In a stunning revelation, an Omega Speedmaster watch from 1957, touted as an immaculate original, has turned out to be an elaborate forgery, fetching a record-breaking $3.4 million at the Phillips auction in November 2021.
Bloomberg reports that the timepiece, known as Ref. 2915-1, was meticulously assembled using parts sourced from various vintage watches, constituting a fraudulent creation. Astonishingly, not only collectors but even the brand itself fell victim to the deception, as Omega alleges the involvement of three former employees in the intricate scam. The final hammer price exceeded the pre-sale estimate by over 25 times, with Omega ultimately acquiring the watch for its in-house collection.
According to Omega, a former employee from its museum and brand heritage department collaborated with intermediaries to orchestrate the purchase of the watch for the Omega Museum. This individual purportedly convinced company executives that the timepiece was an exceedingly rare and exceptional find, ideal for the in-house collection.
At first glance, the timepiece appeared to be a flawless, first-generation Speedmaster, featuring a tropical dial, a "Broad Arrow" hour hand, a metal bezel with a tachymeter scale, and an oval "O" Omega logo. However, closer inspection revealed that it had been assembled using components primarily sourced from authentic watches, alongside potentially fabricated parts. Omega accuses the three former employees involved in the scheme of participating in the assembly of the fraudulent watch.
"The false provenance allowed the perpetrators to justify an exorbitantly inflated bid facilitated through intermediaries," stated the watchmaker.
Omega is currently unaware of who presented the counterfeit Speedmaster at Phillips for auction at the Geneva Watch Auction XIV. While the auction house is bound by client confidentiality rules and has not disclosed the seller's identity, a representative from Phillips informed the media that they would cooperate with authorities if requested to reveal this information.
Reportedly, Phillips was unaware of any illicit activities surrounding the watch when it consigned it for auction and conducted its due diligence, including obtaining confirmation from Omega regarding the movement's manufacturing date, the corresponding watch model, the date of sale, and its serial number.
The incident serves as a reminder to collectors that originality and transparency regarding modifications are crucial aspects of a timepiece's value. Watches in their original factory configurations command higher prices compared to those that have been altered. Phillips emphasized that they only offer watches when fully satisfied with their authenticity, with rare exceptions being explicitly noted in catalog descriptions or condition reports.
The secondary market has become a breeding ground for meticulously crafted replicas and "Frankenstein" models, capable of deceiving even reputable auction houses and watchmakers. Experts advise collectors to heed the age-old adage that if something appears too good to be true, it likely is.