“The Rolex Daytona Oyster Albino 6263 fascinates collectors for its rarity and unique aesthetics,” Rolex modder Artisans de Genève proclaims. “The first piece appeared in 1971, and there would be only three in the world. It was made emblematic by its monochrome silver dial, which earned it the famous nickname ‘Albino.'” You guessed it: Artisans de Genève built a fake Rolex Albino. Sorry, “tribute.” Here’s the real thing . . .
There are a LOT of differences between Artisans de Genève’s Tribute and the original Rolex 6263 Albino. The Artisans’ bezel is a different color, with different markings. The pushers, subdials and hands are different. The dial’s typography is different.
I’m sure Rolexaholics can spot other diversions from the original. Aside from the white dial, the tribute doesn’t look anything like the Albino that Eric Clapton off-loaded for a cool half a mil in 2003.
As TTAW commentator Mark D. Stroyer observed, the Albino “tribute” scans more like a 40mm coaxial Speedmaster than a Daytona.
Even so, you’d think Rolex’s army of lawyers would sue Artisans de Genève for copyright and trademark infringement. And while they’re at it, shut down the Artisan’s other high-profile Rolex mods (e.g., the aesthetically-challenged John McEnroe Lefty Project).
It’s not like Rolex hasn’t done it before . . .
In December 2019, Rolex sued modder laCalifornienne for “benefitting 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, making it seem as though its watches are authorized, sponsored, or approved by Rolex when they are not.”
Facing a legal team with unlimited resources, laCalifornienne folded like a cheap suit. At the same time – and not coincidentally – Rolex modder Mad Paris suddenly went offline. So how did Artisans de Genève avoid the banhammer?
I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve had some experience with U.S. copyright law. Specifically, I recreated a gun design advertised by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. My counsel advised me not to sweat it – there’s an exception for one-off “tributes” that include recognizable trademarks or designs. They’re exempted from copyright infringement laws as “art.”
This theory would explain the disclaimer on the Albino Tribute Project web page: “Service not available. Because we provide crafts services made in a very limited capacity, Artisans de Genève is not able to satisfy all demands.” In other words, you can’t buy an Albino Tribute, but you can commission something else. Maybe.
Artisans de Genève is sailing close to the wind. They’re trading off of Rolex reputation – if only by using the Swiss watchmaker’s easily identifiable case, bracelet and trademarks. Remember: trademark and patent law requires companies to aggressively defend their intellectual property. As Hamilton modder Vortic knows all too well.
That said, Vortic is “upcycling” old Hamilton pocket watches no longer in production. Artisans de Genève is modifying existing Rolex. While anything can be art – and there’s no question that the Artisans de Genève are artisans- the modder’s confusing potential Rolex customers. That’s a big no-no (to use the legal term).
As professional valuer Gareth Brown recently revealed, Rolex used to modify their watches to suit their customers’ tastes. It’s a damn shame Rolex has adopted a “make any change to our watch and we won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole” policy for their modern models. But that’s their prerogative.
Ironically, the prospect of Rolex wielding their banhammer against Artisans de Genève increases the potential value of their modified Rolex. If not now, soon.