Friday, April 16, 2021
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Rolex calls custom watchmaker a counterfeiter in landmark court case

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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.

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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)

Ms Ormond is named as the defendant.

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.

 

laCalifornienne watches promoted on its Instagram page, which has over 20,000 followers.

 

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.

38 COMMENTS

  1. Lol Rolex

    What a bunch of twats

    Even worse than Apple saying you can’t jailbreak your own phone.

    Rolex can go F* themselves, self righteous twats

  2. Typical Arrogance of the Swiss wat5ch houses thinkung they still own the watch.
    If a customer wants to dip his watch in green paint then he can do what he wants with his property.
    If you buy a new Range Rover and cover it in bespoke go faster strips and change the wheels that does not make it a fake or counterfeit.
    If you decide to sell the watch on, as long as it’s clear that this is a 3rd party bespoked Rolex no laws are breached.
    A couple of leaking bezels!!! yeh right on Rolex, prove it, i mean independantly prove it, and even if they are not perfect so what, it’s your choice on spending obscene amounts of money on publicity and promotion.

  3. This is complete bull….

    It’s entirely up to the owner of a timepiece as to what they would like to do their watch and how they would like to wear it. Once purchased from rolex, they should be able to change, modify and/or customise their watch as and how they wish, as it is no longer Rolex’s property. Just like car owners are able to freely modify or customise their cars.

    Im not surprised by Rolex’s behaviour if I am honest. Intimidating, bullish and threatening behaviour. This is just a typical case of David v Goliath.

  4. Misleading writing- From the sound of it Rolex are not stating that you cant modify a Rolex- They are saying you cant modify a Rolex, use non-genuine parts and then sell it as a Rolex.

    The issue is to do with clarity and transparency and using the Rolex name fraudulently.- “giving the impression that the watches are “authorized, sponsored, or approved by Rolex when they are not.”.

  5. Rolex have a point here.

    Rolex make outstanding watches and someone is tearing them apart and fitting them (poorly) with sub standard parts.

    I agree that someone could, easily, have the impression that the sub standard watch is a reflection on the Rolex brand.

    If I built something to perfection – it took me months – and I sell it as a perfect item. If then someone tore it apart and rebuilt it poorly before advertising it as the same perfect item, I would not be happy, this would directly harm my business.

    • Why would you want to modify a watch with inferior parts anyway, just don’t get it, but as I’m not a fan of rolex, please carry on, now if they starting messing with omega’s, I’d be darn right ticked off about the whole sorry situation.

    • I do not dispute Rolex’s points about the possibility of the modifications physically / mechanically downgrading the quality of the watch.

      But they do NOT have a legal right to tell me what I can do with my Rolex, once I have purchased it is my property to do with as I like.

      People buying laCalifornienne watches clearly know they are modified watches and laCalifornienne clearly state on their website they have modified the watches and the original manufacturer does not warranty the watch.

      Also, there are other companies in other industries (automobiles, audio equipment, etc) which modify/refurbish products ~ by extension, under Rolex’s reasoning, all modifications of all products would be illegal.

      I certainly hope Rolex does not win this case… and moreover I hope it is quickly tossed out of court and does not cost laCalifornienne a bunch of money to fight, hence causing them to close down.

    • But that’s OK, isn’t it, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. I have some watches I buy specifically to mod, and some I buy specifically to restore to original. Watches are machinery – sure, you can develop emotions around them, but they are not sacred. Engineering, definitely, art, possibly, until they incite bigotry, envy and unkind words. But not sacred.

      Brands are not sacred either, no matter how much advertising you have seen telling you that they are. They remind me of restaurants that don’t have salt or pepper on the table, because you are supposed to like your food the way the chef decides. Some people still ‘need’ to be schooled I guess, and the ones trying to school the free thinkers are the ones that need it most.

      Frankens, fakes, and watches that cost a month’s or a year’s salary. First world problems.

  6. You should be able to modify your watch anyway you want and hire others to do it for you. But i can also see why rolex wouldnt want a modder to sell modded watch as ‘Rolex’.

    • I agree with Rolex here. If you read the full article they are not complaining about owners wanting modify a watch they already own, they are complaining about the company selling modified Rolex watched which is well within their right. The people buying these watches are likely thinking they are buying an authentic Rolex when they are not.

      The issue is not owners wishing to customize their watches like other commenters make it seem bit rather using their brand to sell modified and therefore counterfeit watches

      • lol…you really think the people buying those watches think they’re buying an unmodified “authentic” Rolex? lol….okay buddy…

        I haven’t even checked their website and I already know they’re selling a Rolex with a certain number of non-Rolex parts inside. That’s hardly a counterfeit watch.

  7. Once you’ve bought something you are the legal owner, so in my opinion you can do what you like with it. Rolex are fools to act on this, I understand that modified items can’t be advertised as Rolex watches. But if they win what next no more customised cars, everyone has to have the same item, ffs Rolex do one.

  8. Rolex have absolutely every right: those who find it ridiculous obviously don’t know what it means to create your own brand. They are chancing upon a name that is hard earned yet easily worn. I am a Rolex owner myself and don’t particularly like those toyish designs even the carter outpost looks color awful. As a designer, I know what looks right, they can go experiment with swatch!

    • Absolute rubbish ….. so you are also saying that if you buy a house designed by a “famous architect “ , you can also never paint it , or change the colour , or alter any part of the house because he can sue you !!?? Think before you speak

    • Your reasoning is flawed, bigoted and smacks of elitism in so many ways…

      What makes your Rolex more important / valued / valuable than my Swatch; such that your Rolex should not be modified but someone else’s Swatch can have anything done to it?

      Swatch has a strong stake in their brand identity as well

      What makes Rolex have the right to say I can not modify my Rolex / my property?
      Once I own it, it is mine to do with it as I like

      What makes your taste / designs better than everyone else’s?

      As I mentioned in another comment; people buying laCalifornienne watches clearly know they are modified watches and laCalifornienne clearly state on their website they have modified the watches and the original manufacturer does not warranty the watch.

  9. Rolex simply does not own the property once sold and the owner is free to do with it what they want. As is the modifier. One exception that I can in the La Californienne case is that it appears they may have applied the Rolex trademark themselves to a new dial – that’s a problem. Had they used the original dial – or not placed the trademarked term on the new dial I would think the law of ownership (at least here in the USA) are gin clear.

  10. Rolex is right.

    Why let people put non original parts in a Rolex and then sell it as a rolex?

    Rolex needs to be more zealous in protecting its name

  11. All these people who say they can do what they want with their Rolex, when they want to sell it on, would sell it as a fully certified Rolex. Doubt if they would advertise is as a Modded Rolex watch. They would want the cache that the name Rolex gives a watch, which has cost Rolex many millions and years to earn
    Can’t have it both ways.

  12. Utterly ridiculous.
    They cannot having been selling them as anything other than modified Rolex. It is there entire USP, although not entirely unique. Companies like Bamford do exactly the same, I don’t know if they are authorised to do so or whether Rolex will go after them next should they unjustly win this case.
    As for the watch not being up to Rolex standards, irrelevant, any second hand piece may have been worked on by an unauthorized watchmaker, and whilst most are qualified and will meet Rolex standards there is no guarantee that any second hand watch is in as new manufacturers condition.
    If they were selling them as completely original then that would be covered by fraud laws.

  13. Swiss watch manufacturers believe that the watch is still theirs after they have sold it – it’s in their blood, and they can’t help it.
    Nevertheless, this is totally wrong, and the owner of a watch can of course do whatever they want to do with it. Rolex can refuse service, fair enough, but going any further than that is ridiculous.

  14. The way I read it….Rolex does give a shit if you customize your own Rolex watch for your own use.. What they have a problem with is a larger scale operation where a retailer may be misleading some buyers by selling modified Rolex watches that have non Rolex parts leading the buyer to believe that the modifications are Rolex approved. Basically the retailer is not modifying a customers watch….instead they are purchasing the watch themselves modifying it then selling to a buyer as an authentic customized Rolex (a limited edition of sorts). That’s like a Lamborghini dealer making mods with Honda parts and selling the car to the end user . Which is different from the Lambo owner bringing his own car in for the mods

    • I agree that this is the heart of Rolex’s case. Customers can do what they like with their own watches. The issue is with laCalifornienne appearing to profit from the brand equity built up by Rolex while, at times, undermining it by using fake parts.

  15. That will be laughed out of court…if you buy a BUGATTI, and drop a CLEVELAND 351 ENGINE in it (and why?, would be the question, of course!)…is it not a Bugatti anymore?…
    You own it, and with this mentality every CAR CUSTOMIZER should be sued by the original car manufacturer…a ridiculous lawsuit..what are the damages?… THEY SHOULD BUY THESE GUYS OUT AND HIRE THEM TO TURN YOUR HO HUM LINE OF POOR TIMEPIECES, THAT DO NOT TELL ACCURATE TIME, INTO SOMETHING THAT ROCKS!… grow up ROLEX…

  16. Really interesting article, IMHO you can do whatever you want with your watch but if there is a 3 party involve making money out of it they should be careful about what they alter, it is not the same to make and change straps Than printing dials and clasps with other company logo and trademark, they are not authorized to make others logo and sale them (that is counterfeit whether we like it or not) I think it is a thin line and law should prevale in matter like this

  17. Of course you can do whatever you want to “your” watch. This is not about individual customization of watches but about customizing a specific brand and then re-selling it’s watches as if they are authorized or original.

    I would be very wary of the internal parts of these watches as well as sure enough no one asks for a Rolex to be opened so they can examine its gears and whatnot.

    I’m completely in agreement with Rolex on this one. On the other hand, whoever wants can do whatever they want to their watch(es) as long as they realize that official Rolex service will always reinstate the watch to its proper condition.

  18. Why is there even a debate about this? Obviously they profited on the backs of one of the most highly recognized and the most valuable brand on the planet. I guarantee they will get swiftly and quite easily destroyed in court.. That’s of course if they’re foolish enough not to beg for mercy and settle this quickly and quietly. Any attorney worth their salt will agree they are toast, dead to rights, and thats besides the fact that it’s David and Goliath in terms of resources to throw at this. Rolex already won the instant they filed. The only question now is how much destruction Rolex intends to inflict on these folks. My opinion, looks to me like they will be erasing this little insignificant company from existence, making the public example of them by leaving it’s owners broke, with no watches to sell and many millions in debt for three years of potential damages to the Rolex brand.

    • Ryan Silverman are you for real ?

      Once purchased an individual or company is free to modify anything they like. The only real proviso is that they inform the buyer that the product is modified and the original warranty invalid.

      There’s not even a genuine issue with putting the rolex logo on the product because a modified rolex is still legally a rolex.

      A Liberty Walk Lamborghini is still a Lamborghini albeit one owned by someone with dubious taste – the dvla (or dmv in the US) won’t reclassify the manufacturer just because its been modified.
      Its no different with a watch.

  19. Actually, Rolex claims that use of their own parts results in a counterfeit watch.

    It includes the claims of inferior parts because it is aware that eventually they will run into: a) an opponent that fights back combined with b) a judge that takes her obligation to do justice seriously.

    Rolex claims that swapping a dial or sandblasting a submariner renders it a “counterfeit.” It has not always succeeded, but this case is particularly useless as precedent because the wife and husband team behind LaCalifornienne couldn’t afford to mount a serious defense to the inferior parts claim.

    Rolex quite obviously picks fights with people and companies who/that can’t fight back. Then it relies on a settlement that was just a capitulation as “precedent,” in other cases.

    Mike Tyson could certainly knock out a 14 year old gymnast. That doesn’t prove the gymnast was or wasn’t in the right. It proves that bullies can win fights.

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