The Genteel
November 24, 2017
Home

Design

Customised Rolex Milgauss watch by Alec Monopoly. Customised Cartier watch by Travis W. Simon. Source: flickr.com, traviswsimon.com.

A Rolex Milgauss customised with a drawing of the Monopoly Man. A vintage Cartier with "Fuck 9-5" written in blood-red letters across its face. What do these two watches have in common?

Both are limited editions, cost thousands of dollars and, according to official Rolex and Cartier policies, are worthless. In the art circuit, however, these watches might become prized collectibles with incredible resale value down the line. They propose a paradox surrounding different approaches to added value on luxury goods.

LAB Art gallery, Los Angeles. Source: cartwheelart.com.
LAB Art gallery, Los Angeles.
Source: cartwheelart.com.

Art or Defacement?

The street art movement has seen vandalism, tags and graffiti rise to a respected form of artistic expression, sometimes selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars without ever knowing the artist's identity - pace Banksy.

Recently, a New York street artist who goes by the name Alec Monopoly, was commissioned to create an art installation at the W Retreat in Koh Samui, Thailand. The graffiti artist's calling card is the Hasbro Inc. Monopoly Man, which the game board company has reportedly condoned and then supported his use of, according to a recent article posted on CartWheelArt.com. One of his canvases reportedly sold for $20,000 to actor Adrien Brody, and Monopoly recently teamed up with Richard Corman and Vitamin Water to do a live installation at the W Hotel in New York, painting over the MADONNA: A Transformational Exhibition photographs.

A few weeks ago, Alec Monopoly announced on Instagram that he was selling five limited edition Rolex Milgauss timepieces he customised with a hand-painted Monopoly Man on the watch face, a customised fibreglass watch box and a painted canvas of the watch. Since there was no price listed, I inquired further, posing as a prospective buyer. In a reply email about authentication and warranty, he wrote: "The watch would be ten g w no Canvas. Payment via bank wire add 2.5 percent fo credit card feez. Black dial avail as well. Watch comes w orig rolex box n warranty card as well as custom box pictured."

Red flags went up upon reading his response, as something other than syntax felt very wrong.

Alec Monopoly's Street Scene, 2011. Source: artnet.com.
Alec Monopoly's Street Scene, 2011.
Source: artnet.com.

Name your price, but what's the cost?

The particular model of Rolex Milgauss in question retails for C$7,800 which means Alec's customised piece tacks on an extra US$2,200. My point isn't to suggest the Monopoly Milgauss isn't authentic (although there's no guarantee of authenticity unless you purchase from an authorised dealer), but to question the intangible, added-value of his customisation. It's also ironic that Alec Monopoly is offering purchasers with (presumably) original warranty cards to go with his timepieces when those same warranty cards clearly state:

"Any addition or substitution of parts or accessories with those not manufactured by Rolex, as well as any alteration, modification or other material change made to or on Rolex products by a third party not authorized by Rolex cancels the warranty."

Perusing the member-only Rolex forums for answers, it appears that most Rolex aficionados don't mind the company's strict policies in regards to after-market activity. Users who complain about the policy are often urged by the forum's mainstays to "find a brand that works well for you." Similarly, a salesperson at Raffi Jewellers, a certified Rolex retailer in Toronto's Yorkdale Shopping Centre, nearly slapped me on the wrist when I casually mentioned getting a few diamonds added to my fictitious Oyster Perpetual. "Would that devalue the watch?" I asked. "Yes. Extremely. I would strongly advise against it. Rolex doesn't like any changes made to their watches," he replied with a menacing glare.

Around the same time, Moda Operandi unveiled a timepiece with a similar pedigree to the Monopoly Rolex. From esteemed procurers of quality crafted goods, Foundwell, comes a limited edition Cartier watch with "Fuck 9-5" hand-painted across its delicate face by New York City artist Travis W. Simon, who incidentally, also customises (shudder) Hermes Birkin bags.

 'Would that devalue the watch?' I asked. 'Yes. Extremely. I would strongly advise against it. Rolex doesn't like any changes made to their watches,' he replied with a menacing glare.

But only days after hearing back from Alec Monopoly, it was difficult to appreciate the whopping US$11,900 price tag on the vintage Cartier timepiece. A new Tank Solo model with the same accoutrements (alligator skin strap, 18k gold) retails for US$4,500 online at Cartier.com. The US$7,000-plus discrepancy is the difference between perceived value and actual value - and of course, a little red paint.

Perhaps even more severe than Rolex's policies on after-market activity, Cartier's policy explicitly states: "Please note that watches purchased from unauthorized dealers or on websites other than Cartier.com or watches that have been altered are not guaranteed as authentic Cartier creations." In which case, who would spend an extra seven thousand dollars to be guaranteed inauthenticity?

Apparently, there is a niche market for all sorts of after-market shenanigans. From PVD matte black carbon coated Rolexes (a selection of which are available on SSENSE for approximately US$25,000 with a two-year warranty, of which its legitimacy I inquired about and have yet to hear back) to variations on the watch bracelet like the satin-finish "Stealth" MK III by Project X Designs, available online for £8,750 (US$13,437). Some of these limited-edition pieces have been commissioned and sold for staggering amounts. In 2011, The Project X Sir Roger Moore Edition Sea-Dweller was auctioned by Christie's in Geneva for UNICEF and achieved CHF75,000 (US$79,198).

Will the real Rolex please stand up?

On the one hand, luxury watch companies have policies in place to denounce these aftermarket, customised timepieces as either inauthentic or not eligible for official warranty. On the other, street artists and independent fashion e-commerce sites have erected an air of rebellion and artistic exclusivity surrounding limited-edition timepieces, slapping on hefty premiums for the privilege of owning an "Alec Monopoly" or "Travis W. Simon" customised Rolex or Cartier.

Can two such disparate approaches to added value continue to co-exist whilst upholding brand integrity? I have my doubts, but the Roger Moore Rolex seems to have done alright for itself. When a Monopoly Milgauss goes up for resale, I want to hear about it. In the meantime, caveat emptor.

Socialize
  
Comments

THE GENTEEL Weekly

Sign up to receive a weekly dispatch from The Genteel.



About Us

The Genteel unearths the forces shaping global fashion and design through the lens of business, culture, society and best kept secrets. 

More about us

Our Contributors

A worldwide collective of contributors currently form The Genteel. On a daily basis our team dispatches thought-provoking and insightful articles from the streets of Oslo, Toronto, Beirut, Moscow, United Arab Emirates, Seoul and beyond.