What do you think of these California-made 'FrankenRolexes'?

*it's not Rolex. And I'm sorry but I gotta ask: what the actual duck were they thinking?

I got a question. You read the headline and then you see the header image, what's the first thing that springs to mind? If the answer is Rolex, then my point is made. If you use a well known brand, no matter how you twist it, alter it or "reinvent" it, people will always assume you have the rights to use the brand. And it's a bit of a problem if you don't. That's because the brand in question is not Rolex but it was using the Rolex brand.

On paper, what Los Angeles-based La Californienne did was actually quite endearing. Their idea is simple, they buy damaged vintage Rolexes and completely refurbish them. They repaint the dial, change the crystal, fix the movement if need be, new bezels, new straps. New everything. These timepieces look good but when Rolex found out about this, they sued. And they won.

The US division of Rolex complained that restoring the watch with unoriginal parts invalidates the warranty and, more to the point, they said they were using "the Rolex Registered Trademarks to advertise and promote watches in a manner which is likely deceive consumers into believing that these products and services are in some way authorized, sanctioned, or affiliated with Rolex, when they are not.”

The internet is awash with Frankenwatches, vintage timepieces which have been restored with unoriginal parts, and these products are usually legal simply because they constitute a one-off sale in the pre-owned market by a private individual. Modifying old watches with unoriginal parts and selling them used is not illegal but turning this into a business model is.

Rolex won, and La Californienne had to remove all Rolex pictures and references from its website and social media accounts. They can now tell customers that the watches were formerly vintage Rolex watches but they have to state they're not anymore because they've been modified, and can't use the Rolex logo. The company was also doing the same thing with Cartier watches but I'm assuming they'll drop that, too.

They're still technically active but the website is just a landing page, their Instagram channel only shows a few watches and Google says the shop is "temporarily closed".

I try, as much as I can, to be fact-driven and I try to keep my personal opinion away from the equation, which is why whatever else I may think of Rolex or La Californienne doesn't change the fact that to think a watch company can make unauthorized use of extremely popular trademarks to sell their own products and get away with it it's so absurd I find it funny.

Is it just me? What do you think? Let me know in the comments

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Comments (27)

  • they should have sold services instead of a finished product. Something along the lines of "here is a web configurator, here is a set of parts we have in stock, we'll make one for you". That would have made obvious to customers that the watch is a mutant, and I think Rolex would have been, if not happy, then at least not mad enough to sue.

    Same thing has been going on with Seiko, and I don't see Seiko complaining.

      7 months ago

    Buy one get ten free.

      7 months ago
  • I’d rather have one of these than an original Rolex.

      7 months ago
  • Are all their restorations tarted up like the ones pictured?

      7 months ago
  • I'm sure you'll have an opinion @tribe

      7 months ago
    • I think that they should have been allowed to. Its almost the same thing that happened with the guy who was restoring eleanor, no he wasnt a movie exec. or a ford employee but he should have been allowed to because he bought it. I personally...

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        7 months ago
    • nothing stops you from buying a Rolex and doing whatever you want with it, you can even sell it (privately). The problem here is that this company was using the Rolex brand to gain a commercial advantage without permission. Now we can discuss...

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        7 months ago