Wednesday, December 11, 2019

When Rolex is not a Rolex?

LaCalifornienne, a company that "restores vintage timepieces and reimagines them in bold colour", has found themselves in a legal dispute with Rolex, who filed a lawsuit on the 15th November at the US District Court for the Central District of California.

LaCalifornienne is an independent watch dealer which customises vintage and pre-owned Cartier and Rolex watches, injecting colour into the classics by altering the original dials, bezels, straps and crystals. Founded three years ago by Courtney Ormond and Leszek Garwacki (defendants), the company is now being sued as Rolex accuses the husband-wife duo of producing and selling counterfeit watches.

Featured in the likes of Forbes and Vogue, laCalifornienne watches are praised for ‘breathing new life into vintage timepieces’ and seen as a ‘youthful upgrade to the classics’ (Goop by Gwyneth Paltrow).

However, Rolex doesn't think so.

During the customisation process, laCalifornienne replace original Rolex parts with non-approved parts, a process which does not sit well with the mega brand. In the lawsuit, Rolex claims that replacing parts in a pre-owned or vintage Rolex no longer “attains the aesthetic” of Rolex and makes an otherwise authentic watch a counterfeit.

Not only have laCalifornienne ‘revamped’ Rolex watches giving the Rolex trademark a complete makeover, but Rolex believe that the watches do not perform to the same standard as an unaltered Rolex.

After acquiring two of the modified watches, Rolex claimed that the bezels in both watches were “bent and not properly fitted to the watch, and therefore water is likely to leak through, and ultimately, adversely affect the dial and movement of the watch.” This flaw along with others could be detrimental to the Rolex name, “diluting the distinctive quality of Rolex’s registered trademarks” as stated in the case against laCalifornienne.

LaCalifornienne is also accused of “benefiting and profiting from Rolex’s outstanding reputation for high quality products and its significant advertising and promotion of Rolex watches and the company’s trademarks” along with falsely suggesting that the watches are “authorised, sponsored, or approved by Rolex when they are not.”

I’m kind of with Rolex on this one. While the consumer/watch owner should be free to modify his watch in any way he wishes to, setting up a business with the sole purpose of selling heavily modified Rolex watches and passing them off as genuine is a different story.

The fact is this: A Rolex name on a Rolex watch is worth more than the watch itself. And when buying a Rolex, you would want a 100% genuine Rolex watch, not just something that someone has put together.

We will be following this case with interest.

However, laCalifornienne is just one of many companies which specialises in Rolex modifications. Take for example, Artisans de Geneve (incidentally based in Geneva!). While Artisans de Geneve clearly points out that "modification service is for private customers only, and that customised or modified watches are not intended for resale", in my opinion the end result is the same: a customised Rolex containing non-Rolex components that barely resembles the original design yet bears the Rolex copyrighted logo. I doubt Rolex have not heard of them and wonder what action will be taken.

Quite frankly, if Artisans de Geneve are such great artisans, why don't they start their own watch brand, sign watches with their name and show us what they're good at, rather than bastardising Rolex watches and the Rolex brand? 

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