Monochrome Watches
An online magazine dedicated to fine watches

Imitation is the Sincerest way to get Sued!

| By Mario Squillacioti | 5 min read |
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Messi - Tommy Hilfiger Eton Watch

Readers of Monochrome are no doubt familiar with most of the major watch case/bezel/dial combinations that make-up some of the greatest and most expensive timepieces ever. You folks will also (no doubt) be familiar with the scores of companies that have popped-up over the past few years offering the ‘taste’ of those ‘deluxe’ creations with out all of the calories. The look with out the commitment of capital. Now, however, three HEAVY WEIGHT names in the horological and fashion industries are squaring off to fight over what one side will argue is an “icon” and what the other side will no doubt say is simply “a shape.” On August 13, 2013, Audemars Piguet filed suit against Tommy Hilfiger U.S.A. Inc., Tommy Hilfiger Licensing LLC, and Movado Group, Inc. and 10 unnamed individual defendants (I’ve got a Pound in at William Hills that one of them has a name that rhymes with Hommy Tilfiger!)

Again, I rely on the deftness of the readers of Monochrome to affirm that the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, penned by the now canonized Gerald Genta IS one of the most recognizable and sought after luxury sports watches of the past 40 years. Almost since it’s creation over 40 years ago, the octagonal design, beset by 8 hexagonal screws that run through the case from top to bottom; screws that hold the three main regions of the case securely watertight. It is THE franchise player in the AP line-up and we all, to a person vacillate between respecting it for it’s status and lusting after it for the image it conveys.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Messi

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Apparently we are all in good company because the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Movado ALSO read Monochrome and feel the same way about the Royal Oak! Behold the Eton watch!

It costs about $175.00 USD and has an octagonal case, and 8 hexagonal screws. It is produced by Movado under license for Tommy Hilfiger and it’s sister companies that market and distribute the watches around the globe. (The Eton watch has a (pardon the opinion here) cheesy faux chronograph dial – which is usually the sort of thing you’d see on a cheap Roleks Dayton chronograph! (Shame on you Movado! Shame!) The watch is 44mm in diameter and if you bought one or were THINKING about buying one I want you to CLOSE THIS WINDOW RIGHT NOW and go back to looking at pornography!

Tommy Hilfiger Eton Watch

A Short History of Cheap Homage Watches:

Over the past few years a sort of cottage industry has sprung up in the watch world where by boutique companies (as we like to call them) take models of significant design, value and scarcity only to offer ‘homage’ pieces. The business model is simple, take a watch that normally sells to a collector for $10,000.00-100,000.00 at auction, pay tribute to it with a modernized interpretation and sell it for $1,000.00. (Allow me to ‘render unto Caesar’ for a moment; I’m not questioning the integrity of these pieces as far as they are well built, durable, functional and stylish timekeepers. They are NOT the $50.00 knock-offs of yore! Some of these ‘boutique’ watches have high-grade Swiss movements – not dissimilar to watches costing multiple thousands of dollars! And unlike the watches ‘Sidewalk Steve’ vends from the pockets of his “Bluberry” trench coat, if the case says 200M water resistance, the likelihood is that the watch is at least 200M water resistant!

If you want a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, but don’t want to fork over $$$$$$ (and then find out you got shived like the ‘new guy’ in the prison rec. room with a ‘frankenwatch’!!!) there are companies out there that sell impressive modern remakes of that historic design. The same goes for the entire Panerai line, most Omega watches, Rolex Daytona, Datejust, GMT Master, and of course, the Submariner is the ‘dial that launched a thousand clones’! Really, most high-end pieces have a lower-cost doppelganger that satisfies all of the style related requests we place on our watches, without all of that fussy innovation, R&D and bothersome money. [I think I should mention here one of the most poorly kept secrets of the watch world: If you wanted a Royal Oak but didn’t want to part with the Royal cash, Bulova used to produced a nifty little knock-off watch that looked just like it!]

Bulova royal oak knockoff

These are, however, very small companies. They are usually the domain of 5-10 workers and they are capable of producing anywhere from 500 to 1,000 watches in a year. (Let’s do the math – that’s annual revenues of anywhere from $500,000 to $1,000,000.00! I think Rolex generate more money selling two-tone Datejusts in a weekend! Who am I kidding? They generated more revenue than that in the time that it took me to write and you to read this sentence!) Once again, these companies are small.

Tommy Hilfiger and Movado, however, are not small companies. Movado has a storied history with its own ‘iconic’ creations. Tommy Hilfiger, has been on the fashion scene for nearly the past 30 years. [I’m not sure, nor do I really care if Tommy Hilfiger is involved with the day-to-day workings of the company that bears his name. What I can tell you is this – he’s a rich dude! When you are formulating a lawsuit one effective tactic is to attack people with deep pockets.]

Tommy Hilfiger - Movado

Monochrome isn’t about to speculate as to the outcome of this case. I have read over the 18-page complaint. They allege that Tommy Hilfiger and knew about their Royal Oak watch (d’uh?) They knew it was a distinctive and more importantly Trademarked design. They knew of the value conferred by the Royal Oak design in the watch industry and that they willfully sought to copy the distinctive and Trademarked design to flood the market with low-cost imitations that have damaged Audemars Piguet by eating into their ‘goodwill’ (read as cache in the watch and jewelry industry.)

What does this really mean for us all?

Again – without wanting to speculate on the outcome – reckon that if AP prove their point in court it will be a watershed moment in the watchmaking industry – one that will no doubt go a long way towards making Rolex an even richer company than it already is!

If they fail to win this court case it will open the door to the cottage industry of ‘homage’ watches becoming the norm in watchmaking. Then that ‘goodwill’ that AP alleges has been damaged will be all that separates your genuine horological creation from a well-crafted knock-off homage.

2 responses

  1. As much as I personally hate knockoffs in all their forms – be it replicas, copies, homages or just fakes; this type of industry practice may have a positive effect on the world of true horology in the long run.

    Imagine a world where Royal Oaks aren’t flogged for $20k+ as toys for the rich, but are forced to be priced competitively (not only within the ranks of watch snobs, but on all levels)!

    Taking in to account economical inflation, watch prices have bloated tenfold since the fifties, the bubble has to burt sometime, somehow.

  2. Nik,

    You bring up a point that is really yet to come to bare – but when it does will probably not just burst the watch bubble… it will probably decimate the industry the way the Quartz revolution did in the 70!

    What I mean by that is: Imagine YOU go out and buy a brand spanking new AP RO… fresh out of the box and perfect in every way. Then you ‘scan’ the watch and send the files to me. I proceed to PRINT a ‘fresh’ copy for myself… complete in every detail and specification!

    What happens then? Who is going to be there to STOP us from doing it?

    I will diffuse the argument that the real ‘value’ is in your watch by saying that I’m not interesting in the value – I just want the looks and the performance (neither of which the Eton watch really come close to!). And I will also say that if the ‘printed’ copy of an AP watch looks AND acts the same – are they really different?

    These homage watches we see all day long (which are just a product of the democratization of all of the processes and technologies of watchmaking) represent that conundrum now… they infact preempt the conundrum of 3-D cloning/copying by giving us a glimpse of the end-game today.

    The next 10 years are going to be very, very interesting for the watch industry. It will be very interesting to see how things pan out.

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