Patek Philippe Watch Swap Scam?


Real vs. fake - watch swap scam

“If you catch a con-artist in the act, should you involve the police?” asks. They pose the question in response to the “controversy” surrounding Gautaman Senivasan, a Singapore watch collector claiming to be the almost victim of a watch swap scam. I repeat, claiming. How do we know Mr. Senivasen was an almost victim if he didn’t report the incident to the police? As a Rhode Islander, my default reaction to any news news story is yeah right. What’s the real story? Especially when I read something like this . . .

Wanting to avoid a scene in front of his parents, who were also in the house, Gau took the buyer down into the basement and confronted him [about swapping a fake Patek Philippe Nautilus for Gau’s real watch and palming the original]. The man vehemently denied swapping the watches. “You can return my watch,” Gau said. “Or I can call the cops and we can figure it out when they get here.”

After 30 minutes of back and forth, the buyer confessed and eventually produced the real Nautilus out of his bag where he’d stashed it. Gau was outraged this man had come into his house and tried to swindle him. But he wanted to find out more.

Watch swap scam - bracelet comparo

[Warning! Don’t have a 30-minute come-to-Jesus private basement meeting with a person stealing from you unless you know what you’re doing (see: conjecture below). People are killed – in Singapore – for a lot less than $140k.]

The conman turned out to be a 17-year-old Korean student sent to Singapore by his parents to study. He’d bought the IWC from Gau to establish a basis of trust before trying to switch the Nautilus with a $1000 high-grade replica that he’d ordered specially for the purpose . . . Despite his understandable fury, in the end, Gau decided not to involve the police.

“If the kid was arrested, he’d be jailed and deported. His life would have been pretty much over,” he says. “I was also a kid once and I’ve also done silly things – although obviously not to this fucking level. I just wanted to make sure that he did not try this on anyone else ever again. But I don’t think I could live with ruining a kid’s life.”

Gau sales stunt?

Mr. Gau’s shaky “there but for the grace of God go I” justification for not reporting the watch swap crime to the cane-friendly Singapore police falls apart when he fails to explain how he ensured that the sticky-fingered scholar “did not try this on anyone else ever again.” You promise?

Perhaps Mr. Gau used some RI-style persuasion on the poor misguided youth: remove the perp from his neighbors’ earshot, whack his kneecaps with a tire iron and put a gun in his mouth. The mystery has left many – including Time & Tide’s eternally paternal Luke Benedictus – with unanswered questions.

Is there something else owed to the wider watch community? Should you let others know the person’s identity so they can avoid dealing with a known scammer down the track? It’s an enormously difficult question to answer, with many competing factors that could swing the answer in either direction. Why did they need the money? Did they appear remorseful? How likely are they to try and scam someone else again?

Mr. Gau's instagram page

Mr. Gau’s comparo pictures of the fake Nautilus tells us . . . nothing. (Other than damn!) Unlike the pic of three grail watches. Who’s to say Mr. Gau didn’t buy the fake and fake the watch swap story to promote his business interests? It’s not as if “Gau is currently in the process of opening his own physical watch store.” Oh wait. It’s just like that.

Real or fake (and I call bullshit), Mr. Gau’s self-aggrandizing bullet dodged story is a cautionary tale for timepiece traders dumb enough to let a stranger paw their pricey collection in private. Time & Tide offers some sensible advice on how to avoid ye olde watch swap scam, under the fawning subhead Gau’s 5 rules to avoid getting scammed. Which Mr. Gau didn’t follow.

One more thing: if this watch swap scam story is true, I reckon the Korean student should report Mr. Gau to the police for kidnapping and stealing his $1000 replica. Just sayin’.


  1. The moral of the story is that those planning to pull the old switcheroo on Gau when he gets a real shop should be fashionably dressed foreign minors. The subtext is supposedly that you can’t scam old Gau and his goods are legit!

    What does ‘guardian’ mean here: “To fund the crime, he’d borrowed money from his guardian on the promise that he could flip a watch and make a quick profit.” Is this Korean student being hosted by some Fagin type? Won’t that guy be steamed about Gau supposedly confiscating the fake?

  2. I must be a bit dense today. So, I’m not following the story. This high-stakes watch collector / dealer was selling a 17 year old an IWC watch. That’s strange enough.

    How did the kid get his hands on the collector / dealer’s personal 6-figure Patek??? And, then he HAPPENED to have a replica of THAT model to pull the switcheroo??

    Yeah…. the story is 100% bull-puckey.

    • The fullest story is at the final link in the article. The seller inexplicably sent him a photo of the entire current inventory beforehand. The alleged scammer was initially interested in an FP Journe (!) but had diverse taste that included a sixth of the stock. Supposedly while the kid is pawing and wiping this Patek, old Gau wanders over to the fridge to get him a drink. It’s all fishy, but that kind of operations security failing is bad, real bad.

  3. Anyone have any references/research articles on Singapore’s watch trade? I’m very curious as to the legitimacy of products being sold from there as well. There appear to be quite a few Singapore based microbrands that are becoming popular through kickstarter and e-commerce. For such a small country, they seem to be taking up a disproportionately large chunk of the watch trade, or is it the watch news.

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