Phillips Caught Doctoring Engravings With Photoshop

As we have learned over the past months, high value grails sold at Phillips are, if not questionable in its entirety as the infamous Cartier Trash sold in New York despite knowing something was off, often made-up frankenstein watches, assembled from bits and pieces (sometimes even fake ones) and presented with the thumbs-up of revered super scholars as extremely rare and well-preserved examples. In this article, I will show you the next level of trickery. What if some of the super rare pieces lack the required Phillips perfection? No problemo, the auction house’s Photoshop Picassos will come to the rescue! I am not talking about the usual photo editing – no – this time the leading auction house was caught red-handed digitally faking case and reference numbers to make watches appear more crisp than they actually are. The two cases illustrated in this article, which might only be the tip of the iceberg, occured in the midst of the pandemic when unable to travel, people had no chance to inspect the watches in the metal. There is a supreme irony to this as Phillips does not actually guarantee the authenticity of their lots. The burden is on prospective buyers to examine the watches and make sure they are real.

What You See Is Not What You Get

In February 2021, while researching the earliest examples of the Rolex Submariner Ref. 5512 with sought-after ‘Square Crown Guard’, I came across before and after pictures of one particular example whose case had been quietly “restored” to “unpolished” condition. It is not clear whether metal was added but what struck me the most were the many obviously fake scratches and dents added after the case was reshaped to fool people into believing this was a rare unpolished watch. Knowing the dealer responsible for this work and how naughty he is, the story did not surprise me one bit. I talked about this on my Instagram in October 2022.

Over the past 20 years or so, collectors were conditioned by dealers and auctioneers that only untouched, unrestored and absolutely pristine looking watches are worth collecting and this is unfortunately where the “unpolished” craze has led to. The irony is that knowingly restored watches were sold as untouched by the very same people preaching the opposite. There is a stigma on restored watches that needs to be put to rest and as a result, hopefully, dealers and auctioneers will stop lying about restorations. If we look at the amazing craftmanship that went into reshaping the case of this ‘Square Crown Guard’, one can only be in absolute awe. Anyway, it soon became clear this travesty of a watch had been auctioned for a record sum of USD 195,000 in November 2020 by – surprise, surprise – Phillips in Hong Kong. The only difference was a replaced bezel insert.

Comparison Phillips vs. dealer

Auction link: Lot 851 – Ref. 5512, extremel rare, highly important and early… (Phillips)

Helping Phillips authenticate watches since late February 2018, I was quite surprised they did not send me this Submariner for inspection as at the time the catalogue was put together, the auction house was fully aware of the consignor’s ethics. One year prior to the auction, I had uncovered one of the dealer’s made-up watches, which he kept altering as he continued to offer it to Phillips on three different occasions. Each time Phillips listened to me and rejected the watch. But then, despite knowing about it since September 2019, the auction house put the most recent version of the watch in their November 2020 Hong Kong catalogue – without my knowledge. It boggles the mind that Phillips kept doing business with this dealer. When I saw the full catalogue for the first time, I protested immediately. The guys in Hong Kong, however, remained determined to auctioning the qualified franken/fake. “It’s complex Jose”, they said. I then reached out to top auctioneer Aurel Bacs who surprisingly also tried to justify having this made-up watch in the auction. Contrast this with what Bacs said in the following interview:

Aurel Bacs about rebuilt and restored vintage watches (see 3:20)

I made clear that I would not be complicit in such a thing and if the watch was not withdrawn, I would feel compelled to publish an article in order to warn prospective buyers. Imagine having to say that to a “reputable auction house”. The watch was ultimately withdrawn but only in the very last moment when the lot came up during the auction. If laid out in all details, this story would make your head spin. An incident of this magnitude deserves to be told in its entirety but right now it shall only serve to illustrate the mindset of Phillips’ highly respected watch department.

Coming back to the ‘Square Crown Guard’ Submariner, a closer look at the catalogue pictures revealed more interesting details. At first glance, the case number shown in one of the photos appeared to be fake, or rather partially re-engraved? On these watches, the engravings are often erased by the constant friction between case and bracelet endlinks. A comparison with the photos gathered from the dealer made clear something was fishy.

Comparison case number

Anybody who knows a thing or two about Rolex engravings can see that the shape of the 4 is off. Case and reference numbers on these were engraved with ‘Typeface A’, the earliest known font used for engravings between the lugs since the mid 1940s. As you can see in the visual below, the 4 looks nothing like the real thing.

Overview Typeface A

As usual with unpleasant discoveries involving Phillips lots, I saw it as my duty to report to the man himself, top auctioneer Aurel Bacs. After a short back and forth on why I knew the case had been redone and the engravings were fake, Bacs lost interest and stopped replying. I have no information whether steps were taken to find a solution with the misled buyer.

Notwithstanding the auctioneers overt disinterest in the matter, I stayed laser focused on getting to the bottom of the story. The longer I looked at the number 4 of the case number, the more it started to dawn on me that it was probably not an engraving but done in photoshop to make the watch appear more crisp than it actually was. The lines of the 4 had no real bevel effect, little to no shadows and highlights. Holy moly, if an auction house deliberatly misrepresented the condition of watches in this fashion, that would be even worse than fake engravings done by whoever. It would be fraud, plain and simple.

Partly photoshopped case number?

From an objective point of view, faking case numbers in photos made no sense because there was no need to publish the picture in the first place, except of course if it was needed to make a point. After reading the lot essay the scales fell from my eyes. Of course! Phillips used the case number 478000 to fool people into believing this was the very first example of Ref. 5512 ever made.

“Believed by scholars, the production of the reference started with serial 478’XXX stamped in between the lugs. The present example bears a 478’000 serial indicating that it is perhaps the very first example of the reference that has left the manufacture.”

This suggestion is of course a load of baloney as the earliest documented example in my database has case number 477935. I really do wonder who those scholars are Phillips is always referring to. Mr. Aurel Bacs auctioned case number 477956 in November 2006 when he was the head of the watch department at Christie’s. For someone who likes to play “historical Sherlock Holmes”, he should know better.

Next I started going through the catalogue in search for more pictures of engravings but could not find any except for the ones of three vintage Panerai lots belonging to an important Japanese collection for which I had done the authentication in addition to writing all of the catalogue essays. Wait a minute – the reference number engravings of one of the 6152/1s were off, especially the number 5. This was not how I remembered the watch. For my article prior to the auction, Phillips had provided me with high resolution images. This is what I found when I compared the file in my archive to the online catalogue picture.

Comparison original photo vs. altered Phillips catalogue image

Auction link: Lot 999 – Rolex-Panerai, Ref. 6165/1, A very rare, oversized… (Phillips)

As you can see there is quite a discrepancy between what the engravings really look like and how they were presented by Phillips in their online catalogue. In reality, the 2 and the last 1 of 6152/1 were completely gone.

This really freaked me out. Did Phillips re-engrave the reference numbers or was it “just” digitally enhanced? Clearly the added numbers had a 3D effect, unlike on the “Square Crown Guard’. Next I compared the picture to the other 6152/1s offered at the same auction. There was a perfect match with the reference number picture of case number 124579. The 1s of 6152/1 were identical. Basically, they copied the numbers from one picture and pasted it onto the other.


The watch in question was not just any watch. It was the very watch that was front-page in a Japanese watch magazine from 1992 and inspired Pre Vendôme Panerai in 1993 to recreate the old watches. The OG of modern Panerai so to say.

The very watch that created the Panerai hype

This finding was extremely unsettling. A total betrayal of my trust, this could also reflect badly on me. I had authenticated this watch but the faint/missing engravings were no issue whatsoever. These watches were equipped with thick leather straps and the constant friction, especially if sand and dirt came into play, “polished” off many of the engravings. When the watches were decommissioned, sea salt crystals stuck between strap and case caused often heavy pitting. Cleaning the area resulted in more material loss. There was absolutely no need for this digital foul play. Add the fact that the buyer is a friend of mine. Of course I reached out to him with what I had found but to my total surprise, he had discovered the issue himself long time ago. After he took possession of the watch, he changed the strap and that is how he became aware of the discrepancy between reality and Phillips’ online catalogue pictures. This confirmed Phillips had indeed digitally doctored the numbers. It goes without saying that my friend was not amused about this incredible deception. He immediately demanded to return the watch and be refunded but all Phillips offered was a credit note so that the money would stay with them. I find this outrageous! In addition, my friend had to promise not to tell anything, especially not to me. Well he did not. Lies have no legs and the truth comes out eventually.


These are the stories that opened my eyes to what is going on at Phillips Watches and ultimately led me to end my collaboration with them. There seems to be an inherent intent to deceive and defraud prospective buyers which from my perspective is simply appaling. What is also important to understand is that Phillips, and other auction houses probably as well, do no guarantee the authenticity of their lots. This becomes evident by reading the conditions of sale:

The knowledge of Phillips in relation to each lot is partially dependent on information provided to us by the seller, and Phillips is not able to and does not carry out exhaustive due diligence on each lot. Prospective buyers acknowledge this fact and accept responsibility for carrying out inspections and investigations to satisfy themselves as to the lots in which they may be interested.


Notwithstanding the foregoing, we shall exercise such reasonable care when making express statements in catalogue descriptions or condition reports (including those accessed via QR Codes appearing in this catalogue) as consistent with our role as auctioneer of lots in this sale and in light of (1) the information provided to us by the seller, (2) scholarship and technical knowledge and (3) the generally accepted opinions of relevant experts, in each case at the time any such express statement is made.

Ah! Yes, the sellers, scholars and experts. They go on:

Each lot offered for sale at Phillips is available for inspection by prospective buyers prior to the auction. Phillips accepts bids on lots on the basis that bidders (and independent experts on their behalf, to the extent appropriate given the nature and value of the lot and the bidder’s own expertise) have fully inspected the lot prior to bidding and have satisfied themselves as to both the condition of the lot and the accuracy of its description.

Wait a minute! So if there was no preview due to travel restrictions but they digitally faked the engravings, then what? Here is what I think. If you buy a lemon at Phillips you are basically on your own, especially if you do not have a big megaphone to call them out. In my conversations with Bacs, he often emphasized there would be no shenanigans at Phillips as long as he was in charge. We know Mr. Bacs is very good with words but does he also walk the talk? After all, was he not directly involved in the ‘Unicorn’ Daytona scandal – and – I seem to remember Phillips auctioned off a very questionable Cartier Trash in late 2022 despite all the red flags that were pointed out to them. Shenanigans, it seems, are the very fabric of the great illusion that is the world of auctions. Next time you browse through a Phillips watches catalogue make sure what you see it what you get because the man behind the curtain is trying to pull off the perfect illusion.

Thank you for your interest.

Disclaimer: All information herein are my own personal views and opinions. I do not accept any responsability for any potential loss suffered due to my said opinions.


  • Thanks for exploring these hard subjects. The watch world is forever grateful.


  • Thank you for this article and making a very clear point. Trust is good, checking facts is better.


  • Shame on Phillips and other auction houses on this fraud and malpractice. Thank you for exposing them!!!


  • Good arricle. Auction houses play lots of games in bidding strategies as well.
    Buyers beware.
    Ps: the case of the tiffany 5711 was also a “good” one….


  • Bacs needs to get his house in order before it becomes too late to recover Phillip’s reputation.


  • Anyone who buys a watch over £5k at auction and who does not get an independent assessment of the watch before bidding is a fool. The sooner watch collectors do this the sooner Phillips and other auction houses will alter their dodgy practicies!
    Buyer beware and a fool and his money are easily parted are sayings that need to be said every time you enter an auction house in this day and age!


  • The way Phillips is now dealing with this problem clearly shows that Bacs & Co. want to continue their fraudulent activities. Instead of enlightening and promising to improve, the person who uncovered these criminal practices is threatened. It’s a shame!


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