Blog No 9: Bluer News

Monday morning, an 8a.m. wake-up call from my editor, who usually waits until 9a.m. out of innate courtesy. It has to be something urgent. It is. It concerns a mutual friend.

“Google ‘James Dowling’ and ‘billionaire sues’.” I do, and up pops an item in the New York Post that states my colleague of some 15 years is being sued by one of his clients. Here we go again … the John Mayer vs Robert Maron case is still fresh in one’s mind.

Briefly, blues ace and watch collector Mayer sued watch dealer Maron when he was told or discovered or simply believed that, according to Wikipedia, “seven of the $5 million in watches he purchased from the dealer contained counterfeit parts. He dropped the charges in May 2015, releasing a statement that asserted that research restored his ‘belief that Bob Maron is an expert on Rolex watches, and confirmed that Bob Maron never sold him a counterfeit watch.'”

I have no idea what the specific claims against Dowling may be, as the item, with embarrassing vagueness, only states that when the plaintiff “tried to sell them, he discovered they were overpriced or counterfeit.”

If I was a lawyer or judge, the first thing I’d ask is, Which is it, fake or overpriced? If it’s the latter, then “F*** off” because price is always a matter of “Caveat Emptor” and you should do your homework before buying a vintage watch. If you paid $10,000 for a watch worth a grand, more the fool you. But this is not Dowling’s style in my experience.

I recall, when I used to advise a high-profile collector of global fame, that he was about to do a deal with a notorious sleaze-ball vendor of vintage watches who was asking £45,000 for a rare Rolex. Fortunately, the collector called me in time for me to double-check the value. It was, however, a piece so obscure that I sought advice.

Who did I call? James Dowling, who immediately and generously confirmed that the price was far too high, by about £25,000. He thus saved the collector, whom he did not know, from throwing away a serious amount of money. Is this not the action of a scrupulous and conscientious dealer? If Dowling was a villain, he would have contacted the rip-off vendor and made a side deal. He did not. Instead, he gave free advice to a stranger, via me.

As for fakery, I can only think back to the Mayer incident, and what appears to be Mayer’s unrealistic expectations. It recalls the hoary old example of the lunatic car collector who assumed that a 90-year-old Bugatti to have the original tyres – or, as I experienced long ago when I bought and sold watches, the collector who expected the original strap on a 1930s Rolex.

What seems to be crucial to the Mayer/Maron case is the alleged failure on Mayer’s part to appreciate that any aged mechanical device will 1) have had components replaced during its lifetime, and 2) may require made-from-scratch or substitute parts if no original spares exist. As a collector of vintage hi-fi gear, I wouldn’t expect a 1961 Quad II amplifier to have its original valves, nor its original capacitors. As the company that made the valves back in the 1960s no longer exists, I would certainly not criticise a vendor who fitted modern equivalents.

I have no idea what Maron pitched to Mayer, but it ended up with an apology. I suspect that Mayer suddenly realised a well-used vintage watch is bound to have new parts. I don’t imagine for a moment that, if he found a dream 1958 Les Paul, he would expect it to have the original strings or even the tuning pegs.

With the case against Dowling (reported, I hasten to add, in a newspaper that one might mildly describe as leaning toward the “sensationalist” in its journalistic approach), I sincerely doubt that either of the watches in question cited were fakes. Dowling is too high-profile an individual, his indisputable reputation as the world’s leading Rolex expert too secure for him to even consider such shenanigans.

Man, oh, man am I glad I don’t have to deal with collectors.

© Ken Kessler 2016