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1957 OMEGA Speedmaster Ref. 2915-1 revealed to be a 'Frankenwatch' | Image: Phillips

´Too Good to be True’: The $3.4 Million OMEGA Speedmaster Fake That Fooled the World

The 1957 OMEGA Speedmaster that sold at Phillips for a record-breaking USD$3.4 million (AUD$4.6 million at the time) has been revealed as a fake. The immaculate Ref. 2915-1, which was described as the Swiss maison’s “most historically important model” first made headlines in 2021, when it appeared in the lineup for Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction: XIV. Seen as the holy grail of Speedmasters and a design often thought lost to the world, the model drew the interest of many avid collectors, each clambering to hold a piece of history in their hands. Less than two years later and a string of reports have revealed the most expensive OMEGA ever sold, was simply too good to be true.

But that’s just the beginning.

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1957 OMEGA Speedmaster Ref. 2915-1 revealed to be a 'Frankenwatch' | Image: Phillips
1957 OMEGA Speedmaster Ref. 2915-1 revealed to be a ‘Frankenwatch’ | Image: Phillips

Bloomberg is reporting that the 1957 OMEGA Speedmaster Ref. 2915-1 is not an original example, but rather a piece constructed using parts from other vintage watches. According to Sydney-based registered watch and jewellery valuer Damien Kalmar, the end result of this process is referred to as a ‘Frankenwatch’, a term used within the industry to demonstrate the lengths and sophistication of the forgery. While not uncommon, these pieces generally take the form of a vintage Seiko or OMEGA Seamaster, due to the ubiquitous and collectible nature of the design.

“Copy (or fake) watches have been around for a very long time, and forgers have been making copies of OMEGA watches for decades,” the Kalmar Antiques director tells us. “Whether they are models produced post-1969 dubbed ‘moon watches’ after Buzz Aldrin famously wore one on the landing of the moon, or the ‘pre-moon watches’ dating prior – Speedmasters have always been highly collectable watches and remain popular in the current market.”

So, with that knowledge on hand, the question begs to be asked, how did a watch that was supposedly OMEGA’s “most historically important model” manage to slip through the cracks?

According to the brand, the very expensive mixup was an inside job. In the Bloomberg report, OMEGA claims that three former employees were behind a very intricate scheme to dupe collectors, auctioneers and the brand itself. Considering the actualised price was around 25 times the pre-sale estimate, they were damn close to pulling it off.

1957 OMEGA Speedmaster Ref. 2915-1 revealed to be a 'Frankenwatch' | Image: Phillips
1957 OMEGA Speedmaster Ref. 2915-1 revealed to be a ‘Frankenwatch’ | Image: Phillips

As per OMEGA’s allegations, a former employee of its museum and brand heritage department “worked in tandem with intermediaries to purchase the watch for the OMEGA Museum”. On the advice of this employee, OMEGA purchased the watch for its in-house collection with company executives reportedly told that it was a “rare and exceptional timepiece that would be an absolute must”.

As we reported back in November 2021, the 1957 model represented the perfect culmination of time periods and design language. Only in production between 1957 and 1959, the Ref. 2915-1 and -2 models received the ‘Broad Arrow’ minute and hour hands, alongside a metal bezel – as opposed to the standard bezel with black insert. Additionally, the rare piece was said to sport slightly different dial graphics, distinguishable by the oval O of OMEGA, which later became perfectly round.

“In terms of design, it was the first chronograph to feature a tachymeter scale (or, as OMEGA called it at the time, the Tacho-productometer scale) on the bezel, rather than on the dial,” Phillips wrote at the time. “In terms of movements, OMEGA did not go for a brand new calibre, turning instead to calibre 321, an extremely robust and reliable column-wheel chronograph, which it recognised as the best available option for its new Speedmaster.”

Alas, it was not meant to be. OMEGA has not named the ex-staffers it claims were responsible for the con, however, CEO Raynald Aeschlimann told Swiss newspaper NZZ that the deception had been “to the massive detriment of OMEGA”. Even more bizarrely, the watchmaker apparently doesn’t know who consigned the watch to Phillips for the auction, making the entire ordeal all the more strange. A Phillips Spokesperson confirmed that the auction house obtained confirmation from OMEGA of the date of manufacture of the numbered movement, serial number, the model of watch that the movement was fitted to and the date it was sold

“Until last week, nobody had ever suggested this OMEGA watch was not authentic, the watch was inspected by specialists, experts and even the manufacturer at the time of the sale and nobody raised any concerns over it,” the Spokesperson told Man of Many. “Even now, we have not seen any reports or had access to the watch to carry out an in-depth analysis of the watch regarding those claims.”

“We understand representatives of OMEGA saw the watch before they purchased it. We believe OMEGA is bringing criminal charges against the perpetrators.”

1957 OMEGA Speedmaster Ref. 2915-1 revealed to be a 'Frankenwatch' | Image: Phillips
1957 OMEGA Speedmaster Ref. 2915-1 revealed to be a ‘Frankenwatch’ | Image: Phillips

For watch enthusiasts, the revelations have been damning, throwing the legitimacy of certain pieces into question. However, as registered watch and jewellery valuer Kalmar explained to us, there are certain signs to look for when authenticating a vintage watch.

“Every detail should be considered; from the typography on the dial to the shape of the date-window, crowns are always to be considered and for OMEGA, in particular, the signature OMEGA symbol on the plexi,” he says. “There are instances when the packaging is actually the giveaway, as the colours are the wrong hue or the font doesn’t look quite right. You can never let your guard down when considering vintage watches.”

“If it’s too good to be true, then it often will be.”

While the sale of the fraudulent piece is an embarrassing moment for OMEGA and Phillips, it does mark a watershed moment for the watch industry. The rapid increase in the value of luxury timepieces has seen the sector become a hotbed for investment, with prices skyrocketing and stock supply diminishing. Forgeries are fast becoming an avenue for opportunist criminals to make a quick buck and what’s more, the fakes are getting better. So good, it seems, they can even bypass the better judgement of the very brands that supposedly made them.

Investigations into the 1957 OMEGA Speedmaster sale are reportedly ongoing, with Phillips confirming it will work with authorities to resolve the issue.