Luxury watches are generally considered technical masterpieces, coveted collector’s items, and status symbols. However, these timepieces also have the potential to cause full-blown scandals. Whether it’s in the arena of sports, politics, or entertainment, watches have a history of causing an uproar.
Soccer Officials and the Temptation of Beautiful Watches
One person who can tell you about watch scandals from personal experience is Reinhard Grindel. While this scandal may not have grabbed too many international headlines, it was huge news in the world of European soccer. In April 2019, the 57-year-old had to step down as president of the German Football Association (DFB) and resign from his positions on the FIFA Council and as vice president of the UEFA Executive Committee. The reason? It was revealed that Ukrainian oligarch and sports official Grigori Surkis had given him a costly timepiece as a gift in 2017.
Grindel later claimed that he was unaware of the brand and the value of the watch. In his resignation, he spoke of a watch worth €6,000 (approx. $6,600) without mentioning the exact model. Investigations by German news magazine Der Spiegellater concluded that it must have been a stainless steel Ulysse Nardin Marine Chronograph with the caliber UN-150. With a list price of €11,900 (approx. $13,000), this watch is worth nearly twice as much as Grindel claimed.
Grindel is by no means the only German football official to get himself into a pickle over luxury watches. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, current Chairman of the Executive Board of FC Bayern München AG, was caught trying to smuggle two vintage Rolexes past customs in 2013. As a consequence, he had to pay a fine totaling €249,900 (approx. $339,000 at the time) in 140 daily installments of €1,785 (approx. $2,400) and received a criminal record.
Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter had some watch troubles of his own. After losing his post in 2015, he was no longer allowed to access his office at FIFA’s headquarters. Unfortunately for him, that also happened to be where he had stashed his vast watch collection. According to Blatter, at least 80 luxury watches – worth between $5,000 and $20,000 each – are still under lock and key at FIFA. These include models from Patek Philippe, IWC, and Omega, as Blatter reported to The New York Times.
Bernie Ecclestone: A Black Eye for a Hublot
Bernie Ecclestone got into a completely different kind of trouble over a watch. The former chief executive of Formula One and his girlfriend, Fabiana Flosi, were brutally attacked and robbed in London in 2010. The thieves got away with valuables worth around £200,000 (approx. $314,000 at the time), including Ecclestone’s Hublot Big Bang.
However, as a shrewd businessman, Ecclestone made a profit out of his loss: He caught the media’s attention by allowing them to publish a photograph of himself with a black eye and fat lip along with the slogan, “See what people will do for a Hublot.” It was the perfect advertisement for the official watch of Formula One – a Hublot Big Bang F1 King Power.
John Mayer and the Alleged Frankenwatches
Grammy-winning musician John Mayer is very passionate about luxury watches. Among other treasures, his extensive collection includes a Royal Oak Extra Thin and a Royal Oak Concept Tourbillon Chronograph, both from Audemars Piguet. He also owns several watches from Patek Philippe, such as a Grande Complications ref. 5971, a custom Grande Complications ref. 5004G, and an Aquanaut Travel Time ref. 5146A. His greatest love, however, is Rolex watches. He is particularly fond of the Daytona. He owns more than a dozen of this model alone, some of which are extremely rare.
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In 2014, it was exactly these Rolex models that put Mayer in the headlines. He had sued watch dealer Bob Maron for allegedly selling him so-called “Frankenwatches” under the guise that they were authentic collector’s items. Frankenwatches are timepieces put together using some original components along with parts from other watches. Over the years, Mayer had purchased over $5 million worth of watches from Maron, and in his lawsuit, he demanded $656,000 back. However, the musician dismissed the suit in 2015, stating that he had regained his trust in Maron.
Maron’s good friend Charlie Sheen has a simple explanation for this change of heart: Mayer simply wanted revenge out of wounded vanity because Maron had made sure that Sheen, and not Mayer, made the June 2012 cover of Rolling Stone.
Putin’s Right-Hand Man and the $620,000 Watch
Vladimir Putin’s appreciation for good luxury watches is no secret. But his press speaker and right-hand man, Dmitri Peskov, also likes to be seen wearing exclusive timepieces. This led to an uproar when he brazenly wore a Richard Mille RM52-01 Tourbillon Skull at his wedding to former figure skater Tatjana Nawka in the summer of 2015.
This watch costs well over half a million dollars, which is more than four times Peskov’s official annual salary. This led many to wonder how he could have afforded it. His explanation (that the watch was a wedding gift from his wife) wasn’t particularly convincing: There are pictures of Peskov wearing the timepiece as early as 15 weeks before they married.
The list of watches involved in scandals goes on and on. To list a few more notable examples, there were Jay-Z’s expensive watch gifts to baseball star Robinson Cano, O.J. Simpson’s fake Rolex, and the Russian Patriarch Kyrill’s Breguet Le Réveil du Tsar. It’s safe to assume that more luxury watch scandals are yet to come.