Digital authentication for art and luxury items

19th January 2024
Sheryl Miles

For centuries, works of art and cultural artifacts have been counterfeited, stolen, or exchanged. They range from antiques to paintings and sculptures. While longevity and nostalgia increase the desire for old objects for many people, even forgers who have been exposed in major scandals have not revealed how many of their fakes are actually in circulation.

The number of unreported cases is enormous, especially since forgeries have been made for centuries: authentic old paintings by lesser-known painters were signed by a famous artist. However, there are hardly any effective protection mechanisms apart from expert opinions using expensive forensic methods.

With Origify’s optical recognition system, the Bosch technology group is helping to provide a work of art with a digital fingerprint based on high-resolution image data after it has been authenticated by the relevant experts. This image data is then automatically converted into a fingerprint in the form of a binary file of a few kilobytes in size and stored in a data cloud. There is no need to apply stickers or invisible markings to the artwork to create a fingerprint. Any artwork with a physical surface can be captured, such as the surface of an oil painting or watercolour, a sculpture or bronze, or a wood carving or antique. Authentication can be done later using an app and a compatible smartphone.

More security for the art trade

"Auction houses, art dealers, and galleries can use a special camera device from Origify to record works of art whose provenance and creator have been established beyond doubt in just a few minutes and without any special effort. Particularly suitable and concise areas are selected for this purpose, such as the signature area. Once captured, the binary data set is automatically created and stored, and can be supplemented with any data related to the object. All the data stored in cloud is tamper-proof. Later, a suitable smartphone is all that is needed to check whether the object and the data set are still the match," explains Oliver Steinbis, Inventor, and Project Manager for Origify at Bosch.

The solution was initially developed at Bosch for the protection and traceability of internal products, but Origify is now available for numerous other areas and has already won over companies in the luxury segment in particular. For the technology, which can see far more than the human eye, it does not matter whether it is a single piece such as a watercolour, an oil painting, a clay sculpture, or a designer handbag produced in large quantities. Each piece, whether part of a series or one-of-a-kind, has its own unique fingerprint that cannot be copied.

Protection against the exchange of works of art

It's not just the international art trade that can benefit from Origify. Museums and private collectors can also protect their collections.

"Our solution can also be used for electronic inventories to detect misuse. This allows collectors and museums to ensure that works of art are in the same condition as when they were originally loaned, for example, and have not been exchanged. The effort for the user is minimal – a modern smartphone with the Origify app is all that is needed to check the artworks," explains Oliver Steinbis of Bosch.

The Origify functionality can also be integrated into other applications via a software development kit. The Origify solution compares the image of the specified area – for example, the signature of a painting – taken with the mobile phone and provide a result in just a few seconds. The level of security is very high thanks to the conversion of the photographic images into a binary data set. It is not possible to reconstruct the image data.

"In this way, we can also offer sensitive industries with the necessary privacy. The art trade and luxury products in general require a great deal of trust – even when it comes to security solutions. We can offer this throughout the entire process," continues Steinbis.

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