A customisation specialist in California is being sued by Rolex for creating counterfeits of its watches when it alters their appearance with non-Rolex approved parts, such as dials, crystals and straps.
The case could have wide-reaching consequences for customisation companies in this country such as MJJ Exclusives, which have built up a significant celebrity fan base for altered watches from the likes of Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet.
The case in California is against laCalifornienne, a company founded three years ago in Los Angeles by Courtney Ormond and Leszek Garwacki.
It was filed on November 15 at the US District Court for the Central District of California as Rolex Watch U.S.A., Inc. v. Reference Watch LLC d/b/a La Californienne; Courtney Ormond; and Leszek Garwacki, 2:19-cv-09796 (C.D.Cal)
The case is unusual, and potentially precedent-setting because Rolex is accusing laCalifornienne of producing counterfeit watches, even though it only works from genuine timepieces, including contemporary pre-owned and vintage models from the likes of Rolex and Cartier.
In effect, Rolex is telling its customers they cannot alter their own watches and, while tampering with timepieces would always have invalidated warranties, now it is moving into the realms of legal disputes.
In court documents, reported by The Fashion Law, Rolex says it is enforcing its long-standing policy that the alteration of its timepieces to include non-authentic Rolex parts (or parts otherwise approved by Rolex) transforms an authentic watch into a counterfeit.
It also re-states that alterations “render Rolex’s warranty [on its watches] null and void [because] Rolex can no longer assure the quality or performance of such watches.”
Rolex claims that laCalifornienne’s watches no longer attain the aesthetic of original pre-owned Rolex watches and no longer perform or function to the same quality standards as unaltered pre-owned Rolex watches.
The company’s legal team appears to have acquired and tested watches from laCalifornienne watches. Rolex says that in addition to containing non-Rolex parts, both watches’ bezels were “bent and not properly fitted to the watch, and therefore [making it so that] water is likely to leak through, and ultimately, adversely affect the dial and movement of the watch,” among other alleged flaws.
These type of flaws could undermine the Rolex name, the Californian court is told, and has the potential to “mislead consumers” in a “calculated manner” by “falsely advertising and offering for sale ‘Rolex watches’ … on its website, Instagram page and Facebook page,” Rolex alleges.
The filing continues that: laCalifornienne 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.”
The customiser is 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” and giving the impression that the watches are “authorized, sponsored, or approved by Rolex when they are not.”
As well as working directly with customers, laCaliforniene sells through a network of partners including London-based Farfetch.