer that has become so affordable that it’s available to almost everyone.

“It’s taken longer than we would’ve hoped, but there will absolutely be supersonic flight,” says Vik Kachoria, the CEO of Spike Aviation. “We think supersonic will offer a lot of value and will be very useful.”

Not everyone shares his certitude.

Boom’s Overture commercial jet touts supersonic’s potential, but faces multiple hurdles.
Boom Aerospace

“If you go back and look it up, starting from the ‘90s, proponents of supersonic flight say it is always 10 years away,” says Brian Foley, a business aviation industry consultant. “Why 10 years? Probably because it’s a number that’s not too distant, but far enough that when the time comes, no one will remember all the promises you made and failed to deliver on.”

One hopeful, Aerion, which counted Boeing and Lockheed Martin as investors, shuttered in 2021 after nearly 20 years of planning for its next-generation AS2 supersonic business jet. If any private company had the potential create a new commercial supersonic reality, it seemed to be Aerion. The backers invested billions and hired top aerospace engineers to work on the minutia of flight beyond Mach 1.0, or 1234 kph.

Then, out of the blue, the company shut down because it couldn’t secure long-term investors who believed in supersonic’s potential. “They had put together amazing talent,” said aviation consultant Rollie Vincent, who did some work for Aerion, shortly after the closure. “The number of PhDs per square foot was off the charts,” he said. “But they weren’t building things. They were trying to refine design and purify aerodynamics. At some point, everybody, including investors, want to see real parts.”

Aerion’s AS2 was the poster child of a potentially successful supersonic jet. After 20 years, the company abruptly folded.

Boom, now leading a handful of private supersonic aircraft developers, seemed to realise early that it needed hardware to demonstrate its progress. The company launched its XB-1 demonstrator jet on March 22. Its initial flight topped out at less than 240 knots, but for the first time since the Concorde, a non-military plane built for supersonic speed executed a successful flight. If future test flights progress as projected, the XB-1 could make a run at the sound barrier within a year. And the company’s 150,000-square-foot production facility in Greensboro, N.C., is on schedule to open in late ‘24.

Not far behind, NASA’s X-59 experimental craft should make its first flight later this year. The jet, a product of the QueSST project, represents the government’s attempt to reduce the sonic boom, a key development for supersonic’s commercial future, since it’s illegal to break the sound barrier over land in the U.S. and most other countries.

“The key to lowering the boom is in shaping the airplane and the wing, smoothing them out so the shock waves don’t combine,” says Dave Richwine, deputy project manager for technology on the X-59. “NASA is working at a fundamental level and, hopefully, the industry will bring it all together.”

Mitigating sonic booms is the primary focus of supersonic builders.

There are signs that approach is working. Spike has absorbed much of NASA’s work while modifying and applying the theories to a larger craft, its 12- to 18-seat business jet called the Diplomat, which won’t launch until at least 2026. Like the X-59, it aims to reduce the boom by manipulating and flattening the sonic waves so they’re directed upwards and largely cancel each other out. The goal is a sonic “thump” or a ground-level sound of roughly 75 decibels perceived, akin to a closing car door.

Exosonic, which is developing unmanned supersonic drones for military training and a 70-seat passenger jet, expresses a similar goal on sound, and is part of the group rallying to change the current law. Instead of a speed limit, builders want a sound limit, so it doesn’t matter how fast a plane flies, so long as it doesn’t rattle the windows of the houses it passes over.

Boom is less preoccupied with noise. Scholl says at some point, a standard will be issued and Boom will meet it. For now, the company plans to address the issue by only going supersonic over the ocean. Over land its planes, says Scholl, will operate 20 percent faster than current commercial jets.

NASA’s X-59 experimental aircraft plans to turn sonic booms into much quieter sonic thumps.

In theory, Boom’s XB-1 will eventually lead to the Overture, the 64- to 80-seat commercial aircraft the company plans to build once it dials in the technology. American, Japan Air, and United have all put in non-refundable preorders of Overtures, and Scholl hopes the plane will be flying with passengers by 2030.

“We’re very engaged with the FAA and we’ve already received our G1 certification,” Scholl explains. “It’s a long list of boxes we have to check, as it should be, but we’re locked in on the needs and all we have to do is meet them.”

All these supersonic projects feature a modified delta wing and a long, tapered nose that gives the craft a more futuristic, streamlined profile than the Concorde. Aesthetically, the designs are attractive, but they also make it impossible for pilots to see, a problem solved by a system of cameras mounted on the exterior. The XB-1 includes an augmented reality overlay with guidance for the pilots.

Facing critics and shortfall in development funds, Boom CEO Blake Scholl remains a cheerleader for supersonic’s potential.
Boom Aerospace

Spike, which has a longer development timeline, eliminated almost all the windows on the body, replacing them with hi-definition flat screens that run the length of the cabin, on which they can project the exterior view—or a movie or “anything you can put on a computer screen,” says Kachoria.

The Spike chief executive compares the Diplomat to a Gulfstream, with a customisable interior and the option of plush, oversized seats, and Exosonic too plans a business jet version, with three suites, executive seating, and full-recline chairs. Across the supersonic category, weight limitations will reduce the capacity for the kinds of comforts found in typical first-class service, but other considerations will, presumably, make up for any lack of poshness and interior space. “Instead of getting upgraded to business class, someone might get upgraded to supersonic,” says Kachoria. “You won’t have fancy plates, but you’ll arrive at your destination in half the time.”

Foley, who did market research on supersonic jets when he was employed at Dassault Falcon and has worked with Spike, remains skeptical. He forecasts a market of about 300 jets for private owners, or about 30 planes a year for 10 years: “Is that even enough for an engine manufacturer to participate?”

Spike’s concept of its jet interior.
Spike Aerospace

Apparently not. When Aerion shut down, GE Aerospace halted three years of development of the Affinity supersonic engine designed to power Aerion’s AS2. GE, along with major engine builders Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, Honeywell Aerospace and Safran all passed on developing an engine for Boom, according to AIN.

That left the company with no option but to form an alliance that included Florida Turbine Technologies, GE Additive and StandardAero to invent a propulsion solution, an engine called the Symphony.

“Designing an engine is no easy task, especially from scratch, and it’s potentially a multibillion-dollar exercise beyond designing the plane,” Foley told Robb Report a year ago.

Sustainability remains a concern for observers. The Concorde burned four times as much fuel as the 747.

Despite that, Boom has built the XB-1 and taken it to the sky. “The technology and supply chain exist,” says Scholl. “There’s no fundamental new science—every key technology in this airplane has already flown before.”

In early 2021, Subaru, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and several other companies formed Japan Supersonic Research with a goal of having an SST passenger jet by 2030. They partnered with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and have access to JAXA research going back to 1997. Shigeya Watanabe, deputy director, recently told Aero Society it was working on improving current technologies as well as developing more sustainable propulsion technologies.

Sustainability was a non-issue when the Concorde first took off in 1969. It burned four times more fuel than a 747 on a Paris-New York flight. Fifty-five years later, it’s now a core challenge for aviation, especially supersonic aircraft. Environmental scientists Anastasia Kharina and Tim MacDonald wrote in a study for the International Council on Clean Transportation that “commercial SSTs could be three times as fuel intensive per passenger as comparable subsonic aircraft.”

Spike Aerospace is considering hydrogen power to align with sustainability initiatives in commercial aviation.
Spike Aerospace

Boom and Exosonic hope to solve the green issue by designing their engines to run on 100-percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) while Spike is exploring electric and hydrogen. “The technology for design is so much faster now,” says Kachoria in discussing the engineering challenges. “We can make modifications and see the result onscreen in seconds. They built the Concorde with slide rules and drafting paper and did 10 total iterations. We can do 1,000 simulations in a few hours.”

Kachoria sees supersonic’s potential upside as 900 or more planes over 20 years going to a mix of high-net-worth individuals, fractional leasing services, and airlines. Scholl is even more bullish. “Our ultimate goal is to have supersonic flights on all routes for all passengers,” he says. “These planes will create their own need. As soon as people see others crossing the Pacific in four hours, they’ll say, ‘Why are we sitting in this metal tube for so long when we don’t have to?’”

If Boom and the other supersonic builders succeed, how long will it be before someone is asking a similar question about their jets? Destinus and Hermeus are also aviation start-ups, and they’re developing hypersonic jets that will travel at up to five times the speed of sound.

Lack of interest from aircraft engine manufacturers has forced Boom to develop its own engine.
Boom Aerospace

Pipe dreams or the birth of a new era in flight? The outcome could depend, as Aerion found out, on whether the manufacturers can find the start-up funds, amounting to many billions, for a viable niche in commercial and business aviation. “Never say never,” says analyst Foley. “But these things tend to move at the speed of money, and investors don’t seem to have the risk appetite.”

This article was originally published in Robb Report US.

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Not All Great Super Tuscans Are Red—Get to Know the Region’s Outstanding White Wines

The lighter side of Super Tuscans.

By Mike Desimone And Jeff Jenssen 14/06/2024

Those of us who drink Italian wine often gravitate towards the three B’s: Barolo, Brunello, and Bolgheri, the last of which you may recall is the original home of Super Tuscans. This impressive sounding but unofficial moniker was originally lavished on a group of wines made with grapes that are not native to Tuscany such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

One of the first wines to be given the sobriquet was Sassicaia, whose 1968 inaugural vintage was released in 1972 and was classified as a vino de tavola, or table wine, because it fell outside of the regional DOC guidelines. Fans of this plus wines like Masseto, Guado al Tasso, and Tignanello may be surprised to learn that the regulations drawn up for Bolgheri DOC in 1983 only included white wine and rosé; reds were not added until the rules were updated in 1994. Even more surprising is that exciting white wines from varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Viognier are made in Bolgheri and throughout Tuscany.

Two of the best and most well-known white Super Tuscans, Ornellaia Bianco and Querciabella Bàtar, are vastly different wines; in fact, they don’t even fall into the same denomination. Made with 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc, Ornellaia Bianco 2021 hails from Bolgheri DOC, while Querciabella Bàtar 2020, a 50-50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco, is a Toscana IGT wine. Shorthand for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or controlled designation of origin, Bolgheri DOC has a set of production requirements for all wines made there. A bottle from Bolgheri labeled Bianco may have any amounts of Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino, or Viognier; if the label on a wine from there reads Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier, it must have at least 85 percent of the variety. Since its debut in 2013, Ornellaia Bianco had been made with mostly Sauvignon Blanc blended with Viognier, but the two most recent vintages, 2020 and 2021, have been 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc.

In both seasons, the final decision to use only Sauvignon Blanc was made after a blending session. Ornellaia estate director Marco Balsimelli—who moved into the role at the beginning of this year after working in Bordeaux since 2010—believes that Sauvignon Blanc in Bolgheri has a “more mature” expression than in cooler regions, “yet, it succeeds in retaining acidity and complexity,” he tells Robb Report. That said, he credits Ornellaia’s vineyard site for the quality of the Sauvignon Blanc it produces, pointing to its altitude, proximity to the Magona Forest, and rocky clay and limestone soils as major contributors. “All these conditions allow for a cooler, windier, and slightly more humid climate compared to other areas of Bolgheri, ideal characteristics to produce a great white wine,” he says.

Ornellai’s Sauvignon Blanc is a must try, too.

Querciabella Bàtar is an IGT wine; the abbreviation stands for Indicazione Geografica Tipica (typical geographic indication) and was created for wines that don’t fall into DOC or DOCG categories but are of a higher level than vino de tavola. This allows winemakers to craft quality wines using what are generally considered “international” rather than with local varieties such as Vermentino or Trebbiano. The Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco for Bàtar are from several vineyards throughout the Tuscan region of Chianti, which is better known for its Sangiovese-based reds. Querciabella winemaker Manfred Ing tells Robb Reportthat throughout Chianti there is “ample sunshine with beautiful, cool evenings, which allow for perfect ripeness and fruit concentration while maintaining freshness and finesse.” He acknowledges that a diverse array of vineyards sites brings different qualities to Bàtar such as concentrated fruit, intense floral aromatics, minerality, freshness, richness, and citrus notes. Ing, a native South African uses less than 15 percent new oak and minimal lees stirring to coax out greater fruit expression in this outstanding wine.

Other bottles to look for include Cabreo La Pietra Chardonnay Toscana IGT from the Folonari family; Ca’ Marcanda Vistamare Toscana IGP, a blend of Vermentino, Viognier, and Fiano from the Gaja family’s estate in Bolgheri; and Isole e Olena Collezione Privata Chardonnay Toscana IGT, which is from an estate in Chianti owned by the Descours family. Emanuele Reolon, the winemaker and estate director at Isole e Olena maintains that several attributes make Tuscany perfect for the cultivation of Chardonnay, and that Isole e Olena’s vineyards are particularly suitable thanks to its schist and limestone soils, a microclimate that offers cooling sea breezes, altitude and north-facing exposure, site-specific planting of Chardonnay within the estate, and the vineyard team’s focus on sustainable practices.

As many of us head to Tuscany this summer, we will be coasting along twisting roads lined with vineyards to visit historic medieval towns like Montalcino, Montepulciano, Bolgheri, Siena, and San Gimignano, filled with ancient stone buildings, incredible restaurants, and tiny, family-run wine shops. We should remember that in addition to the Brunellos, Vino Nobiles, Chianti Classico Gran Seleziones, and Cabernet- and Merlot-based wines we’ll be stocking up on, we should explore the region’s broad array of white wines. After all, man cannot live on red alone.


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Big-Wave Surfers Kai Lenny and Maya Gabeira on Why They Actually Wear Dive Watches in the Water

The legendary sports figures explain that timing is everything when you’re riding the biggest waves in the world.

By Paige Reddinger 14/06/2024

“The cool thing about surfing is it’s all about timing,” Kai Lenny told press during a TAG Heuer event in Tuscany for the launch of its new and improved Aquaracer. “Everything’s about timing. When you’re on a wave, the wave is this fluid object, and it’s constantly changing. And you’re almost predicting the future, even if that future is only a couple of seconds ahead of your next move. When you’re traveling down a wave, you have to almost see things before they happen.”

TAG Heuer

Lenny and fellow big wave surfer, Maya Gabeira—two of the best big-wave surfers in the world—were on hand to promote TAG Heuer’s new timepieces, but as far as watch brand ambassadors go they are among the most authentic. Unlike other sports figures who mostly promote timepieces as a lifestyle correlation to their adrenaline pumping careers but rarely use them while competing, both Lenny and Gabeira say they feel their timepieces are essential on the open water. (In today’s world, a racecar driver is definitely not timing his laps with a chronograph while burning rubber on the track during a Formual 1 race, and SCUBA divers long ago abandoned mechanical watches, for instance.)

TAG Heuer

When you are surfing 80-foot waves at Jaws in Maui or 100-foot waves at Nazaré in Portugal (the biggest waves in the world, equivalent to the height of a 10-story office building) timing can be a life or death calculation. Just ask Gabeira, who famously nearly died after a wipeout at Nazaré that plunged her underwater for 12 minutes. She says those 12 minutes actually felt incredibly slow as she contemplated her life during the time which she was in the process of losing consciousness and nearly drowning. “I thought a lot,” she says. “It went from thoughts and emotions to a very physical kind of bad. You start feeling all the physiology change. I’m a free diver as well, so I knew what my body would do if I was lacking oxygen. So, I started being very focused on my physical abilities and what I had to do and how much time I still had. And then after it just went black, to be honest.” She says she rarely thinks about the experience now but it took her about a decade to recover from the trauma.

TAG Heuer

Through their best and worst rides, both Lenny and Gabeira say their timepieces are constant companions. In fact, Lenny has gone through at least five Aquaracers in the deep blue. “It comes from just wear—you’re in big waves and everything breaks at one point, including yourself,” says Lenny. “And I use it as a tool. I’m always timing waves.” He says when he’s competing, especially, he will time things down to the second to make sure he’s catching the big waves, which come approximately every 30 minutes. “It comes down to when you paddle for the wave, how much time you have to allow yourself,” says Lenny. “It’s amazing how often I’m actually like dialing the watch to be like, okay, in two minutes from now, a set is coming and because of the ocean wavelengths, it’s so consistent. You can actually time the ocean and predict when it’s going to come in just off of your timepiece.”

TAG Heuer

One big bonus of the new TAG Heuer Aquaracer, according to Lenny, is that he feels the rubber strap is more secure than in previous models. Other updates to the timepiece include a more legible minute track and a more prominent hour hand featuring a shield shape, as well as a wavy new dial (which will, no doubt, draw comparisons to the Omega Seamaster, but the Aquaracer comes in at a cool USD$3,800 vs. USD$5,900 for the Seamaster, which may be a bit easier to swallow for those that are into hardcore surfing and prone to losing their timepieces like Lenny). The case has been reduced from 43 mm to 42 mm, in keeping with current trends towards smaller sizing. It is, of course, water resistant to 300 meters in keeping with the best dive watch standards.

TAG Heuer

While timepieces are truly practical tools for these big wave surfers, they’re also mementos. Lenny says his first Aquaracer he got in 2015 is his most treasured because he wore it during his first big wave competition at the infamous Jaws surf spot in his hometown of Maui. “That was the one watch that I consistently wore for the longest,” says Lenny. Against all odds, he still has it, and he says it’s a reminder of a time when he had to pass through a certain veil of fear. “But you know, it’s a good throwback to an awesome time in my life when I was much younger and got to cut my teeth in the big wave world,” he says.

TAG Heuer

For Gabeira, the most poignant reflection of time is her own accomplishments. Incredibly, she didn’t start surfing until the age of 13 (for comparison, Lenny has been surfing since the age of 4.) A boyfriend introduced her to the sport and she fell in love with it from the first ride. He broke up with her, but the ocean remained her faithful companion. “I went to Australia and then I came back and I was like, ‘Ok, I’m just going to keep improving until I’m so good, he never has a chance around me in the ocean again,” she says, reflecting on that time in her life. “He was the surfer and I was the beginner. I was like, ‘You watch it flip.’” She is now one of the best big wave surfers on the planet and in 2020, when she surfed a 73-foot wave in Nazaré, she set the record for the biggest wave ever surfed by a woman. How’s that for perseverance? It’s proof that it’s never too late to be your best and with serious dedication and an near obsessive investment of your time, you just might, like Gabeira, realise your wildest dreams.



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After a Record-Breaking Auction, Sotheby’s Watch Department Gets a Leadership Shake Up

After Sylvester Stallone’s Patek Philippe Grand Master Chime sold for USD$5.4 million, Geoff Hess, Sotheby’s former head of watches for the Americas, and international watch specialist Sam Hines have both been promoted.

By Victoria Gomelksy 14/06/2024

When Sotheby’s held its Important Watches sale in New York on June 5, Sly Stallone’s Patek Philippe Reference 6300G-010 Grandmaster Chime sold for USD$5.4 million in an atmosphere that bore little resemblance to the staid, conservative auctions of yesteryear. That specific sale—the highest ever for a modern watch at Sotheby’s—even upset the leadership of Patek Philippe.

“We tried to create an auction room experience—there were cocktail tables, a hot dog stand activation and champagne bottles were popping,” Geoff Hess, the house’s new global head of watches, told Robb Report days before news of his promotion, from head of watches for the Americas, was made public last week.

“The watch world benefits from something other luxury categories don’t and that is an incredible global sense of community,” Hess said. “We’re going to focus on ensuring our clients not only receive great service but also on immersing them into our community.”

That statement could well serve as Hess’s mission statement as he plots the future of Sotheby’s watch auction business. Together with Sam Hines—who has returned to the auction house as the new Hong Kong-based chairman of the watches department, following a two-year stint as managing director of Loupe This, the online watch auctioneer founded by Eric Ku and Justin Gruenberg—Hess will focus on creating more events (“There will definitely be a RollieFest2025,” he said) as well as social content.

Hess capped off a great spring season with the sale of Sylvester Stalloone’s Grand Master Chime.

“We had not less than eight videos at our auction yesterday, helping to bring our watches to life,” Hess said.

He also referred to Sotheby’s Rough Diamonds auction in April when the auctioneer teamed with the watch magazine Heist-Out to stage a live sale dedicated to avant-garde and overlooked vintage timepieces. The location? A wine cellar in downtown Geneva.

“How fantastic that an entity like Sotheby’s would embrace the notion of bringing 200 people into a cave,” he said. “We can leverage on the down trend in prices to recognise that more than ever before clients want to enjoy the auction experience.”

Meanwhile, Hines is due to begin his role in Hong Kong at the end of June, in time for the opening of Sotheby’s new Maison at Landmark Chater at the end of July, marking the start of an exciting new chapter for the house’s operations in Asia.

“In Hong Kong, the auction business was a seasonal business — spring and fall — and the auction houses would rent the Hong Kong Convention Center for weeklong exhibitions and auctions,” Hines said. “But Sotheby’s is now opening this dedicated space so auctions will take place within the Sotheby’s home. We’ll have flexibility to hold auctions all year round. The space has many floors. There will be a retail space, a gallery space, all really groundbreaking for the Asian business.”

Hess says, “[Y]ou’d have to be living under a rock not to see the uptick in interest in Cartier.”

Hines said the changes coincide with global shifts in the watch auction world that include the emergence of a new generation of influential Asian collectors.

“Twenty years ago, the Asian market was very small compared to the U.S. or Europe,” Hines said. “But it’s growing at rates where it’s rivaling traditional selling centres. Some of the biggest buyers in the world are in Asia now. So the Asian sales are like what New York was 10 to 15 years ago.”

He also noted new opportunities to deviate from the traditional selling calendar.

“Sotheby’s management globally is looking at why do we have to sell in October and April?” he added. “If an exciting sale could take place in August, why not?”

The sales calendar isn’t the only thing up for revision. In February, Sotheby’s announced a simplified fee structure, which went into effect on May 20. Designed to attract new buyers and sellers, the house now charges buyers a rate of 20 percent (down from 26 percent) on purchases with a hammer value up to USD$6 million and 10 percent of the portion of the hammer price above USD$6 million, applicable to all Sotheby’s auctions globally, excluding cars, real estate, wine and spirits.

Hess said the recent New York Important Watches sale reflected the fruits of the simplified and more accessible pricing. “We had over 1,400 registered bidders yesterday,” he said, noting that the figure represented an increase of 400 registered bidders compared with last June. “That’s a jaw dropping number, meaningfully larger than five years ago. Moreover, more than one-third of our buyers yesterday were new.”

While both Hess and Hines acknowledged the recent downturn in secondary watch prices, they emphasised that it was not a reflection of anyone’s enthusiasm for watches.

“When people ask about the current state of the market, we talk about a meaningful down trend, but the reality is the fun is back in collecting,” Hess said. “I definitely see collectors embracing smaller watches than ever before. It used to be that 36 mm watches suffered a little bit because they were smaller than the 40 mm sport watches that people got excited about. Now there’s less of that. Certain brands will benefit and certain references.

Audemars Piguet

“And you’d have to be living under a rock not to see the uptick in interest in Cartier,” he added. “People are embracing new case shapes and smaller cases and naturally, Cartier would be a perfect fit. The brands are recognizing that, too: AP just came out with their mini Royal Oak yesterday. That’s not a coincidence.

“It’s less about a specific brand that’s hotter than others. It’s about size, shape and also price. That’s the reason why we say the fun is back in collecting. The thrill of the hunt is much more powerful now. Buyers have more choice now than they had recently. That allows you to seek out value buys and that leads to people enjoying the hobby more.”


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