Pimp My Rolex — The Bite Back

Did you know that it is illegal to destroy or alter a currency coin in the UK? You can’t technically deface a bank note either. But it happens — bank tellers make notes on them when counting and really, would anybody actually get into ‘proper’ trouble for drawing a moustache on HM The Queen on the fiver in their wallet?

On the subject of defacing the crown, it’s never been a secret that Rolex have a somewhat mortal disdain for brands and companies that customize their watches. Rumors have been aplenty of cease and desist letters, actual seizures of watches and off-the-radar litigation against those who coat the cases or reprint the dials of Geneva’s biggest player.

As with a lot of things, what you do in private is no one’s business. If I wanted to take my no-date Sub, PVD-coat it in daffodil yellow and reprint the dial in the form of an acid smiley face, then nobody is going to mind. Well, actually some people would mind and think I’d lost my mind, but Rolex wouldn’t bat an eyelid. But what about if I decided to sell them and create a line of them? Different story…

There are a number of highly prominent companies now established as specialists in customizing Rolex watches. I don’t believe naming them here would be fair, but they are household names, certainly within watch collecting circles.

And the work these companies do varies from simply coating the metal parts in a black coating right through to removing crown guards, re-tapping the cases to take different winding crowns and pushers and totally remodeling the dial and movement.

These brands have come and gone over the years and there are various ‘stories’ as to why certain brands ceased trading. The stalwarts are still trading, in part due to the fact that keep a low profile and they keep their feet just on the right side of acceptable, in terms of what they do to the watches. However, Rolex USA has now publically taken one customizer to task and have launched a legal case that may be a game changer.

As reported by WatchPro, LeCalifornienne is being accused of selling counterfeit Rolex watches due to the fact that the company is fitting non-Rolex dials and other parts to Rolex wristwatches. Like other outfits, LeCalifornienne only use authentic current and vintage models as bases for their offerings.

Read the complete filing here.

Key to the lawsuit is that Rolex claim that their warranty is void due to the modifications. I guess this raises the point that Rolex wouldn’t offer a warranty on a vintage watch anyway — but then trademark infringement is a very complicated business and interpretation is subjective.

The stronger argument is maybe in the following point that LeCalifornienne is: “engaging in a course of conduct likely to cause confusion, deception or mistake, or injure Rolex’s business reputation [and] diluting the distinctive quality of Rolex’s registered trademarks”.

This is the first time that such a case has been brought forward by Rolex against a customizing company. Will it be the last? Only time will tell. It will certainly be a warning shot that resounds loudly and clearly for a number of companies and retailers.

There’s an old English saying that “possession is nine tenths of the law” and so Rolex are going after that other one tenth. But would you want the integrity of your company being brought into disrepute?

I guess many of us would not. Clearly Rolex have acquired a number of these pieces and have found them to be inferior in a number of ways and therefore weakening to the brand reputation. There is one thing I am totally certain about, a lot of eyes will be following this case carefully!