Jay-Z, Van Jones And The Case Of The Modified Rolex

Jay-Z wearing the Franken-Rolex on the Van Jones Show on CNN (Picture courtesy of CNN).

Jay-Z wearing the Franken-Rolex on the Van Jones Show on CNN (Picture courtesy of CNN).

A lot has been said about the Van Jones interview of Hall of Fame rapper, entrepreneur and impresario Jay-Z on CNN this past week. Sean Carter who goes by the moniker “Jay-Z” covered political views, Trump, family, the black community and even whether or not he is a member of Illuminati. All joking aside it was a very entertaining and enlightening interview, however one accessory sported by the Brooklyn bred rapper stood out to me constantly and teased me every time his left hand went up to his face. The white dialed, yellow gold cased, leather banded mystery with a gold buckle gracing his wrist.

I went mad trying to screenshot the watch and annoyed the hell out of my poor wife who was simply trying to watch the interview undisturbed without constant pauses and up close zooming. The buckle logo subtly resembled Jaeger Le Coultre's JL insignia, but that brand would be a bit below a man in the likes of Jay-Z. This is a man who wore a matted out $500,000 Richard Mille to Wimbledon and has so many Audemars Piguets he could be somewhat of a brand ambassador. Maybe it was a Rolex Cellini?, I thought. After all, he did wear a platinum presidential Rolex in his recent New York Times interview with Dean Baquet, but still something was a bit off. After extensive guesses and multiple macro zooms I gave up and decided to ask a professional.

Brandon Frazin is an Associate Specialist of Watches at Christie’s in New York, and also has a proclivity for all things Rolex. "It is the Infamous Rolex perpetual calendar modified by Frank Muller, however it is frowned upon by many in the watch community as it’s basically put-together”, said Brandon.

Rolex modified by Franck Muller in the late 1980's.

Rolex modified by Franck Muller in the late 1980's.

And put-together it sure is, it is essentially a Rolex Day-Date case fitted with a moon-phase at 6'o'clock, day of month at 3'o'clock, month and leap year counter at 12'o'clock and day of the week at 9 o’clock. The watch is a masterpiece in its own right, but still a big no-no in the collector community. Originally made in 1987 by Franck Muller before he started his own self titled company, watch lore claims that he took a gold Rolex Date-Just (16238 to be exact) and modified its 3135 movement and added all of the above complications.

Most watch collectors are purists and will claim blasphemy at any type of modification to a classic watch, even polishing it can significantly lower its authenticity and lower its value (due to rubbing off its signature hallmarks or softening the sharpness of the lugs).  What Muller did was much more intense, he actually modified the innards of a classic. I mean think about it, once people start tooling around with watch mechanics, retouching dial fonts, switching hands and re-creating date disks then you really don’t know what you are buying.

There was much hubbub back in May 15, 2017 when Christie's auctioned a vintage steel Patek Philippe Calatrava 530 originally sold for $30,000 in 2004 only to be resold by the auction house in 2017 for an astounding $446,330. Not really a big deal given the condition and scarcity of such a piece, but the real shocker was that the dial was originally silver in 2004 then magically became black in 2017! This is a clear case of dial modification. The fact that the watch still sold at a hefty price became a bit of a game changer because this proves that there indeed might be buyers for modified vintage watches.

I am not quite sure if that high resale price signals an ok to put together watches also known as “Fraken-watches" or if that the 530 sale was simply a fluke because of some well off impatient buyer that simply wanted to snag a Patek Philippe before the prices soar even higher. Honestly who cares, if you have the means and the love for a specific piece go for it, because as quoted by John Reardon of Christie’s in our last interview: “Over time it’s going to be more difficult to find pieces that are unrestored”. 


I first met John Reardon, the Senior VP of Watches at Christie's, on a humid New York summer day in July of last year at Christie's. He was giving a couple of watch geeks like myself an impromptu forty minute tour of high end wrist watches that belonged to numerous icons of the past; aerospace's William Boeing's split-second 130 and financier James Ward Packard's Patek Philippe walking-stick. 

On a snowy winter evening at Rockefeller Plaza, the day after the Christmas lighting, my crew and I met up with John again. Before a huge December auction at Christie's which would net 9.9 million dollars in sales, we had the honor to handle and converse about four influential reference numbers within the family of Patek going up for sale in the following day. Below are the pieces that we saw. 


My personal time only favorite from the Patek family is the 2526 that you see in the above left part of the image (brown strap). It was the first self winding watch produced by Patek Philippe in the early 1960s. It had a very rare double baked enamel dial, which gives it a beautiful porcelain finish. The movement is a work of art in itself (CAL12-600).

In the minute-repeater category John brought out the 3979P (P stands for platinum), at a first glance you would think this is a watch from the early 1920's because of the miniscule 33MM diameter, however the 3979 was launched 1989 to celebrate Patek Philippe's 150th Anniversary. Only 100 pieces were produced and an even smaller 12 pieces were made in platinum for a very lucky few. It takes 342 parts to create this masterpiece and they even threw in an enamel dial which is most commonly found in pocket watches. It is definitely the most refined and elegant piece a gentleman of great means should own. 

When one thinks of a vintage watch, this is the image that should come to mind. An 18K gold case moonphase dial in order to tell the phases of the moon and a triple calendar. Originally made in the 1950's, with the case made by Emile Vichet, this is the rarest version of this watch. The watch is a beauty and to add the fact that it was originally retailing at an astounding $600-ish price tag, it make you wish for a time-machine. 


This is the "star of the show", 2499 first series with a Vichet case. This watch has a special place in my heart because I believe it is truly the most aesthetically perfect watch ever made. It has a chronograph, a triple date and a moonphase function. The 2499 came in very limited numbers, only 349 pieces were made in a period of 35 years. The majority of the pieces made were in yellow gold and only two in existence were made in platinum, one of which was sold by Christie's originally belonging to musician Eric Clapton. As far as the price goes for any version of the 2499 you would be lucky to snag one for under $300,000 today.