March 19, 2014
by Ariel Adams
Musician John Mayer has been very vocal about his passion for collecting watches. Not only has he shared with (and perhaps confused) many of his fans when post images the high-end timepieces from his collection via social media, but he has also participated with the watch industry and news media as a sort of celebrity watch expert. Now John Mayer is suing Robert Maron, a former friend and trusted colleague over what he claims is fraud and the repeated sale of counterfeit vintage Rolex timepieces.
The suit for civil damages (John Mayer v. Robert Maron Inc.) filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on March 18, 2014 complains that Robert (Bob) Maron repeatedly sold to Mayer, on advice of Maron’s purported and esteemed expertise in the watch community, a series of pre-owned vintage Rolex timepieces that contained counterfeit parts. The larger context is that some (but not all, or even most) rare vintage Rolex watches are extremely valuable, many with prices that can soar over $100,000. These are some of the pieces that Maron sold to Mayer, which turned out to not contain 100% authentic Rolex parts.
The complaint does not mention with specificity the precise details of each timepiece in question. It does state that in total John Mayer spent about $5,000,000 with Maron over the years. Mayer does not claim that all of the watches he purchased contained counterfeit parts, nor that all of them were Rolex pieces. It even mentions that on certain occasions Rolex itself expressed to Mayer upon attempting to service watches originally purchased by Maron, that they contained counterfeit parts. In at least some of these instances Maron issued a refund to Mayer used for the purchase of future timepieces. According to Mayer, he eventually discovered through information received from Rolex that a number of Rolex watches he purchased from Maron contained counterfeit parts, and Maron would subsequently not refund any of Mayer’s money. The lawsuit ensued.
It is noteworthy to mention that in the world of watch collecting, the existence of 100% original or authentic parts is crucial to a timepiece’s value. Rare vintage Rolex models are so popular and sometimes of such great value that often times various parts, both original and counterfeit, are used by unscrupulous individuals to assemble purported specific historic timepieces. In actuality these watches are a combination of parts taken from various older Rolex models as well as unauthorized replicated parts to create timepieces that only experts would know as being authentic or not.
Mayer’s complaint paints Maron as the type of industry expert who not only should have known better, but did know better. In one of the causes of action, Mayer accuses Maron of fraud, which requires specific knowledge of the false information delivered to Mayer about the nature and authenticity of the watches. Therefore, Mayer not only accuses Maron of selling him watches that were not 100% authentic as promised, but also knowing that he was selling Mayer inauthentic timepieces.
Robert Maron has dedicated at least two decades of his life to the purchase and sale of high-end timepieces, which also includes a number of rare and vintage models. Mayer’s complaint further reminds the court that Maron is not only Harvard-educated, but also an attorney. Mayer’s attorney has taken efforts to bolster Maron’s sense of skills and education in order to suggest that Maron specifically defrauded Mayer into purchasing timepieces not worth the asking price.
According to the complaint, the majority of Mayer’s information came directly from Rolex, who is known for judiciously monitoring the authenticity of the timepieces that come in for service. Rolex is a meticulous record keeper and is, if anything, overly protective of their image and the recognition of their rare historic pieces that circulate among high-end collectors and that frequently show up at major international auctions. It is often said in the watch collector community that more “fake” ultra-rare vintage Rolex watches exist than authentic ones. This is due not only to their value, but also because there is a sophisticated network of workshops dedicated to “producing” replica vintage models in the hopes of selling them to eager collectors.
Historically, Rolex worked with a number of outside suppliers to produce parts for their watches. For this reason various minor details on parts such as cases and dials may have varied from one watch to another. The most popular type of valuable vintage Rolex is either a Submariner or Daytona, models which began production in the 1950s and 1960s respectively. Due to the sometimes inconsistent parts used in authentic historic Rolex watches, it can be very difficult for anyone but honed experts to identify a complete authentic versus counterfeit timepiece. In this context “counterfeit” can mean a timepiece that combines original parts with replica parts (such as for hands, dials, etc…).
The sale of vintage (as well as new) Rolex watches is big business. Like many contemporary wealthy watch collectors, Mayer relied upon the advice and trust of people like Bob Maron in selecting (and often buying) timepieces for his collection. Experts help educate and inform collectors of what the rarest and more important timepieces to collect are. At the time of writing Robert Maron has not yet responded to the complaint, which was filed in his local jurisdiction.
In the action against defendant Maron, plaintiff Mayer makes a plea for damages in the amount of $656,000 plus punitive and compensatory damages through the five causes of action. We will continue to monitor the law suit as it progresses. What is the take away message? Well, first of all, the vintage and auction market is quite murky and it should be proceeded with extreme caution, especially at the very high-end. For this reason we at aBlogtoWatch are very judicious in our coverage of auctions and related “available” vintage pieces because all too often there is funny business. Also, even the most esteemed and respected celebrity watch lovers rely on expert advice.
Another well-known Bob Maron customer (and buddy) is Charlie Sheen. Maron no doubt has good taste but could well be held liable for damages given the conduct. If he indeed did as Mayer claims then it would be because the sale of “almost totally real Rolex watches” is just too tempting for clients that may never know better. It is difficult to pass judgement though until all the facts are established. I will say this however, this is perhaps mostly embarrassing to Mayer who has held himself out as a diamond in the rough of celebrity watch lovers who has more detailed knowledge of his collection than most. His decision to file the suit no doubt puts this situation into the public light, which was a choice he needed to make in order to possibly get damages from the defendant Maron. Our colleagues at The Hollywood Reporter have a few additional details on the matter.