Omega! Up To No Good?

Caught With Your Hand In The Cookie Jar?

I have covered plenty of amazing watch auctions over the last few years.  I have explored some of the themes that drive the prices of watches at auction.  With our trusty guide by our side, the Watch Whisperer, we have been guided through the world of vintage watches.  Little did I know that we would have the opportunity to see some of the underbelly of the world of classic watches aired publicly. This is so scandalous that it can potentially lead to criminal charges.

This is not a story of intrigue involving a few individuals working on the sidelines of the industry.  No, this story involves one of the biggest names in Switzerland. This name is part of a group that employs 36,000 people across 50 different countries, SWATCH, and its premium brand, Omega. Remember them? They did the SWATCH x Omega collaboration that set the watch world on fire in 2022. This story is strange and should warn every watch collector because it is true.

Where does the story begin? 

Where this all begins, I am not too sure, but the Swiss Newspaper NZZ first reported it and then summarised it by Watchpro. It was watch expert, Jose Pereztroika who pieced all the pieces together and puts what I will lay out for you, in my opinion, beyond a reasonable doubt. This story is incredible and, in my humble opinion, is just starting. 

The cast of characters involved comes directly from Hollywood central casting and is worthy of the brand that has been linked to James Bond since 1995.  We have the corporate behemoths, Omega and SWATCH, the grey zone operators who are, according to the official story, colluding but operating independently of the corporate behemoths. The facilitator, the fine auction house of Phillips, and its larger-than-life auctioneer who only turns up for the huge auctions.  Finally, to add a bit of spice to this story, it is rumored that the individuals involved are members of a potentially violent gypsy clan. Does it get any better than this?

What is All The Fuss Over?

We must return to 5 November 2021 when an Omega Speedmaster Ref. 2915-1 ‘Broad Arrow’ featuring a ‘stunning tropical dial’ went up for auction at Phillips in Geneva.  It was placed in the auction with a pre-auction estimate of 80,000 ~ 120,000 CHF.  Even after the bidding topped one million Swiss Francs, the bids from Texas, Oman, and China (reportedly) kept coming in. When the hammer fell just after 5 pm on that November afternoon, the watch had sold for CHF 3,115,500, including the buyer’s premium, reportedly to a Chinese buyer.  Omega feted this sale with a press release that said, “Sales price of Speedmaster breaks new world record.”

This was reinforced by the delightful details that, ‘In addition to the watch, the proud new owner received an OMEGA “Extract from the Archives” confirming production of the present watch on November 22, 1957 – and original product literature.’  Wow, there can be no doubts over this watch, then?  Well, remember this detail; it becomes rather relevant towards the end.

Let’s look at the Watch

This Speedmaster Ref: 2915-1 has been called a “grail” by many who collect Omega watches.  The description of this watch presented by Phillips starts with the following sentence.”

“The Speedmaster is unequivocally Omega’s most historically important model to date. ”  

This is a true statement that no one can argue with. Most of the description is about this specific first generation of the Speedmaster 2915-1. But with the benefit of hindsight, things start to get a bit murky when they describe this specific watch as follows:

“The present watch displays an exceptional “tropical” dial that has aged to a vibrant milk-chocolate shade. The brown tone is not only rich and vivid, but it is also incredibly even throughout. Moreover, the luminous material on both the dial and hands have aged to an attractive golden tone.”

This would have remained a celebratory auction for vintage Omega watches, except the headlines turned the heads of several Omega aficionados. We are talking about people who have spent decades looking at and searching for specific watches at a level of detail I find difficult to imagine. But we should be thankful for their dedication because some of them recognized the dial!

An originally black dial, bleached out by the sun into a brown tone, is striking and should be rare. The problem was this dial looked just like the dial of a watch that a Bern watch dealer had offered for sale just a few months prior. An Omega Speedmaster with this same dial had been offered for sale at 50,000 Swiss francs, but it had not sold. It was reported that the watch looked like it had been pieced together, and some of the components did not fit together. No one seemed surprised it had not sold.

Over time the inconsistencies in the watch sold at Phillips continued to mount. With more questions being raised than answered, Jose Pereztroika from the blog site published a complete analysis of the inconsistencies of this watch on 9 April 2023. I will provide a summary of the main issues, but I do recommend reading his entire post. The detail he has amassed and how it is presented is lovely and very educational for anyone interested in purchasing a vintage watch.

What Was Wrong?

It may be easier to list what was right about this watch. Very little. But the main issues with the watch are as follows:

The dial and luminescence. 

A dial has its specific fingerprint, especially when it is as old as this one. They pick up damage over time, and the dial of this watch was no exception. A comparison of the dial shows several matching blemishes from the watch that was for sale in Bern previously.

More strikingly, all the blemishes of the luminescent hour markers are identical in shape and feature the same dark spots as the Bern watch. The only difference is the luminous material has changed color from green to “an attractive golden tone.”

All the photographs are available on Jose’s blog; even my untrained eye cannot dismiss so many points of commonality between these two dials. It seems there can be no doubt that it is the same dial.

The Movement

This is where it all gets bizarre. The movement number in the Phillips auction catalog is 1550006 (one less six than indicated everywhere else). Is it a typo, or is there more to this?  I subscribe to the notion that there are no accidents or coincidences.

Nobody knows what happened to the original watch with movement serial number 15500066, which was sold on 2 November 1957. The present watch is certainly not it, for the reasons you can see on Joze’s blog. What is also interesting to note is that the person responsible for issuing the certificate of authentication resigned days after the auction.

There have been rumors that this person had been working with the seller of this watch over an extended period. There is also speculation over the integrity of several certificates that had been issued. If you can access the archives, you can access movement numbers used for specific watches. That is where the opportunity arises, and a new escape wheel bridge is made, including time appropriate serial number. For the untrained eye, a movement from Circa 1967 is now time-stamped 1957.

The Bezel

We all understand how easily the bezel of our watches can be scratched and dented. These all leave a unique signature. In this case, Jose Pereztroika could go back into his watch auction catalog and find a bezel with eight points of commonality in the damage. Even more striking, the watch the bezel came from was auctioned at Phillips in November 2018. It does not look good for Phillips that part of the watch they had previously auctioned appeared on a different watch that Omega had authenticated as original.  

Summing UP

This is getting rather long, so I have decided to make another post where I try and bring all this together and bring some understanding to the situation. Look out for the next installment, and if you want to make sure you do not miss it, please sign up below to receive an email whenever we release a blog post.

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