It seems that online commentary and, likely, phone calls culminated with Bonhams choosing to do the right thing and shelving the whole auction. Embarrassing? Sure. But, it would’ve been far worse to let this collection of Frankenwatches run for another few weeks. The backlash would have been bloody.
Would have been? Is. Not only does Bonhams’ authentication failure cast doubt on the [formerly] respected auction house forevermore, it gives the entire watch auction business a black eye.
The scandal at a top five auctioneer – and a scandal is what it is – will make entry-level watch buyers and big time playas extremely leery. Examples like this should send a shudder down the spine of any watch collector:
Lot 801 — Seiko 6105-8000
Right out of the chute the Bonhams Seiko auction sets a low standard with Lot 801. This 6105-8000 (the watch that preceded the 6105 “Willard”) is one to stay away from. Why is that?
A look at the case back shows a 1968 serial number — the first number is an “8” — and it also reads water proof. Flipping it over, we see the dial says “resist”. The two should match and this should be a “Proof” dial.
According to Fratello, this practice isn’t an anomaly. Not for Bonhams Seiko auction and not for all watch auctions. They caution buyers to approach bidding with extreme skepticism:
What it does underscore is a lesson that we preach time and time again. Namely, auction houses cannot be trusted to vet watches. They don’t do the job on million-dollar lots, and they clearly don’t do it for €150 lots. Do your homework or risk being very very sorry.
I’ve heard hide nor hair of “mistakes” (a.k.a., scams) at the million dollar end of the watch auction market. What does that tell you? Equally, what kind of homework could a buyer do to ensure a watch isn’t a Frankenwatch or fake?
Surely the only way to properly vet a watch is to hire an expert to go hands-on. That’s simply not possible when buying a watch at auction. One depends on the auctioneer’s reputation. And if you can’t trust a major house like Bonhams, who can you trust?
Given this Frankenwatch Seiko scandal and Fratello’s unspecified reference to bogus high-priced horology, any sensible person has got be thinking, yeah, pass.
Bonhams sent their online Seiko auction into the black hole – stopping Internet sleuths from uncovering more “modified” Seikos. The Making Waves promo webpage remains online, with no mention of the cancellation.
Will an apology be forthcoming? If so, it’s already too late -Bonham’s missed the “golden 24 hours” of crisis management. They will pay for this mistake for years.
Thankfully, it’s not too late for watch buyers to realize the simple truth: buy your watches from someone you can trust – whether that’s a bricks-and-mortar dealer, online dealer, eBay seller or auction outfit. Someone who will quickly, efficiently and cheerfully put things right if they’re wrong.
As we’ve written before, in the world of pre-owned watches, horror stories abound. Finding a trustworthy seller isn’t easy, and it can be financially painful. But it’s worth the effort. Needless to say, Bonhams isn’t on that list.