Blog: Patek Rolex
Date: 7 June 2020Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2020 all rights reserved.
This blog post is not part of one of my main pages but is specifically about a number of lady's wristwatches with “Patek Rolex” engraved on the movements.
If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me via my Contact Me page.
In one of those strange occurrences that happen sometimes, two correspondents almost simultaneously sent me details of lady's wristwatches with “Patek Rolex” engraved on the movements. The image here shows one of these watches in a gold plated case, which my correspondent kindly sent to me so that I could have a close look at it and take photographs. The other watch had a hallmarked 9 carat gold case, which is shown further down on the page, but I could not get good quality images of that watch.
The juxtaposition of the name Patek with Rolex is, to say the least, strange. Especially on watches with mass produced Fontainemelon ébauches and (mostly) gold plated cases; watches that would have been towards the lower end of the price spectrum. I am sure that these watches have nothing to do with Patek Philippe, but in the early days Hans Wilsdorf experimented with a lot of different brand names with fairly disastrous consequences for watch collectors today; could these watches be the result of one of those experiments?
Watches with fake Rolex markings turn up regularly, I see a lot, but the engraving on these movements is better than the cack-handed efforts that most fakers manage; it is quite well done. And the 9 carat gold case has a Rolex registered sponsor's mark which cannot be a fake; the sponsor's mark shows that Rolex sent in this case to the assay office to be hallmarked so, if the case is original to the watch, then that would raise an interesting question. But (spoiler alert) I am sure that these watches have nothing to do with Rolex.
A bit of searching discovers that there are more than the two examples that my correspondents wrote to me about. It turns out that there are quite a few of these Patek Rolex ladies' watches about; all very similar, with identical Fontainemelon movements and dating from around the 1920s or 1930s. They mostly seem to be in North America, and most have rolled gold or gold plated cases. I have seen two more on Watchuseek, and another correspondent told me that about 20 years ago a dealer in vintage Rolexes he knew in Toronto had two or three uncased movements engraved like this.
The first watch of the two watches that I was sent details of had been acquired relatively recently with no provenance, but the second, the one shown here, had been in my correspondent's family for three generations, having been passed down through the family from his grandmother. This suggests that the engraving was on the movement when the watch was bought rather than having been added more recently. If the watch was bought when my correspondents grandmother was a young woman, which is what he understands, then it would have been new in the inter-war years, around the 1930s when most of these watches appear to date from. In images of other similarly engraved movements the Patek Rolex engraving looks identical.
The large scale faking of Rolex watches is a more recent thing. I am not sure when it started, but I am sure it is a post-war thing, and that it is principally of men's watches. Even today ladies' watches are very little faked compared to men's. During the years before the war when these watches seem to have been made there were not so many fakes; Rolex was a much less well known name, especially in North America where these watches seem to have originated. So it seems unlikely that someone would go to the trouble of faking Rolex watches in North America before the war - in which case, could they be genuine? I don't think so, but let's look at the evidence in detail so that you can form your own opinion.
All the watches marked Patek Rolex that I have seen have the same Fontainemelon movement with identical gold filled engraving “Patek Rolex” on the barrel bridge and “Seventeen 17 Rubies Geneva Made’ on the train bridge. The gold filling sort of matches that of the regulator letters and scale on the balance cock, but the engraving is coarser than that of the regulator letters and scale, not as fine in layout and execution.
This might not be obvious at first glance, but it becomes apparent if you carefully study the two different sets of engraving. The engraving of the regulator scale would have been done at the Fontainemelon factory, and the difference in quality of execution between this and the engraving of “Patek Rolex” suggests, indeed shows, that the engraving on the barrel bridge was added later.
The added engraving is much better than forgers usually manage. It must have been done on a pantograph machine using a purpose made stencil, and the letters are electroplated in gold rather than filled with paint or wax. It must have been done with the movement taken apart so that the plate could be engraved and the letters electroplated. This is quite a lot of effort to go to to create watches that most people today see and immediately cry “fake!”. What exactly was going on in the 1930s when these were created?
The trail of overlapping circles in the bottom of each letter show that they were engraved by a rotating cutter, which would have been done on a pantograph engraving machine. The operator would have a large stencil to trace round with a stylus, the pantograph scales down the movements of the stylus and moves the engraving cutter to make the small size letters needed. The smooth curve of the Patek Rolex legend shows that a template was specifically made for this work. Fake Rolex engraving is usually in a straight line like the fake Rolex from a completely different watch that is illustrated here.
After engraving the engraved letters were coloured gold. Because the engraving marks remain clearly visible, it is easy to tell that the gold colour is not a wax filling, which would partially fill in the letter and cover the marks, and would not still look as bright as it does today. Instead the letters have been gold plated to match the regulator scale.
To achieve this the engraving was done after coating the plates with a thin layer of wax called a “stop off” or mask. The engraving cutter cut through the wax, leaving only the metal of the engraved letters exposed. The plates were then electroplated with gold before the wax mask was removed, resulting in only the letters being gold plated.
Gold plating is more durable than wax filling or paint, which is often used by fakers and usually falls out. This is shown in the image here titled “Fake Rolex Mark”, which is from a completely different watch. The forger has filled this with black wax or paint which has partially fallen out, revealing yellow brass underneath the nickel plated surface of the plate. It is easy to see how much cruder and less well executed this engraving is compared to those pictured above.
The movement is a good quality jewelled Swiss lever, but nothing special. It has a cut bimetallic compensation balance, a Swiss straight line jewelled lever escapement and 17 jewel bearings. The extra two jewels over the usual count of 15 are a jewel bearing for the top pivot of the centre wheel, and an end stone for the top escape wheel pivot, mounted in the small polished steel plate screwed to the train bridge. It is not unusual to have only the top bearing of the centre wheel jewelled, because the bottom bearing comes under pressure when the cannon pinion is removed and a jewel there would almost certainly crack. However, the fact that only the top bearing of the escape wheel has a cap stone when the bottom bearing doesn't suggests that this one was done for visual appeal rather than any improvement in timekeeping.
The movement measures 25 x 14.7 millimetres = 11.1 x 6.5 lignes, so it is classified as a 6½ ligne movement. The drawing of a Font 6½ ligne calibre 9254 matches both the top plate and the cover from the keyless mechanism that includes the detent spring, which shows that the ébauche was made by Fabrique d'Horlogerie de Fontainemelon, the initials of which FHF had the first F reversed to form the trademark ꟻHF. The shield around this mark in the drawing shows that the company was a member of Ébauches S.A., an association of 26 Swiss ébauche makers formed in 1925.
The inside case backs from both of my correspondents watches are shown here.
One of the cases has Glasgow Assay Office import hallmarks for 9 carat gold with the date letter "b" for 1924 to 1925, remember that date letter punches were used in two calendar years.
The most interesting thing about this case is the sponsor's mark, R.W.C.Ltd incuse within an incuse oval surround. An assay office would not accept an item for hallmarking if it didn't have a sponsor's mark, that has been a legal requirement since 1363. There are no other marks in the case other than the hallmarks and the R.W.C.Ltd mark, so the R.W.C.Ltd must be the sponsor's mark on this item.
Before use, every sponsor's mark punch has to be registered by the sponsor with an assay office, by making a mark with the punch on a sheet of lead or copper. Even if several punches are identical, each one has to registered. The records of the punch marks are kept by the assay office in case a question arises about an item, when the mark on it can be compared to the recorded punch marks.
An assay office would not accept an item submitted by anyone other than the person or company who registered the punch that was used to make the sponsor's mark, which in this case was the Rolex Watch Company. The inevitable conclusion is that the Rolex Watch Company submitted this case to the Glasgow Assay Office to be assayed and hallmarked.
The second case is gold plated and has an R.W.C. stamp above the words “Chester Quality”, a mark that is seen in Rolex Watch Company watch cases. The R.W.C. mark is a Rolex trademark but was not entered as a sponsor's mark. The scratched marks were made when the watch was cleaned and oiled, and meant something to the repairer who serviced the watch. They use their own code so that marks couldn't be forged and a false claim made.
I believe that this case is of Canadian manufacture. The bracelet, which seems to be original, is marked “Hadley” in an oval and “Pat Pend”. A large number of US patents for watch bracelets and similar items were granted to the Hadley Company Inc. of Providence, Rhode Island, from 1918 to the 1960s. The Hadley Company was founded by Arthur Hadley in 1912. In 1951 the Hadley Company was purchased by the Elgin Watch Company.
All the cased “Patek Rolex” watches like this that I have seen details of, bar one, have US or Canadian gold plated cases and appear to have been bought in North America. A correspondent has told me about seeing some uncased movements with this engraving about 20 years ago in Toronto.
These watches certainly have nothing to do with Patek Philippe. At first glance they do look like the sort of thing that Rolex did create in the early days. Marconi, Unicorn, RolCo etc. are similar in some ways to these, cheaper watches with invented brand names and often with Fontainemelon ébauches. But the branding “Patek Rolex” is wrong; Rolex didn't brand cheaper watches with the Rolex name, because they didn't want them to take sales from the “real” Rolex watches, and they certainly wouldn't have risked a prosecution by Patek Philippe for trademark infringement. Wilsdorf might have sailed close to the wind on occasion, but that would be going too far!
In the 1920s and 1930s there was an agreement between Rolex and Gruen, who were both shareholders in Aegler and both used Aegler manufactured movements in their watches. The agreement concerned distribution territory, that the US market would be exclusive to Gruen, and Rolex would have the rest of the world. It appears that someone in North America, knowing the rising reputation of Rolex, and of course the established reputation of Patek Philippe, decided to get hold of some Fontainemelon movements and add the engraved name “Patek Rolex” to them to take advantage of name recognition in the absence of any official presence of Rolex in the US market. Why they added Patek as well can be anyone's guess.
The two remaining mysteries are the 9 carat gold case, and the R.W.C stamp in the Chester Quality case. The 9 carat gold case definitely is a Rolex case but the watch, recently acquired with no provenance, is most likely the result of a marriage; a genuine Rolex 9 carat gold case married with a “Patek Rolex” movement originally from another watch. The RWC stamp in the Chester case is more difficult to explain, this watch has provenance back to when it was new. It may simply be a fake mark like the “Patek Rolex” engraving on the movement.
If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to to get in touch via my Contact Me page.
Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2020 all rights reserved. This page updated June 2020. W3CMVS. Back to the top of the page.