Many collectors and neophytes gravitate towards large prestigious watch auction houses because of an expectation that a filtering system exists between seller and buyer to ensure that the house doesn’t allow fakes and seriously suspect pieces to come to market under their banner.
As in the world of art, Auction houses like Sothebys, Antiquorum, Bonhams, Christies and others have experts on hand to review the watches submitted for sale, as much to protect their reputations as reliable and astute sources of quality collectibles as to protect unsuspecting buyers.
Imagine my surprise then when a Frankenfake ‘gold’ Omega Constellation appeared in Antiquorum’s June 11 New York catalogue. This auction was billed as an "Important Collectors' Wristwatches, Pocket Watches & Clocks Sale”, and according to the advertising hype “An exciting selection of watches owned by 20th century icons, including two watches owned by Steve McQueen (the Heuer Monaco worn in the movie ‘Le Mans’, and a Rolex Submariner, Ref. 5512), Franklin D. Roosevelt's Tiffany & Co.-branded Movado triple-date calendar, and an 18 karat yellow gold Cartier Pasha given to Sammy Davis Jr. by Frank Sinatra.”
Amongst this “exciting selection of watches” at the July 11 auction was Lot 158 describing, and I quote, a “Yellow Gold Constellation Omega, Automatic, Chronometer, Officially Certified, No. 33087860, Ref. 091919. Made in the 1970s. Fine, center seconds, self-winding, water-resistant, 18K yellow gold wristwatch with date and a gold Omega buckle”. The listing (click here) went on to describe the technical features of the watch and identified the movement as a calibre 565.
Without looking at the watch itself, any expert worth his or her salt should have smelled a rat immediately simply by reviewing the description. It is common knowledge amongst experts in vintage watches that the reference 091919 is a Vietnamese faked case purporting to look like an Omega Constellation case number 168.005. A number of these 091919 cases have been tested and have shown little gold content at all, and in this instance the unusual tarnishing and surface condition of the watch case should have alerted the ‘expert’ who examined this watch that something was decidedly wrong. The expert would have also noticed upon examining the inner case that something was awry and that the hermetic sealing system at the crown was non-existent.
In the written expert’s “Overall Opinion” the watch was described as “Good”. My question is, good for what? Had the so-called expert consulted readily available data on Omega Constellations of the period he would have discovered that calibre 565 never powered Omega Constellations. Had he looked at the inner case back (see example above) of this watch he would have discovered crude stampings of responsibility marks and purity declarations. He would have further discovered that the coarse rendition of the Helvetia stamp did not include the assay office code at the base of the mark, and he would have discovered that the case makers mark indicated a maker’s code that never produced cases for Omega.
Had the so-called expert looked closely at the dial, he would have noticed that it was a fake dial, and not manufactured by Omega. He would have spotted: (1) the lack of correct facets on the applied chronometer star,(2) incorrect styling of the date surround, (3) the poorly cast Omega symbol and logo, (4) the wrongly labelled ‘T Swiss T’ printing at the base of the dial which indicates that both markers and hands should be luminescent, (5) the incorrect upper-case poorly printed lettering lacking in serifs that fails the standard MOY test, (6) the incorrect rendition of the ‘Constellation’ lettering, (7) the wrong hands (the minute hand is too short) despite the ‘expert’s claim that they were “original” and (8) incorrect arrowhead markers that were phased out by Omega in around 1960 on a watch that had a serial number that indicated movement production in 1971.
The real tragedy arising from this seemingly negligent, or at least gormless, appraisal as it appeared in the Antiquorum catalogue description is that someone believed it and paid US$ 3,600.00 including buyer’s premium. All the expert had to do was a contrastive analysis with a real gold Constellation in lot 155 of the same auction and this embarrassment would have been avoided!
The argument that signficiant details of the watch were revealed in the listing that would allow an expert to determine that it was a Frankenfake doesn’t even hold water on eBay and most certainly should never be offered in mitigation by a well-known auction house, so let’s hope we don’t hear that excuse trotted out.
This watch should never have appeared in an “important collectors” Antiquorum catalogue. It is not even a clever fake, with at least 15 flags to its non-authenticity. The so-called ‘expert’ who appraised this watch and described it as good overall should be pensioned off because s/he has compromised the fragile integrity under which all auction houses operate.
I have emailed Antiquorum in New York advising them of my intention to post a critique of Lot 158 and offering the organisation the opportunity to respond to the points made. It is customary for reputable auction houses, such as Antiquorum, upon discovering having sold a fake during an auction to approach the buyer and offer a full refund. I hope to hear from them that they have done just that.
For a comprehensive essay on authenticating solid gold Omega Constellations please click here
I received an email from Julian Scharer at Antiquorum, offering thanks for pointing out the status of the watch and advising that the sale has been cancelled and the watch returned to the consignor.
This is a good result and Antiquorum deserves praise for its quick resolution to the issue. Now, about that expert? :)
Return to home page
Return to home page