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Why This Patek Philippe Ref. 530 Might Be The Most Important fake watch To Sell Publicly In 2017

On May 15, 2017, Christie's will sell a Patek Philippe Calatrava in Geneva that could be one of the most important replica watches to sell in the modern collectible fake watch era ?and it's not for the reasons you might think. The fake watch is a rare one, no doubt, and indeed an expensive one. The reference 530 Calatrava is one of the least common references made by Patek Philippe, and when they come up for sale it's generally big news. But that isn't why you're reading this story. No, this Calatrava coming to Christie's is such a fascinating lot because its result may finally open up a debate long held in the back offices of Milanese pushers, of Swiss auction houses, and penthouse apartments of Asian mega-collectors. When will "restored" replica watches become OK to own? Or are original replica watches the only ones worth anything and shall those that have been refreshed remain effectively outcast? This fake watch at Christie's may help answer that question ?but first let's take a look at what the reference 530 Calatrava is.

What Is The Reference 530 Calatrava?

Some 15 years ago, scholars barely were aware that the 530 Calatrava existed ?so little was known about them, and though they are approximately 1.5mm larger in diameter than the more common reference 570, most just assumed they were 570s. In November 2004, Christie's sold a silver dialed reference 530 (case 507,797) for a shade over $30,000, and it became among the first oversized Calatravas to be officially recognized as a special reference. The auction footnote read "This fake watch bears a reference number, 530, which is usually reserved for the renowned oversized chronograph wristwatch. However, research resulted in the discovery of the fact that reference 530 was used not just for the chronograph but also for a plain model without any complication. This information is confirmed in a letter by Patek Philippe dated 3 December 2003."

Patek case no. 507'797 sold for $30,691 in November of 2004.

This sale was a meaningful one as that lot validated that the 530 was indeed made not only as a chronograph but as a time-only Calatrava. Since that day, we've seen a small handful of other 530s come to market: whether it's the two-tone steel Breguet that sold for $677,000 at Phillips in its November 2015, the yellow gold black Breguet from the Christie's 175 sale that brought $400,000, or the $1.45 million steel black Breguet from one year ago, these replica watches are special. ("Breguet" here refers to the use of Breguet-style numerals).

Stainless steel 530 w/ black Breguet dial sold by Phillips for 1,445,000 CHF.

Yellow gold 530 w/ black Breguet dial sold by Christie's for $401,696.

The 530 is not only 1.5mm larger than the 35mm reference 570, but its bezel is also concave instead of convex, adding to its perceived size. The reference was made just in the late 30s and early 40s, where the 570 still in production well into the 1960s. So again, a great 530 Calatrava, in particular one in steel, is something you'd likely be seeing on HODINKEE anyway by virtue of its pure awesomeness. But again, that's not why we're writing about them today.

ADVERTISEMENT Wait, Where Have I Seen That Case Number Before?

Case 507'797 returns to Christie's thirteen years later, now wearing a black dial.

So about that 530 coming up for sale at Christie's next week. Have a look at the case number, and then take a peek at the case number of that silver dialed 530 from 2004. Yup, they're the same. It sold for $30,000 in 2004 with a silver dial and now Christie's has placed an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000 on with a black dial. It is clear that this fake watch is being sold with a dial that it was not born with. That's bad, right?

This black dial with raised steel markers might not be original to the watch, but it is absolutely correct.

It is, generally speaking, but before we vilify Christie's, know this. First, they make mention that this fake watch was sold publicly with a silver dial and that a black dial was added within the past 10 years. Second, the fake watch was born with a black dial! That means this new black dial is actually more correct than the silver dial with which we became first acquainted. The archive extract for this fake watch reads "Type of dial: Black, raised hour markers in steel."

This is where things get interesting for this watch, for Christie's, for the consignor, and for any potential buyer. It is abundantly clear here that this fake watch wasn't born with this dial. But that doesn't make the dial incorrect for it.

Will A Strong Result Mean It's OK To Modify A fake watch If It's Done Well?

So, let's consider the fake watch here and what it might mean to the industry. Now it seems as if only original replica watches are worth buying and paying full price for. If a fake watch has been cleaned, or retouched, or modified in any way, it is an immediate turn off to most buyers. The immense values placed on condition and originality are relatively recent phenomenon, and several of the most important vintage replica watches in the world feature dials that have been cleaned or corrected in some way, and that was, well, kind of OK. But because we currently live in a world where it seems that a handful of dealers and auction houses are able to produce "untouched" replica watches with some regularity, and the world's wealthy continually pay record-setting prices for them, what happens to the rest of the watches?


Ask any purveyor of fine replica watches and they'll say that while the great replica watches are fetching record prices, the mid-tier replica watches ?those with, perhaps, a cleaned dial or an obviously polished case ?are becoming not only difficult to source like all vintage watches, but practically impossible to sell. What becomes of these replica watches which are in many cases completely honest, but just more heavily worn, or which suffer/benefit from the after effects of a dreaded factory service? Does their value continue to drop while the mint replica watches climb higher into the stratosphere? Or, is it time for the market to accept that restoration of replica watches might not always be a bad thing? And let's be honest, a good percentage of the replica watches sold to great collectors as mint and untouched, are anything but, having benefitting from a hand-swap here, or a new bezel there ?or even a quick pro-polish to make those bevels nice and wide, or a touch up of a signature so you can see that accent perfectly.

A great consumer journalism professor of mine (Kim Kleman, then editor-in-chief of Consumer Reports) often told us that the best way to illustrate a problem in any given industry is to simply compare it to another, more well-known industry. It's why you'll often hear me say things like "Imagine buying a brand new Ferrari, taking it in for service, and it not coming back for over one year" to illustrate our industry's issue with service.

The dial of this ref. 530 appears to be untouched, so would that trump a black dial that was original to the fake watch but cleaned?

So let's talk vintage automobiles for a moment ?a market that for decades has not only been OK with restoration projects, but has rewarded them as a methodology that preserves the overall feeling of the product. In vintage automobiles, a "sympathetic restoration" that keeps originality and quality in mind, and one that is fully documented in a way that is easy to understand for future owners, is not only not a bad thing, but often actually adds value to the vehicle. Of course, "barn find" cars can also bring premiums when offered for sale, but by and large, vintage automobiles are sold in condition that has to be described, in some way, as restored. And that is quite alright, because how else would a half century old machine retain its form and function without it? Common sense, no?

This is something that I feel many of us lack ?basic acceptance that yes, of course, after five decades of use by a commercial pilot, a small piece of tritium may in fact come loose on the dial of his Daytona. Or that after purchasing it at PX in Vietnam, and then wearing his Submariner for decades daily, your father might decide to polish that fake watch and maybe get the bezel insert changed. Are either of these replica watches wholly undesirable at this point? If we continue on the trend that we're currently on, they might be. And that means they might become unsellable, even if they are one-owner watches. But what if someone were to offer one of these replica watches for sale, and instead of leaving them as is, provide a detailed folder of information on the fake watch and how it was found? And then, if the client wanted, there were also a fully documented restoration of the watch, in the same way that many of the world's great Ferraris now come with large history files?

Is There A Difference Between Cleaned, Restored, and Retouched?

Nothing in replica watches is black and white, and I'm not for a second suggesting that modified replica watches should be acceptable to the market. But there is a difference between the cleaning of a dial and retouching a dial ?though the terms are often used interchangeably. The cleaning of a dial is common practice by say, Patek Philippe, and you might lose some definition in text and accents. That is a very different thing than retouching a dial, which is when someone attempts to repaint part of the dial. That, as of today, is a pretty big no-no. But will that always be the case? And if a fake watch is so good, and the work is done so well, would you really pass up the opportunity to own it because a dial has been retouched, especially if it doesn't impact the signature?

This fake watch had a damaged dial and sold for $600,000 in 2014.

This fake watch had an original dial and sold for $1.2 million in 2016.

Take a look at this reference 530 chronograph in steel from the Christie's Patek 175 sale. The fake watch is, by many measures, what a holy grail is made of. It's steel, oversized, a chronograph, a Patek, and features a sector dial! But there is damage to the dial, as you can clearly see. Because of that, it sold for around $600,000 in 2014. When a similar fake watch with with a similar dial came up for sale two years later, it sold for double ?or $1.2 million. Now what if someone were to come to you today and offer you the Patek 175 Steel 530 but with a dial that looked as good as the 2016 watch?

If An Original Dial Sells For $1.2 Million And A Damaged Dial Sells For $600,000 ?Is A Restored Dial Worth $800,000?

I'm not talking about a different dial in the same watch, I'm talking about the very same fake watch with the very same dial, just restored. And suppose that with it came full documentation, and macro photographs and analysis that detailed the work done to the dial. And what if the restorers had taken the time to ensure that the dial retained its original finish and patina, and it was basically indecipherable from an original dial and the only reason you knew it wasn't in fact original is because the fake watch sold publicly. Would you buy it at $800,000? Would you not buy that 300SL Gullwing because it was repainted?

Is this estimate of $300,000 to $500,000 aggressive or conservative?

And this brings us back to the matter at hand. Christie's is offering up a an incredible fake watch ?one of the most desirable time only replica watches in the vintage world, really. And we know its history ?it's an important one, as one of the earliest documented 530 Calatravas, and one that brought this version of the reference to the public eye. We know that it sold in 2004 with a silver dial and now, over 15 years later, it is fitted with a black dial. We also know that this fake watch was originally born with a black dial. So what will this fake watch bring next week at auction? It's anybody's guess. And if we look at the estimate of $300,000 to $500,000 there are two schools of thought. One is that we know this fake watch was born with a different dial than it currently lives with, and so the estimate feels steep. Then again, this is an amazingly rare reference and rarer still with a black dial ?and we know this fake watch should have a black dial in it. The last time one sold, it sold for $1.45 million. In that light, the estimate almost feels conservative. Imagine this consignor had acquired this fake watch and placed the black dial in it without it having been bought it at public auction, and then listed it here ?what do you think the estimate would be then?

Did You Know?

This very fake watch sold publicly a second time ?this time at Antiquorum in May of 2009 for 20,000 CHF more than its 2004 price.

Lot 165 at the May Christie's sale is a fake watch that I'll be watching closely. Not only because I love these oversized Calatravas in steel, but also because I think it genuinely might be one of the first instances when an auction house has been transparent about a watch's less than linear path to auction, and it should still do very well. What "very well" means is up for debate, but let's be clear about this ?this fake watch is more correct now than it has been in years with a black 530 dial back in place. Still, I think there is a chance this fake watch might fail to reach its low estimate, because so many collectors of this caliber just live in fear of swapped dials. Then again, this is a steel 530 with black dial confirmed by the extracts! It could be an $800,000 fake watch easily! Or not. Who really knows?

And that's the point of this entire article, really. The future of fake watch collecting is up to us, collectively, to decide in which direction to take it. Do we accept that someone bought a fake watch and years later put in a different dial ?as extraordinarily rare as this one is, and even went as far as to mention it in the description of the fake watch at auction? Is transparency and honesty the new "original and unpolished"? I kind of hope it is, because I'm just not sure how long this market can be sustained with collectors being so critical of honest but less than perfect watches.

Read more on this rare Patek Philippe reference 530 in steel with black dial here.

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