It’s a watch collector’s worst nightmare.
A German collector is stuck with a $50,000 dud after a Canadian Supreme Court judge ruled against him in a case he brought against the West Vancouver family who sold it to him on ebay.
Advertised in April 2008 as a “Patek Philippe rare-model rose pink gold vintage 1950s” wristwatch of a prototype design that had never retailed,owned by the family for 40 years, and listed for sale at $65,000, the entry included photos of the watch and a Certificate of Origin. Oliver Hartmann, a watch collector of three decades standing who owns 20 Pateks, put in a bid at $45,000 for what he believed to be a rare Ref.3413.
The defendants Christopher Fulton and his mother Wendy McKerness told Hartmann that they had received offers of $50,000 but preferred to sell to a collector like Hartmann than to a dealer due to the watch’s “sentimental value.”
He increased his offer to $50,000, which was accepted on April 8.
Hartmann told the court that he couldn’t get a certificate of authenticity from Patek Philippe because the movement belonged to an entirely different watch, and that Patek had never built the watch case. He claimed damages for breach of contract on the basis that he was “induced” to pay $50,000 for a watch that was not a genuine Patek Philippe.
When Hartmann had approached the sellers for a refund, they refused, arguing they acted in good faith and sold exactly what they offered. B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Johnston agreed. “This watch sufficiently corresponded to the description the defendants gave it that I do not find that it could not be used for any purpose related to its description, nor that it lacked merchantable quality.” “I do not find on the evidence that it was a condition of this sale that an abstract or other confirmation of authenticity could be obtained from Patek Philippe,” said Johnston in his decision.
The Judge stated that Hartmann could not rely on the expertise of the sellers, who were simply selling a family heirloom and were not experts. He also ruled that were several other things that should have tipped off Hartmann : that the watch had never been sold retail, that it was advertised as a prototype, and that the seller’s ebay description said it was made for, and not by, Patek Philippe.
Expert Stefan Muser examined the watch and found a number of discrepancies, including that the case was the wrong size, not manually assembled, and lacked the correct markings. Further, the dial had also been altered to fit the movement. Muser described the watch to the court as “without any doubt a forgery” with a resale value “only that of the used raw materials.”
The ebay description was as follows :
The full judgement of Hartmann v McKerness [2011 BCSC 927], can be read here, and it arguably raises more questions than it answers.
The following paragraphs in the judgement are particularly interesting :
The paragraphs raise numerous questions, not least of all :
1. Surely whether a watch is a Patek Philippe or not is not a “philosophical question”?
2. If there was a Certificate of Origin, does it specify a Ref. 3413. If so, it is rather curious that they have an “authentic Certificate of Origin” for this Reference, which they have matched up with a frankenwatch. Or did the Certificate of Origin need further investigation? Details about the Certificate are somewhat frustratingly sparse in the judgement, and paragraph 37 is just a bit puzzling regarding the authenticity of the document.
Then we have these two paragraphs concerning the expert, Mr Muser :
This is curious.
There don’t seem to be any photos online of this offending piece, but here are the details of a Ref. 3413 that was auctioned by Christies in November 2010. It realised CHF68,750. Only eight examples of a Reference 3413 are publicly known to exist, including this other one that was auctioned by Christies in 2008.