Work

The counterfeiters’ enemy

The materials scientist Christoph Kocher works in Graubünden, because that’s where life took him. Nevertheless, Kocher, from the Canton of Solothurn, knows the world inside out – and the world knows him, only without knowing it.

The meeting with Christoph Kocher is permeated by an air of calm that only people who know exactly what they’re doing can exude. “It’s very difficult to counterfeit a Swiss banknote”, says the 47-year-old Head of Innovation at Landquart, the manufacturer of high-security paper. That’s because, unlike euro or dollar banknotes, Swiss franc banknotes consist of a combination of paper and plastic. Only very few people have the knowledge and skills required to develop banknotes like these. One of them refers to the print substrate as “the best of both worlds”, is named Christoph Kocher and goes by the code name “Emmett Brown”.

 

The GPS on Christoph Kocher’s smartphone first of all leads to a mill in Landquart that dates back more than 700 years, then to the letter box and then to a map showing the next clue. A few metres away, a key is hidden in a metal rod that protects the wall of the mill building. It’s time to go back to the letter box with the key and open it. The contents? The cache log book, including dates and names. The name Emmett Brown was only recently added to the log book. Because it doesn’t matter where Christoph Kocher’s current line of longitude is, geocaching is his constant companion. He might be hiking in the idyllic Graubünden Alps or taking part in conferences in turbulent Japan, but he’ll always find 20 minutes to use his GPS signal to lead him to a hidden cache and into a new adventure.

“I’ve always had a wide range of interests and enjoyed fiddling around”, says Kocher. He tells anecdotes of soapboxes, fireworks, brewing beer and his time at university. He was keen to ensure that his studies reflected his diverse interests, too. His subject of choice: materials sciences. His technical interest took Christoph Kocher from the canton of Solothurn to Zurich, from ETH Zurich to the US to complete his PhD, and from the US swiftly to Graubünden to start putting theory into practice, namely to Landqart, Switzerland’s only manufacturer of high-security paper. It is there that Kocher currently heads up the innovation department. “Banknotes are works of art, too”, he says, “just ones that are produced in very large quantities.” As a result, he explains, developing them is not just about being one step ahead of the counterfeiters, but also about reflecting the spirit of the age. “Banknotes can also be seen as a country’s business card. So they have to be not only secure, but also attractive and representative of the country’s values.”

 

A banknote series spends ten to fifteen years in circulation before it is replaced. Every time a new series is released, the appearance of the banknotes changes and new security features are added. At the same time, physical money is being used less and less in everyday life as digitalisation progresses. “Banknotes and contactless payment options will coexist in the future”, says Kocher, and this is a trend that he embraces himself, too: “I admit that I don’t always pay with cash either.”

 

One of the geocaching hiding places spots that Christoph Kocher chose himself is located on one of the upper storeys of a multi-storey car park. “GPS only works on the X and Y axis, but not on the vertical axis”, is how he splits the world into his dimensions. He says that other geocachers write to him time and again asking for clues. He answers each of them patiently as “Emmett Brown”. Christoph Kocher took his code name from a character in the film “Back to the Future”. Brown was a self-declared student of all disciplines. “Deep down, you’re always a child”, Christoph Kocher says.

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