Roundtable: Vintage Watches and Scams

Vintage Rolex

Earlier this week, news was made when a New York City based billionaire filed a lawsuit against a watch dealer for selling him $700,000 worth of misrepresented vintage timepieces. The filed lawsuit papers clearly explain that the allegedly defrauded individual, J. Darius Bikoff, purchased what he thought were several ultra high-end vintage watches from a British watch dealer by the name of James Dowling, but now that the various watches have been analyzed by another prominent “Miami dealer” and industry expert Aurel Bacs of Phillips, Mr. Bikoff now looks at his collection in a very different way. The plaintiff was informed that in addition to presence of counterfeit parts in many of the “rare” vintage Rolex, he had also grossly overpaid on all of his acquisitions, to the tune of paying up to five times the going rate.

Immediately, this case brings to mind John Mayer’s dispute with Bob Maron in 2014, in which he too claimed to have been sold Rolex watches with counterfeit parts. With headlines like “collector duped over vintage watches” seeming to make the news more and more often, we can’t help but wonder if other wealthy individuals have been taken advantage of, and what the future holds for collectors of important vintage watches. Earlier this week, we sat down to discuss this matter, pieces with replaced parts, and more. Here’s what all of us had to say.



I think there are a few takeaways here and I’m going to go right ahead and judge James Dowling in the court of public opinion. The guy is clearly a crook and needs to be outed as such. That’s the first thing; well, assuming that suit filing is correct and he charged a dude $95k or something for an IWC Bund Ocean whateverthefuck. I mean, for that alone he should never be able to sell to a knowledgeable collector ever again.

Now, it’d be easy to write this off as one greedy dealer taking advantage of Rube Baker, but this is bigger than that. This is just a more egregious example of a dealer taking advantage of a less than well educated buyer. Collectors get up-sold on watches ALL DAY LONG. I consider myself educated and am often forced to overpay to get certain pieces. Where does the line between making a reasonable profit and gouging get drawn? And keep in mind, I’m not even talking about bad watches yet. Of the watches that Dowling sold to Mr. Vegetable Lasagna, only the Big Crown is claimed to be fake; the plaintiff here isn’t disputing the veracity of the other watches, just that Dowling misrepresented the prices. Don’t dealers do that all day long???



My take on the matter isn’t too far off from what Dean had to say. As the “Miami dealer” and Aurel Bacs’ assessments have shown, Dowling has obviously done wrong by his client, on multiple levels, and should be held accountable. Selling your client bad watches is one thing, but to repeatedly rip someone off that doesn’t know any better is a different story.

On a hopeful note in relation to the 6538 mentioned in the complaint, I think it’s important to recognize just how much easier vintage watch collecting has become over the past decade, so while fake dials and other fake components might get better as the years go by, so will the availability of useful information to help differentiate between the good, the bad, and the ugly. See? I do references too!



What a way to start the week! We finally get a 24-hr break from terrorist attacks and now there’s a vintage watch dealer lawsuit to speculate on! I’m not going to lay down a guilty verdict just yet, but I have to say, if the court filing is at all true, Dowling should be at least a little bit worried. Between Bacs’ and Tearle’s assessments of both the Tektite and 6538, respectively, I think Mr. Vegetable Lasagna has a claim.

Of course, you can say Mr. VL should have done his homework, but there are very few folks in the world who can confidently authenticate these watches, and Dowling is supposedly one of them. Why shouldn’t he have trusted Dowling? I think this is a major issue for the vintage watch market’s continued growth. With more and more “noobz” getting the vintage fever, they shouldn’t have to cross-reference every purchase with a dozen other experts; transactions should be as safe and worry-free as possible. Some of you are probably thinking this is a good thing, and that we don’t need the market to grow anymore, but I disagree. The more the market grows, the longer it will be a viable hobby. Technology will come to the aid of the hobby and enhance it. However, if “trusted dealers” continue to prey on the weak, it’s going to turn people away.


We want to hear from  you guys. In the comments below, share your thoughts on the case and the vintage watch market in general.

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  • July 20, 2016

    Rich Vinchesi

    There are two issues here. The first is price. I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think it’s illegal to charge a high price for a legitimately advertised item — even a price many time higher than “the market” would endorse (every sale is itself part of the market). Buyers have a responsibility to understand whether they are paying a premium, getting a discount, etc.

    However, the lawsuit includes claims of fraud regarding the authenticity of the items themselves, and this is the heart of the matter. If a seller represents that, for example, the 1960 watch has an original, un-retouched dial, and in fact the hands are circa 2005, then at best the seller is negligent and at worst is committing fraud.

    Even if the watch had been acquired at a discount to perceived market values, there is still a potential fraudulent act. In other words, it is less about the price paid and more about the false pretense of authenticity.

  • July 20, 2016


    Fantastic discussion as it sums up what we are all thinking and talking about on the different watch forums around the NET.

    The only comment I have is regarding the “Should have known better” side of the argument. When you are a not so educated new collector “knowing better” means you buy the seller, not the watch. You accept a premium for the best possible guarantee. You don’t go to Ebay and instead you pay (a little) extra for more reputable dealers.

    In this sense the Plaintiff “knew better” he went to the best, or one of the…, he didn’t shortcut or try to be too smart. It is unforgivable that someone of the caliber of this dealer would be so un-ethical.

    Expanding on this point this is not just a case of Seller/buyer pricing. You are going to that level of dealership expecting to be guided, counseled and aided on making the best purchase at a fair (even if marked up) price. The incredible pricing on this items screams fraud. this man did not counsel or advised, he knowingly deceived the buyer into believing he was buying something he was not, at a price point he should not.

  • July 20, 2016

    Penny Lane

    Glad you guys mentioned John Mayer’s “dispute” with Bob Maron in 2014. And how did that end?? Turned out it was just another case of a spoilt celebrity throwing a petulant temper tantrum when things don’t go his way.

    A vintage watch, like most luxury goods, is worth what the buyer wants to pay for it. These watches were evidently worth 700K to Mr Bikoff at the time, as he happily put down that sum of money for them. Now that he has evidently fallen on tough times and needs to recoup some of his hard-earned cash, he finds that not everyone is willing to fork out huge sums of money for vintage watches. Damn! Faced with the prospect of imminent starvation, or, even worse, being forced to sell his body on the streets, he obviously has no choice but to sue. 700K for the watches, 1 million for the emotional distress, which, I can certainly understand, must have taken a heavy toll on Mr Bikoff’s health.

    For heaven’s sake! Someone needs to stop these ordinary people from preying on vulnerable billionaires!

    • July 22, 2016

      Shane Griffin

      I can practically taste your alligator tears for a billionaire’s mistakes, but I don’t think having a certain amount of money puts someone in the category of “rich enough to be defrauded”. No one should be swindled out of their money, regardless of their bank account size. If the court filing is close to the truth, he went to Dowling as a trusted advisor and dealer, and was essentially lied to. That ain’t cool.

      • July 23, 2016

        Penny Lane

        I agree, Shane – I’m just bitter because I’m not a billionaire. But, aside from the fact that this guy made his billions from essentially defrauding people (into thinking there’s some advantage to drinking vitamin-enriched water), the case itself smacks strongly of trumped-upness. We all agree that there’s no crime in pricing something highly. (Can a Christian Dior skirt really be worth $3000?) As for the claims of inauthenticity, the Rolex Submariner was not just a piece of junk passed off as a Rolex Submariner – it was valued by Charles Tearle at $20,000. Less than what Bikoff paid for it, but only by about the same factor as the other watches. As for the Tektite GEV, that is literally a one-of-a-kind piece and therefore impossible to value. So, really, just a case of buyer’s remorse. I still find it funny that he cares enough to take it to court.

  • July 22, 2016

    Richard Baptist

    Agreed, I collect vintage watches. Obviously, not at the level of the collector in the lawsuit. I don’t know where to go to ensure that I’m not ripped off. There is very little information on the majority of vintage watches out there. I’ve been told “buy the seller” but that’s no guarantee either. You would think someone would set up an authentication service that would look at the watch, movement etc. and then tell you what’s what. I try to stay with people like Matthew Bain, who while more expensive at least you would hope would be more honest. I stay away from ebay like the plague. I’ve been burned with vintage watches on that site. Lots of recasing, redialled watches etc. If you are an expert there are some needles in the haystack but you’re on your own. Essentially it’s the wild west out there any tips or services you could recommend would be welcome. Thanks.

    • July 22, 2016

      Shane Griffin

      I won’t be surprised if a product/service is developed to do exactly what you’re looking for. Like I mentioned in my bit, technology will come to the aid of our vintage watch hobby and enhance it.

  • September 28, 2016

    Marcus Whitfield

    First of all, I have known Mr. Dowling for 20+ years. Not personally; mostly via email and fax…lol. During that time, he has been nothing but helpful to me as a collector and later as a dealer. He is free to charge the prices he fells are justified like anyone else. As far as Bikoff, I find his actions to be seriously offensive. He should do his homework before spending $700k on 4 or 5 watches. Collecting and investing is speculation or for personal enjoyment, but if you go big early, prepare to have some hiccups or even fall hard. As I recall, NAWCC rules allow 3 days to return something not as described. Most all trade organizations have general rules for such Auction houses sell based on the premise of “buyer beware”. Case closed.

    • September 30, 2016

      Shane Griffin

      The whole bit about overpaying will be tough for this fella to win in court. However, if Dowling sold him frankens or fakes, that’s a different matter. According to the initial court document, that is part of the lawsuit. Case re-opened.