Very few names in the world of horology raise as much controversy as Jose Perez, better known by his pseudonym Jose Pereztroika. Auction houses and watch brands respect and fear him in equal measure.

On one side, they tacitly recognise his expertise and forensic scrutiny of certain collectable timepieces. It is through this analysis that Perez has uncovered cases of Frankenwatches — amalgamations of genuine parts not original to a watch when it left its manufacturer — being sold at auction. On the other, his work has landed Perez with an injunction served in the canton of Geneva, a collection of “letters before legal action”, and the disabling of his Instagram account where he promotes his findings — although it has always been restored.

Born in Switzerland, Perez trained in architecture and industrial design but pursued a career in advertising. He worked for several notable Swiss agencies before turning freelance. Then, a chance encounter with a Panerai watch in 1998 inadvertently changed his life. “It brought back memories of my childhood reading comic books about the Italian navy divers, but it also started a fascination with dive watches and the inherent extreme engineering in their construction,” he says.

His “addiction” to investigating the details about a watch’s authenticity really started in 2012 when he acquired a Panerai that was a modern reissue of a prior model. He started to research the vintage market and, in doing so, came across a website called Homage Forum.

It was both eye-opening and worrying, as some on the forum knew how to convert movements, and treat parts such as hands and dials, to make them look aged.

After his own attempts at fabrication, Perez took to researching historic movements, gathering information on thousands of vintage watches for his database — and realising that many purportedly original examples were dubious at best and definitely fake at worst.

He joined various forums — the most famous being the online Panerai collector community, the Paneristi — to share his research. But, in doing so, he became unpopular among vintage watch owners. In 2015, therefore, to make the information he gained accessible to all, Perez started

a man working on a laptop and appears to be researching
Jose Perez started to research the second-hand watch market in 2012 © Getty Images

Perez, who now lives in south-east Asia, has since branched out to look at other auctioned timepieces, the most famous of which was an Omega Speedmaster ref 2915-1 Broad Arrow auctioned at Phillips in 2021. Perez admits it was probably his “favourite investigation, and outcome, because it was well made”.

For Perez, it all seemed too good to be true: a company chief executive wondering if a prototype of its most iconic watch ever existed, the arrival of one — suitably aged — on the market, and the setting a record-breaking SFr3,115,500 ($3.4mn) price at auction.

Perez, though, saw several problems: the watch face, as striking as it was, belonged to another vintage Speedmaster; the case and bezel were not correct; parts of the movement had been replaced; and the lume on the hands looked as if it had been reapplied.

The media picked up on it, as did the authorities.

It now appears that the watch was the fraudulent work of three former employees, who have been subpoenaed to appear before court on criminal charges. Omega has said in a statement that the piece, which it bought for the Omega museum, is an “assembly of mostly authentic Omega components”, and that it and Phillips had been “the joint victims of organised criminal activity” in this incident. A Phillips spokesperson said the auction house did not offer watches unless it was “100 per cent satisfied about their authenticity” and that “representatives of Omega saw the watch before they purchased it”.

What separates Perez’s work from others’ is his attention to detail and singular pursuit of forensic information. He attributes this to his training in architecture, but equally to his passion for the subject. “It was the details that I liked the most in my previous career,” he explains.

“Precision in the work was of paramount importance to me but, when you start looking at watches, you do not see the details at first, you just see the whole thing.

“But, the more passionate you are about them, the more you start looking at certain elements, then you go deeper and deeper.”

What started off as a hobby has become a full-time commitment. Among Perez’s most recent analyses is a debunking of the legend around the rare Rolex Space-Dweller models which have suddenly reappeared, and questioning whether the oft-repeated tale of the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms coming before the Rolex Submariner is actually true.

Perez’s fascination is not limited to details — the story surrounding a watch is just as relevant for him.

He defends his work in poking holes in official narratives as “it is important to expose these things, to make people aware, as it’s detrimental for the whole collector community”. However, at the same time, “there are really great watches out there that have a fantastic provenance story”.

“I don’t want to see this market destroyed,” he says. “I just want to contribute to cleaning it up. I believe watches have the potential to be somewhere completely different, with prices for really great pieces being much higher, similar to art and vintage cars.”

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