The $3.3 Million Speedmaster Fraud Case — What Does It Mean For The Collectors’ World?
You’ve probably seen the news on the Frankenstein Speedmaster CK2915 that fetched 3.3 million US dollars. It was, supposedly, an all-authentic, first-generation Omega Speedmaster in impeccable condition with a tropical dial. It fetched the highest amount ever as it was Omega’s destiny to have it for the brand’s museum in Biel, Switzerland. Or so it seemed…
It must have been devastating to find out the watch was a put-together — a “Frankenstein” watch. This news has been all over social media in the past few days after Bloomberg reported about it based on the in-depth article in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. However, if you’re a bit deeper into watches, you might have read the excellent article by Perezcope on his website. He already published about it on April 9th, nearly two months before NZZ reported on the case. He also shows the before-and-after pictures of the Speedmaster. An interesting note here is that Perezcope reached out to Phillips auctioneer Aurel Bacs, who refused to reply to his emails.
Omega’s response about the auctioned Frankenstein Speedmaster CK2915
I don’t want to rehash the articles from NZZ or Bloomberg. You can find them on the respective websites (visit the links above).
Omega responded with the following regarding these articles:
“OMEGA and Phillips were the joint victims of organized criminal activity involving the selling of this specific watch by auction.
At the auction, hosted by Phillips, the Head of OMEGA Museum and Brand Heritage worked in tandem with intermediaries to purchase the watch for the OMEGA Museum, arguing that it was a rare and exceptional timepiece that would be an absolute must for OMEGA’s showcase collections, and should therefore be bought in this auction at all cost.
In fact, the watch is an assembly of mostly authentic OMEGA components, commonly called a ‘Frankenstein’ watch. This timepiece is currently a key piece of evidence in the ongoing investigation that must also bring to light the seller of the watch.
Its false legacy allowed the profiteers to justify a highly inflated bid made through the intermediaries, which allowed those involved to collect and distribute the profits generated from the sale.
As it stands at present, there are three former employees (among them the former Head of OMEGA Museum and Brand Heritage), who have admitted to the run of events when confronted during an OMEGA internal investigation, which is active and ongoing. OMEGA is bringing criminal charges against all involved.”
The role of the three involved Omega employees
I must admit the outcome of the internal investigation shocked me to the core, especially because of the involvement of the former Head of the Omega Museum and Brand Heritage. Pending the investigation, I will not mention the name of this person. However, I think we all know who we are talking about here. Neither the roles nor the names of the two other persons have come to light. According to our sources, though, they were active in different layers within the Omega organization.
Now, what does this all mean? What did the role of the three involved Omega employees consist of?
First of all, the Speedmaster that Phillips offered on behalf of a seller (who was not one of the three Omega staffers), was a put-together example, as Perezscope shows in detail in his article from April 9th.
Although the three former Omega employees were not the sellers of the watch, they did play a role in modifying the Speedmaster to become a “perfect” reference CK2915. The Speedmaster CK2915 was assembled from various partially authentic parts. The three former Omega employees participated in this process, intending to create the most exciting CK2915, a watch that the Omega Museum would definitely need.
Creating, bidding, winning, and losing…
Then these people played games to portray this watch as a valuable asset for the Omega Museum to have. And if it had indeed been all authentic and original, it would’ve been a phenomenal one. However, quite interestingly, this Speedmaster CK2915, lot #53 of the Phillips auction in November 2021, never received an official Certificate of Authentication from Omega. Strangely enough, Omega confirmed to us that Phillips had never requested one either.
Omega bid on the watch for the museum and won the auction for the aforementioned sum of 3.3 million US dollars. As Omega calls it in the press statement, this was a highly inflated bid. Those involved in this fraudulent auction then proceeded to share the resulting profits. An interesting fact is that it was the former Head of the Omega Museum and Brand Heritage who made the winning bid. I recall asking him back in November 2021 whether this watch was indeed all correct. Even then, some critical assessments from the collectors’ community had already highlighted some irregularities on the dial.
The Frankenstein Speedmaster CK2915-1 faults
For this article, I asked Omega about the faults of the Frankenstein Speedmaster CK2915-1. Upon inspection (after the fraud came to light), the brand’s watchmakers noticed that a bridge of the caliber 321 was fake. The quality of the engraving was not the same as on the original bridges, and the number “6” was the giveaway for them. Furthermore, the bridge’s finishing revealed that it was made later and on a different machine than the ones used for the CK2915-1. After dismantling the movement and taking out the bridge, Omega found out that a cavity on the non-visible side of the bridge had been made manually. Normally, these cavities are machined. Omega also told me that the plating of the bridges normally happens after the engraving, and in this case, the engraving takes place after the plating treatment.
As for faults on the dial, Omega points out that the inner bezel (or rehaut) is not correct. It is darker than the ones normally used in these CK2915-1 watches. In the picture above, you can also see the (line) marks that the original rehaut left on the dial (very clearly visible at 9 o’clock). Other giveaways are the bezel that comes from a later iteration (CK2915-2) of the Speedmaster.
The impact on market prices of vintage Speedmasters
Now, fraudulent behavior in auctions is nothing new. Whether it’s art, cars, or watches, wherever there’s a lot of money involved, there will be vultures who want to take advantage of this. With two or more individuals in different positions in an organization, it’s not that hard to put together a scheme for stealing from your employer. The involvement from A to Z, in this case, made it a scam that could hardly go wrong. The big mistake, however, was the incredibly high value of the watch. It reeked of drastic inflation, catching the spotlight and also the eyes of experts who could identify certain parts coming from other known pieces out there.
As Omega is still carrying out its investigations, we will keep a close eye on the results of them. When we asked, Omega confirmed that the halt on supplying Extracts of the Archives (only depicting the original production date and country of delivery based on the serial number of a watch) and Certificates of Authentication is only temporary. This service will be reinstated at some point, which is good news as it remains a valuable asset.
A sad story of profiteering and misplaced trust
Now, what effect will this Frankenstein Speedmaster have on the collecting world? In my opinion, it won’t do that much damage. The auction result of this Speedmaster CK2915 was clearly inflated, and later Speedmaster auctions showed more realistic prices. The market for an iconic watch like the Speedmaster will always be interesting for collectors and enthusiasts. An auction (house) is interesting to follow but hardly sets the bar for the real market value of watches. A premium of 20–25% on sales (and a percentage to be paid to the auction house by the selling party) causes a substantial amount of hot air in these prices.
But time will tell, of course. Prices of trophy watches are coming down a bit anyway, as the market is currently cooling off. We hope that Omega will be able to check whether other previously purchased watches for the museum are 100% authentic. At this point, Omega doesn’t know the identity of the seller of this watch (that information should be with Phillips, though). A police investigation might bring that to the surface in the future as well.
We will keep you informed on this sad fraud case, and we sincerely hope that the truth will come to light.