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Buying a vintage timepiece for a special Christmas gift? Watch that you get what you pay for.

Editorial Staff

What do "trusted seller" and "Better Business Bureau member" mean in real life? As an overseas customer of Vesper & Co, sellers of collectable watches apparently with offices in New York found out, they mean you are on your own if the seller decides to misdescribe goods and then to ignore the purchaser.

When Mr M saw a watch advertised by Vesper & Co., a New York dealer, he was excited. He was also cautious. He checked the business and found it was marked as a "Trusted Seller" by Chrono24, a website that is highly regarded by watch collectors. It was also strongly featured by collectors' website Hodinkee.com. Vesper & Co. are led by William Rohr, a man with impressive credentials. The company is also a member of the Better Business Bureau. That was where the good news ended and the nightmare began.

The watch in the advertisement was a Tudor 79090 Submariner, made by Rolex, and it is very pretty. Mr M asked for more information, describing it as "a grail watch for me." Although there were clear photographs of the watch, the images showing the bracelet were not clear but the description of the watch clearly stated that it had an original Tudor Fliplock Oyster bracelet and that it was made "circa early 1990s". Mr M asked Vesper & Co. for the serial number but was told that this information was never released prior to purchase.

For many watches, the bracelet might not be particularly important but an original, correct Tudor bracelet for that watch, type 380, costs GBP925 including special delivery from a reputable dealer. At current exchange rates, that is approx USD1255. The correct bracelet represented, therefore, a very significant part of the purchase price and Mr M relied on that representation when making his purchase. He paid, by bank transfer to the account of Vesper & Co with JP Morgan Chase in New York, the sum USD4295.

However, when the watch arrived, two things were immediately apparent to Mr M.

The first was that the bracelet was a generic, cheap bracelet not the original Tudor item as described in the advertisement. The description of the bracelet in the advertisement was false. That misrepresentation has cost Mr M that sum of USD1255.

The second was that the accompanying documents dramatically understated the price paid and the value of the watch. In the invoice, it shows the purchase price as USD430 instead of the actual price paid of USD4295 USD, raising suspicion that Vesper & Co. under-invoices in order to avoid US tax. It also means that he does not have legitimate documentation for the watch, including for insurance purposes.

Once Mr M began to inquire about the bracelet as delivered, someone giving the name Gregory Jung of Vesper & Co. told him, in an e-mail, "It seems that some market had these type of bracelet. The original owner, a journalist, told us he bought the watch in South Africa who covering the end of segregation for a major American newspaper." (sic).

Then Vesper & Co. changed the description and photograph of the watch in the "sold" section of their website, showing Mr M's watch to refer to "originally sold in Pakistan" and "circa 1980s." Then, after Mr M said that the product he had was not what he bought and asking how it could be returned and a refund effected, Vesper & Co. ignored him.

Having failed to get any response to his complaint, Mr M referred the matter to the Better Business Bureau who subsequently reported that Vesper & Co, had failed to respond to the BBB's enquiry.

It was at this point that someone more familiar with vintage Rolex/Tudor watches noticed a further discrepancy - the date wheel was silver instead of white. This led to further investigation which showed that the model sold was not a 79090 as advertised but a model 76100 which was probably produced in 1984.

Mr M referred the case to Hodinkee, setting out the misrepresentation and the failure to deal with complaints by Vesper & Co. Hodinkee did not reply.

Mr M had paid for the watch by bank transfer to the following account:

Account Name: Vesper & Co. International LTD
Address: 82 Nassau Street Suite 232 New York NY 10038
Account Number: #679127626
JP Morgan Chase Bank
1 Chase Manhattan Plaza
New York, NY 10005-1402
ABA #021000021
Swift Address: CHASUS33

Subsequent research has shown that Vesper & Co's New York address, 82 Nassau Street Suite 232 New York NY 10038 is a mail-drop box, the address of which is shared with Digital Luxury Group. That is another business apparently run by William Rohr.

The address, Suite number 232, 82 Nassau Street, New York 10038 is in Manhattan. The physical address is that of a franchise operation, The UPS Shop.

The telephone number 212-765-6565 given by Vesper & Co. on its website and on the shipping documentation, according to telephone records, lands near Times Square but the premises are in the far south of Manhattan island further supporting the suspicion that physical presence is deliberately obscured and the business run entirely from an internet site and a mail drop box.

Mr Rohr's history is at first glance impressive, and was much of the reason that Mr M trusted Vesper & Co. He is also the main mover behind "Digital Luxury Group," In addition to using the same mail-drop address as Vesper & Co, it also claims addresses in Shanghai and Geneva.

In 2017 Mr Rohr was described as "Collector, managing director of TimeZone.com / USA " by the Chinese website Grand Prix d'horogerie de Genève at (http://www.gphg.ch/horlogerie/...) .

Timezone.com says on its website "Founded in 1995, TimeZone is the leading website for wristwatch collectors and enthusiasts seeking information, news and discussion about wristwatches and the watch industry.

"Respected industrywide, our moderators include a jury member of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG), Freemen of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers, a member of the Cultural Council of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, active members in all the guilds and watchmaker associations, authors of watch reference books, and recognized experts published in newspapers and magazines worldwide. "
The website appears to contain genuine content. It is not the only website that Mr Rohr has an interest in: the website "europastar.com" says "The WorldWatchReport™ is produced by Digital Luxury Group, in partnership with Europa Star and the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie. "

But for Mr Rohr it's not all been plain sailing. In 2010 he was COO of Antiquorum - it was an auctioneer and in 2011 it was in financial difficulty. For more information, see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03.... Nevertheless, it claimed to have beaten Sotherby's.

Mr Rohr left Antiquorum in 2010 "to become a consultant and part-time managing director for Timezone, a watch forum owned by Antiquorum." The Timezone website now gives a different company name.

At that point, he and his former associate Patrizzi, planned to focus on sales to China and Hong Kong, on consignment, PleaseBeInformed.com learned. Another associate was Julien Schaerer. He recently seemed to be trading using Antiquorum, apparently out of Geneva.

That brought us to this:

http://robbreport.com.my/2017/...

That is an apparently recent article published in Malaysia by "The Robb Report"

What specifically interested us about this is the very clear similarity between this website and the Vesper website. They are using what seems to be the same template. This may be coincidence but true coincidences are rare. However, it is possible that it is a genuine co-incidence because both sites are hosted on the blogging platform WordPress VIP.

TimeZone was set up not as an e-commerce site but as a flashy chatroom for watch collectors. Mr Rohr is described as follows: "He is a partner at Digital Luxury Group, a Geneva-based marketing and communication research company for luxury brands, and a watch consultant for Bonhams." (https://www.hautehorlogerie.or... )

Then there's this at hodinkee.com

https://www.hodinkee.com/artic...

The interesting thing is that Mr Rohr's public profile seems to become very thin around 2014, immediately before Vesper was set up, then a little over two years later, he popped up in China.

Mr Rohr still has a LinkedIn profile in which he is described as MD of TimeZone in New York and a non-executive partner at Digital Luxury Group in New York. His consultancy with Bonhams is shown as ending in Jan 2016. He says he was educated at university in New York.

When PleaseBeInformed.com examined Vesper & Co. and William Rohr's connection to it using publicly available sources, this is what we found:

Vesper & Co: www.vesper.com

Company: Vesper & Co. International Ltd

Claims: Vesper & Co. wants to offer you a range of both modern and vintage watches that we believe are collectible. We specialize in cultish and iconic watches, and with contacts and resources all over the world, we will offer you a comprehensive range of wristwatches. Whether you are looking for a hard to find modern watch or a rare vintage wristwatch, we will help you hunt your dream timepiece.

Vesper & Co. was established in 2015  in New York by Watch Experts and former Auction House Specialists. We are members of the National Association of Watch and Clocks Collectors and the International Watch & Jewelry Guild  since 1996 and founding members of the European Watch Traders Association since 1999.

Phone: +1 (212) 765-6565  Monday-Friday from 10AM - 6PM
email: Inquiry@vesperco.com

The company is registered in New York. As of 4th August, the New York state company registration information was as follows:

Selected Entity Name: VESPER & CO. INTERNATIONAL LTD
Selected Entity Status Information Current Entity Name:     VESPER & CO. INTERNATIONAL LTD
DOS ID #:     4689388
Initial DOS Filing Date:     JANUARY 06, 2015
County:     NEW YORK
Jurisdiction:     NEW YORK
Entity Type:     DOMESTIC BUSINESS CORPORATION
Current Entity Status:     ACTIVE

Selected Entity Address Information DOS Process (Address to which DOS will mail process if accepted on behalf of the entity)
VESPER & CO. INTERNATIONAL LTD
82 NASSAU STREET SUITE 232
NEW YORK, NEW YORK, 10038
Chief Executive Officer
WILLIAM ROHR
82 NASSAU STREET SUITE 232
NEW YORK, NEW YORK, 10038
Principal Executive Office
VESPER & CO. INTERNATIONAL LTD
82 NASSAU STREET SUITE 232
NEW YORK, NEW YORK, 10038

Registered Agent
SPIEGEL & UTRERA P.A., P.C.
1 MAIDEN LANE
5TH FLOOR
NEW YORK, NEW YORK, 10038

Spiegel & Utrera are a law firm with offices in several of the USA's "offshore-onshore" states, including New York. There is no suggestion that they have done anything improper.

Now, more than six months after the purchase, Mr M still has the watch, the misdescribed bracelet, no refund and no communication since the end of July.

His current thinking is that there are a couple of matters worthy of investigation by the appropriate authorities..

The first is that there is evidence that the watch was not as described and that the moneys paid may have been obtained by false pretences. That is a matter for three discrete bodies: first is the Manhattan District Attorney who is very active against cyber-crime including false sales. Whether Vesper & Co's misdescription of the watch and its subsequent false statements amount to fraud are not for us to say: whether a crime has been committed is a matter for a jury.

The second body is the federal government's FBI Internet Crime Complaint Centre (IC3). This body is set up specifically to investigate suspicious conduct using the internet, including suspicion of fraud and money laundering.

If there is suspicion of money laundering, then the case will be referred to FinCEN, a division of the Department of the Treasury. Where money has moved across state lines, the federal offences of money laundering and wire fraud are applicable and this means that the penalties relating to those would apply, if there is a conviction. Those penalties include substantial fines, jail and confiscation of assets.

The second is that the invoicing suggests that there may be under-declared income in the hands of Vesper & Co. and that this is a matter of concern to the Inland Revenue Service. Again, whether there is in fact an offence is not for us or Mr M to determine. That is a matter for the IRS to decide. If the IRS find that there is a case to answer and successfully act, the penalties include substantial fines, jail and confiscation of assets.

There is also the question of the bank which, albeit innocently, may be accepting proceeds of fraudulent conduct by its customer and should, if it is suspicious, make a report to FinCEN, the division of the Department of the Treasury which is responsible for assessing the risk of money laundering.

Clearly, one of the reasons this case has not been resolved is that Mr M paid to the JP Morgan Chase account by bank transfer and therefore was unable to make a chargeback from a credit card. This is a lesson for all: always use a credit card issued by a reputable bank and issuer so that failures become someone else's problem, especially in relation to international transactions where enforcement is both complex and difficult. And if the seller will not accept credit cards, don't do business with him. Don't try any other means of payment, including making payment to a third party by credit card.

hahagotcha