We’ve all heard that Rolex says if a watch contains any non-Rolex parts, the watch is counterfeit. Is this a reasonable position? Does it have any basis in law?
We at Beckertime did a little research on this issue and here’s what we found.
First, a working definition of “counterfeit” (working definition because we’re not lawyers). Google’s online dictionary defines counterfeit as an adjective: made in exact imitation of something valuable or important with the intention to deceive or defraud; a noun: a fraudulent imitation of something else; a forgery; and a verb: imitate fraudulently.
In other words, a counterfeit is something that’s an exact imitation, meant to deceive.
In the case of aftermarket parts, especially parts not available elsewhere (as is the case with some parts of vintage movements, for instance), these parts are not meant to deceive (unless they carry the Rolex logo, part number, or name). They are simply meant to make the watch work again.
Now, it can be construed that Rolex effectively considers your watch theirs, on loan or lease to you. Among other things, this means they’ll change out parts for updated versions without your consent when the watch is in for service. It’s also Rolex policy that they will not work on watches with aftermarket parts.
And they’ve been known to vigorously defend their trademarks in court. See ROLEX WATCH USA INC v. MEECE. In that lawsuit, Rolex’s US distributor, Rolex Watch USA, contended that Rolex watches with non-Rolex parts were counterfeit and that they were entitled to damages. Damages were not awarded.
This seems to indicate that non-Rolex parts used in Rolex watches do NOT render the watches counterfeit – but again, we aren’t attorneys.