On Christmas morning, one of my boys handed me a small box from under the tree, a box that was from my stepfather. I opened it up as I would any other gift, with excitement and curiosity, but I was completely blown away when I came face to face with a gold watch with one of the most easily recognizable brand symbols: the cheap replica Rolex crown. My pulse quickened. Needless to say, I was not expecting this!
I carefully lifted the small, yellow-gold treasure out from the box to get a closer look at it. As I turned it over to have a look at the back, my heart sank a bit. The back of the case was steel! Surely Rolex never made a gold-capped watch? Or did it?
From the size and look of the watch, I figured it was from the late 1950s or early ‘60s and had probably belonged to my step-grandfather. Now, this watch was being passed down to me, and even if turned out not to be a genuine Rolex, it was still a wonderful gift to own a family heirloom. The only other Rolex I own was, in fact, also passed down to me—a 18k gold President 1803 from 1971 that originally belonged to my grandfather and then my father. It was gifted to me on my 40th birthday.
Now, I have a decent amount of experience with vintage watches, but luxury fake Rolex watches is certainly not my forte. There are innumerable models and variations of those models, so I thought maybe there really was some obscure gold-capped Rolex model of which I was unaware. I began to take a closer look at the watch so I could try to piece together the whole story.
The unmistakable Oyster case measures 34mm wide and has 19mm lugs. It has the famous Rolex-signed, screw-down crown system. The model reference number for Rolex is stamped on the edge of the case between the top lugs, and the serial number is stamped between the bottom lugs. This one was marked “6634,” and a quick Google search showed that this was indeed a genuine Rolex model! The reference 6634 Oyster Perpetual is also known as the “Golden Egg” because of its thick, gold-capped case. I found a few different references with gold-capped cases with several dial variants.
The gold-capping process is different than simple electroplating. The gold shell, or cap, is formed from a thick sheet (in the case of best replica Rolex, 240 microns thick), and it is pressed onto a base metal case with a thin layer of flux to help the layers bond. Omega is another brand that has used this process, which is superior to electroplating in that the gold layer is much thicker with a more permanent bond.
Powering the watch is Rolex’s caliber 1030. The 1030 is a 25-jewel automatic movement that can also be hand wound. It beats at 18,800 bph, and is adjusted to five positions. This is the same movement that is found in the Rolex Submariner 6538, famously worn by Sean Connery as James Bond. It also has the distinction of being the first Rolex movement with a bi-directional winding mechanism.
The white dial with simple gold stick markers and an applied Rolex crown at 12 has the usual “Oyster Perpetual” below the applied “Rolex” text, and “Officially Certified Chronometer” at the bottom. The dial is set off by simple gold dauphine hour and minute hands, and a beautiful blued-steel second hand. Curiously, there was some additional printed text on the dial that I was not familiar with: “Serpico Y Laino.”
I know that some jewelry brands, like Tiffany & Co, were known to add their name to the dials of watches they sold. Some more Internet sleuthing ensued and I learned that Serpico Y Laino was a high-end jewelry retailer started by two Italian gentlemen, Leopoldo Serpico and Vecente Laino, in Caracas, Venezuela. The store was in operation from 1925 to 1966. At some point, the two men met with Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf in Geneva and forged a deal to become the sole distributor for Rolex watches in Venezuela, which of course turned out to be quite the coup. They were also the sole distributor for another high-end watch brand you may have heard of—Patek Philippe. The serial number stamped on my 6634 dates it to 1959, which falls within the time frame of Serpico Y Laino, adding to my belief that this watch was, in fact, the real deal. The steel case back also has a marking unique to the Serpico Y Laino co-branded watches, “S&L ACERO Y ORO 14K.” The “S&L” is obviously short for the store name, and “acero y oro” is Spanish for “steel and gold.”
Intrigued by the fact that this watch originated from Venezuela, I asked my stepfather for the story behind it, and the tale he told turned out to be more interesting than the watch itself! As he tells it, his father was the captain of a passenger-freighter steamship from the Swedish Johnson Line out of Stockholm during the 1950s. And apparently, he was quite popular with some of the female passengers. One such passenger was Kitty Van Fleet, who had married into a wealthy land-owning Venezuelan family of Dutch origin. The story goes that Kitty was having an affair with a famous doo-wop singer, and her family was so outraged at her so-called transgressions that they literally shipped her off on the Johnson Line ship. She became a regular passenger on the ship, and began an affair with the captain, who, as you might remember, was my step-grandfather. At some point, she gifted him this replica Rolex watches, and it eventually landed in stepfather’s drawer where it sat until this past Christmas.
The story behind a vintage watch can so often be lost to time. When I told my stepfather that this Rolex originated from Venezuela, the tale of Kitty immediately came back to him. And, as cool as this watch is by itself, the story of international romance on the seas in the 1950s just brings it to life. This is a perfect example of why I love collecting vintage watches.
During my research, I found the story of Rolex and Serpico Y Laino nicely detailed in this post on Rolex Passion Report. I also reached out to the owner of HQ Milton, one of most respected online Rolex dealers (@HQMilton) to see if he could enlighten me further. He indicated that while the Serpico Y Laino co-branded dials are similar in nature to the Tiffany & Co ones, Serpico Y Laino was a much smaller company than Tiffany and stopped production fairly early, making the Serpico Y Laino dials the scarcer of the two. Having a Serpico Y Laino co-branded dial generally adds about three-times the value of the standard version to a given watch.
Poking around the Net I was able to find plenty of examples of co-branded dials, but not a single 6634 with the Serpico Y Laino dial. A normal 6634 seems to go for around $1500-$2500 depending on condition and seller. This one would go for much more. But to me, the value is immeasurable.