Anatomy of a Frankenstein

Anatomy of a Frankenstein or True Confessions of an Imprudent Collector

Wanna know what you risk when buying a watch without examining it first-hand?  You may get a franken!  Here is an interesting study; perhaps the best fake I’ve come across.

Anatomy of a Frankenstein

The design is classic V&C from the 1950s and 60s as used in the Ref. 6099, 6105 and reawakened with the Historiques 1955.  As I later learned, it was also a design used by Jaeger LeCoultre.  Considering their joint ownership, it comes 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.
Anatomy of a Frankenstein

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 1970s production - an inconsistency that went unnoticed in my fixation with the movement.

Anatomy of a Frankenstein
Anatomy of a Frankenstein

The 453/3BW caliber, s/n 579218, is actually very unusual.  As with other V&C wrist watches of the period, it had a LeCoultre base ebauche.  Once in-hand, I noticed two disturbing features.  Although all the expected markings were present, the Cotes de Geneve was not consistent between the balance cock and main plate, and the hairspring stud wasn’t the typical V&C design.  The VXN import mark was indicative of a V&C calibre, but was also shared with LeCoultre.

Anatomy of a Frankenstein

So how unusual is this movement?  Well, I couldn’t find a single verified example on the internet, nor could Alex locate any information beyond a mere mention in the factory archives!  I did find another franken, also with a 579xxx serial and presumably a member of the same illicit batch.  However, this one exhibited an EXU import mark, which turned out to be a Cartier code.  I’m left wondering if the 453/3BW actually went into production!

The dial was brilliantly executed, with a flawless satin finish upon which was printed the fine accent in Genève, the ampersand between Vacheron and Constantin, and SWISS at six o’clock.  The hands were an unusual dauphine style, not quite the Alpha hands of the Chronometer Royal.  A mix of Arabic and dart-shaped hour markers were cleanly applied.  Not typical for V&C but we are all familiar with untypical examples, n’est-ce pas?  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.

Anatomy of a Frankenstein

Fearfully, I submitted the case and movement numbers to VC.  Shortly thereafter I was informed of the bad news; neither appeared in the records.  More digging and consultations with other Loungers 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 produced of an identical franken with serial numbers just a few digits off.

The panic button was pressed!  The seller, a UK dentist, 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 item was returned and the funds restored.  Nothing substantial was at risk; perhaps if that had been so I would have taken more care.

The price of these monsters must have been significant when they were fresh-to-market to recoup the investment.  The miscreants may also have been industry insiders, which would explain their access to the components, tooling, and the knowledge of how to create a near-perfect clone.  So please remember this story when one surfaces again.
amazingly detailed research Dean, bravo!! The dial gave it off for
10/13/2011 - 19:11
me the first time I saw this watch, probably a reprinted JLC 
Your instincts are right Alex
10/13/2011 - 22:27
I have similar suspicions about this eerily similar watch currently offered on an internet retailer's site, and the movement is a mix of two V&C calibers.
Bravo Sherlock Holmes! (nt)
10/13/2011 - 20:30
Not that pleased with myself
10/13/2011 - 22:30
but I couldn't accept the possibility that someone else from the Lounge might make the same mistake I did blush.
My Franken!
10/14/2011 - 01:35
Hi Dean, I bought this as a 1909 pocket watch by Vacheron&Constantin, from a wellknown dealer in USA 2005. I think it's a beautiful and classic pocket watch from it's time, when they were rounded in'all ways'. Also like the colour combination, figures and hands! What I really loved is the movement, with it's wolves teeth. I showed it to Mr Vuilliomenet, at that time Directeur for the Museum. He overlooked it and told me it was a Frankencrying OTH he said, you have got a much more beautiful movement than the original one! "But it's not a Vacheron&Constantin." This movement is from about 1915. Still I like this Franken watch in a special way, and the price wasn't sky high either laugh Obvious a X-mas present, not bad! Still haven't happened to me, in other way that I given one to myself cool Dean, we Franken owners must keep together, perhaps a sub division of the Lounge, The Franken Lounge laugh Cheers Doc
Mr Vuilliomenet was is a beautiful Franken!
10/14/2011 - 04:01
Fabulous components, and really a beautiful watch - but unfortunately not an original V&C. BR, Dan
Sorry Doc, I've already quit the club.
10/14/2011 - 07:43
But I might join again if I could get my hands on that wonderful movement, regardless of what case its in.
Does a good reconditioned dial qualify as one, doc? ....
10/14/2011 - 15:23
then i might qualify to the club! but it was qualified by the auction house as original one cheeky geneve without the accent ! i was too mesmerised by the ability to get hold of the " topolino" and insufficeint knowledge then to pay a premium for it . yet, there is no regret !devil i am a sucker for vintage that looked new!
No, I wouldn't say that!
10/16/2011 - 02:50
Nearly all vintage watches has had watchmakers inside them changing wheels, springs, mainsprings etc, but it's not so obvious as a work on the dial. I think some old hard worn watches are so ugly that they need a fresh up! Problem is that the watchmakers has a tendency to overdo it. They make a 50 year old vintage watch look like it was made last year. Use to white colour. Antiquorum were masters in 'dial refreshment' in their glories! Very careful resoration is OK for me, but I have had some clearly overdone. They seems dead. I my opinion old real silver dials, are the one who keeps it's luster best. A  40 years every day V&C, is very rarely nice to look at, if you look at the dial. I have a 61 one year old Girard-Perregaux Gyromax, one of the first automatic G-Ps, which illustrates it good It will not win any beauty contest, but is 100% unrestored. I use it actually quite often when I work with my hands. Once it had resting for a month, I put the time and started one of the bikes, the H-D Sportster, because it was the rougjest, and shook most. Then I drove one morning at 4 o'clock in sunshine to a castle from 13 th century, where my son got married a last summer in the castle church! The church is to the right, with high windows. When I came back the watch ws going fine, just 2 minutes after, start up time by this bike Here you can talk about patina! But it's only Photoshop.  cool Cheers Doc
cool, man ! cool bike ! i did not expect u to ride a harley...
10/17/2011 - 07:55
but that is really cool !yes i am impressed with your bike collection too.
two :-) nt
10/21/2011 - 00:50
similar to the one I used to have bought from Webauktion24
10/14/2011 - 18:41
cal K453-3BW movement Nr 579373 case Nr 506 587 Only the hands differed on mine. Unfortunately, I handed it back to that company (now bancrupt) who reimbursed me with an unpaid check. Result = no fake watch and no real money.
I understood they were made
10/14/2011 - 18:43
in Poland and imported to Germany. There was even one in sale by Dr Crott 2 or 3 years ago. Best regards, Berny
Thanks for sharing Berny
10/14/2011 - 22:39
Sadly it has proven true that even the specialist internet auction houses do get fooled!  I recall advising Dr. Crott a couple of years ago that they had a franken, but it remained in the online catalog until the auction so I don't know if someone got burned angry.  And of course, we remember the story of the Hermann Goering watch.
fantastic learning material, Dean the V&C Hercules Poirot ;-))) (nt)
10/18/2011 - 14:26
I found another clue (this was one is true)
10/18/2011 - 21:48
courtesy Uhrentick: