Editorial: All the Fuss Over a “Franken” Omega Speedmaster

Victims of a well-planned deception.

Earlier this week, leading Swiss-German newspapers Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) published a lengthy story about the possible fraud behind the record-setting sale of an Omega Speedmaster ref. 2915-1 at Phillips in 2021.

Mystifying at the time, the CHF3.12 million result was a huge number that far exceeded past records for that particular Speedmaster. As NZZ revealed in its story, the Speedmaster in question was a “Franken” watch pieced together from assorted vintage components – and some fake parts – and it was purchased by Omega itself, on the advice of its then museum head.

The allegations are that the then museum head was in cahoots with the seller of the watch. Omega has gone to the police with this, and also released a statement, noting in part, “Omega and Phillips were the joint victims of organised criminal activity involving the selling of this specific watch by auction.”

The Omega Museum, which fortunately has enough correct and legitimate vintage Speedmasters on display. Image – Omega

Both Omega and Phillips should have done more due diligence, but it appears a few bad actors were diligent in allegedly defrauding Omega. For more on the matter, Dutch watch publication Fratello published an excellent examination of the happenings.

The alleged fraud has been covered widely in the mass media, from Bloomberg to Fortune, ironically the same publications that last year touted the success and value-appreciation of the Speedmaster.

Mountains and molehills

The reality of the matter, in my personal opinion, is that alleged fraud doesn’t really matter all that much.

To start with, a “Franken” watch is neither rare or necessarily undesirable. A vintage watch sympathetically restored with correct and appropriate parts is arguably indistinguishable from one that still possesses every single component it was born with.

Second, and perhaps more crucially, this isn’t even the first time an auction-related controversy has emerged over an Omega or two, or 300 of them, at auction.

In April 2007, at the same time as Baselworld, Antiquorum staged Omegamania, a thematic sale dedicated to the brand that was fully supported by Omega. The brand’s chief executive at the time, Stephen Urquhart, was present at the event.

Totalling over CHF6.5 million including fees, the 300 lots included several record prices, including a platinum Constellation Grand Luxe with matching bracelet that sold for over CHF400,000 – you could have had a Patek Philippe ref. 2499 in yellow gold for less at the time.

Omega may or may not have bought several of the lots offered during Omegamania. Before the sale there were already whispers that some of the watches were not quite right, talk which continued well after the sale.

Osvaldo Patrizzi of Antiquorum (left) and Stephen Urquhart of Omega at Omegamania. Image – Omega

Sixteen years later, Omega has about doubled its annual sales to CHF2.5 billion, give or take, while its most sought-after vintage watches, well, remain sought after.

At the same time, for a company of Omega’s scale, the CHF3.12 million it handed over to the alleged fraudsters is not material. So even though it is part of a publicly-listed group, there is no need to reveal the alleged fraud to shareholders. The company is obligated to go after the perpetrators, which it has done. Publicly listed watch brands and groups have suffered robberies where more was stolen and little fuss was made because, well, such things happen.

The “Franken” Speedmaster isn’t even unique in the world of auctions and collecting. Even before Christie’s sold Salvator Mundi for over US$450 million – making it the most expensive painting sold at auction – there were questions as to whether it was really painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

And then there was the “Nazi” Porsche Type 64 that failed to sell at Sotheby’s in 2019. Not only did it have a history rooted in the Third Reich, it was allegedly something of a “Franken” car. If it had sold for eight figures, would it have changed anything about the classic Porsche market?

Having skin in the game

A multi-million dollar watch that might be fraudulent arguably is most relevant to someone who has bought a multi-million watch at the same venue. So I posed the question to the discerning European collector who bought the Patek Philippe ref. 2499 in pink gold just last month at Phillips for CHF3.21 million – does it affect his willingness to buy high-value watches at auction?

“You cannot blame Phillips for the crookery as they were not the owners of the watch and were most probably not aware of the games played in the background,” he responded, “They relied on the Omega Museum and probably were fooled as well.”

The Salvator Mundi hasn’t been seen in public since it was sold, but the debate surrounding its originality continues with respectable experts and academics on both sides of the argument. The fact of matter is that controversial sales have, and will, always arise at auction – with enough regularity to create headlines but rarely enough to deter buyers who know what they are doing.


Back to top.

You may also enjoy these.

Seiko Introduces the Prospex Speedtimer 1/100 Sec Solar Chronograph

Drawing inspiration from the 90s.

Drawing inspiration from the Kinetic Chronograph of 1999, Seiko’s latest is the Prospex Speedtimer 1/100 Sec Solar Chronograph. It is equipped with a new solar movement that has the ability to measure elapsed time with a resolution of up to 1/100th of a second, though its defining attribute is the design: the chronograph and time displays are separated into individual sub-dials.

The SFJ007 made for the 2023 World Athletics Championships

Initial thoughts

Seiko’s sports chronographs, particularly those equipped with quartz or solar-powered movements, receive less recognition than their higher-end counterparts. However, some of the brand’s recent endeavours in this segment are interesting, and this is one of them.

The primary point of interest in the new model lies in its unique aesthetic with a separated sub-dial design that fans of the brand recognise from the Kinetic Chronograph. The new Speedtimer reimagines the design with a smart and highly-functional movement and price tag of well under US$1,000, making it a compelling option for someone seeking an affordable sports chronograph.

The Kinetic Chronograph from 1999. Image – Seiko

Up to 1/100th of a second

Having done away with the original closed dial of the Kinetic Chronograph, the Speedtimer features four registers beneath a curved sapphire crystal.

Positioned at six is an oversized sub-dial displaying the time, while a 1/10th of a second chronograph sits at ten. The running seconds can be observed at 12, and a crucial element is the 1/100th of a second register located at two.

The case has pushers at two, eight, and ten o’clock, and the crown at four – the function of each clearly marked on the dial. 

One of the key features of the movement – feasible thanks to the fact that it’s electronic – is the “mode” pusher at eight o’clock that enables the hour and minute sub-dial to function as a 60-minute counter, with the hour hand staying hidden behind the minute hand.

The SFJ003

The case steel measures 42 mm in diameter and 12.9 mm high. Inside is the brand’s latest chronograph movement, the cal. 8A50 can measure elapsed times down to 1/100th of a second. Solar-powered, it has a six-month power reserve when fully charged.  

The Speedtimer is available in four colourways. Two are regular production: a white “reverse panda” (SFJ001) and a monochrome black (SFJ003).

The other two are limited editions: a textured black dial inspired by a running track to mark the 2023 World Athletic Championships in Budapest (SFJ007), and a khaki (officially grey-toned) dial with red-orange chronograph hands, a livery that pays homage to a 1992 model, that celebrates the 40th anniversary of the brand’s first analog quartz chronograph (SFJ005). 

The SFJ005

Key facts and price

Seiko Prospex 1/100 Sec Speedtimer Solar Chronograph
Ref. SFJ001 (white dial with “reverse panda” design)
Ref. SFJ003 (black dial)
Ref. SFJ005 (Analog Quartz Chronograph 40th Anniversary Limited Edition)
Ref. SFJ007 (World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 Limited Edition)

Diameter: 42 mm
Height: 12.9 mm
Material: Stainless steel
Crystal: Sapphire
Water resistance: 100 m

Movement: Cal. 8A50
Functions: Hours, minutes, seconds and chronograph 
Winding: Quartz
Frequency: Solar
Power reserve: Six months when fully charged

Strap: Matching bracelet

Limited edition: Regular production except for SFJ007 (4000 pieces) and SFJ005 (4000 pieces)
Availability: Starting July 2023 at Seiko boutiques and select retailers

White dial with “reverse panda” design and black dial: US$895

Analog Quartz Chronograph 40th Anniversary Limited Edition: US$925

World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 Limited Edition: US$950

For more, visit seikowatches.com.


Back to top.

You may also enjoy these.

Welcome to the new Watches By SJX.

Subscribe to get the latest articles and reviews delivered to your inbox.