Despite some embarassment I'm going to reveal a franken watch that I recently purchased. Now that it has been returned to the seller and my funds restored, I hope that others can benefit, or at least be entertained, by this diabolical creation!
With my interest in vintage Vacheron & Constantin, this piece was very appealing when it appeared on fleabay. The design is classic V&C from the 1950s and 60s and reawakened with their new Historiques 1955. As I later learned, it was also a design used by Jaeger LeCoultre. Considering their joint ownership during the period, it should have come as no surprise that JLC shared many designs with V&C, including the iconic tear-drop lugs and even more esoteric styles like the Ship’s Wheel.
The inner case back revealed a maker’s number “23”, the V&C logo, and Acier Inoxydable for stainless steel. Nothing abnormal here. Case numbers 506623 engraved on the outside suggested a later production - an inconsistency that went unnoticed in my fixation with the movement.
The 453/3BW caliber, s/n 579218, is actually very unusual. As with other V&C wrist watches of the time, it had a LeCoultre ebauche. But once in-hand, I noticed two disturbing features. Although all the expected markings were present, the Cotes de Geneve ran in one direction on the balance cock and another on the main plate. Also, the hairspring stud wasn’t the typical V&C design. The VXN import mark was indicative of a V&C calibre, but that code was also shared with LeCoultre.
The dial had a flawless satin finish printed with the fine accent in Genčve, the ampersand between Vacheron and Constantin, and SWISS at six o’clock. The hands were a dauphine style which, combined with a mix of Arabic and dart-shaped hour markers, were somewhat unusual for V&C. With a loupe I could now see the tips of the markers did not curve with the dial; something the factory would not have tolerated. Neither would a marker have been entirely absent beneath the sub-seconds dial.
I submitted the case and movement numbers to VC's boutique in New York and shortly thereafter was informed of the bad news; neither appeared in the records. More digging and consultations with other collectors led to an interesting story concerning a dozen or more fake V&Cs assembled from altered and original New Old Stock parts in Europe and fenced through various German auction houses. Eventually a photo was located of an identical franken with serial numbers just a few digits off.
The panic button was pressed! The seller, a UK resident, was very apologetic. Yes, he bought at a German auction house years ago but didn’t realize anything was wrong. OK, I’ll take that at face value; just give me my money back.
The price of these monsters must have been significant when they were fresh-to-market to recoup the investment. My sympathies go out to those who were burned like me, but didn't benefit from a happy ending. If anyone would like to tag onto this thread their story of a close encouter with a franken, feel free...pictures always appreciated