Stamp of Approval: Andrew’s Serpico Y Laino

I met Andrew last month at a Tiffany & Co. event that celebrated the launch of their new CT60 watch collection at their Magnificent Mile location. He was a new face among the crowd of regular watch nuts that congregate for horological festivities organized and promoted by our Chicago #RedBarCrew chapter, the #commonwealthcrew. I nestled my way into a conversation he was having with someone, careful not to spill the topped off flute of bubbly I was holding. Right away I picked up on his watch; even under his sleeve, I recognized it as a steel Datejust. I happened to be wearing my Datejust that evening, so I saw an opportunity for a fun Instagram post. When Andrew extended his wrist from beneath his cufflinked shirt and checked blazer, a vintage ref. 1601 Datejust emerged.

The first pleasant surprise about Andrew’s Datejust was that instead of the old-man-style jubilee bracelet, it was outfitted with a folded link oyster bracelet, which when paired with a Datejust, in my opinion, strikes the perfect balance of sportiness and dressiness. The next distinguishing feature was on the dial… stamped on its silver sunburst surface, mottled with patina, were the words “Serpico Y Laino.” Of course, I had seen this signature on dials in photos, but never in person. Ironic, that I spotted it in a Tiffany & Co. boutique since Serpico Y Laino is considered the “Tiffany & Co.” of Venezuela.

Serpico dial

I’m not sure why some jewelers print their name on watch dials while others don’t… Have you ever seen a Tourneau-branded Rolex? On Andrew’s watch, this little bit of extra ink gives it provenance that transforms what would otherwise be a common Rolex into a sought-after example.

Serpico Y Laino was originally established as a partnership between two Italian gentlemen, Leopoldo Serpico and Vicente Laino, who most probably left their native country in search of a better life in Venezuela; inspired by that country’s newfound economic prosperity, which was spurred on by the discovery of vast oil reserves in the late 1920s. Not long after Serpico Y Laino was founded, the enterprising men, Vicente Laino in particular, had a sit-down meeting with Hans Wilsdorf – the founder of Rolex and Tudor. The two eventually hammered out an arrangement for Serpico Y Laino to be the brand’s exclusive agent in Venezuela. Besides Rolex watches, Serpico Y Laino sold jewelry, silverware, and was the sole authorized retailer for another watch manufacturer: Patek Philippe. The business flourished through the first half of the century; continuing its success even after it was inherited by relatives subsequent to the deaths of Leopoldo and Vicente.

Unfortunately life for the citizens of Venezuela took a turn for the worse in the 1960s when the political conditions in the country became too unstable. In 1966, the venerable Serpico Y Laino closed-up shop; the final straw being kidnapping attempts on members of their family and a bomb detonating at one of their store locations.

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In the decade prior to Serpico Y Laino shutting down, the jeweler sold – brand new in box – Rolex models that are today, among the most desirable examples in collector’s eyes. At this store, in the country’s capital of Caracas, locals, businessmen, military personnel, politicians, and recreationalists, all stepped to the counter, engaged with a salesperson, and left wearing any number of Rolex wristwatches. It is these pieces that most of us will never see in person, let alone own, because they’re all locked-away in nuclear warhead-proof vaults of notable and private collectors. We’re talking about original ref. 6542 bakelite bezel GMT-Masters, early second series ref. 1675 GMT-Masters – with gilt text and pointed crown guards; every dial and crown guard iteration of the Submariner; from the first generation ref. 6204, to the uber-rare “Explorer” dial variant. Back then these watches could be had for – at most – a few hundred dollars – or less than 1,000 bolívares (the currency of Venezuela at the time). Of course now these watches cost tens of thousands of dollars; exponentially more when they’re double-signed by a retailer, like Serpico Y Laino.

Serpico angle

Just like the refined taste of the patrons of Serpico Y Laino, Andrew’s taste is equally sophisticated – especially for someone relatively new to the watch collecting hobby. Too bad he (we) grew up in the wrong era… Andrew’s interest in watches derives from a family tradition: Fathers gifting their sons a maritime chronometer (i.e. ship clock) on their 21st birthday. Living with this memento, Andrew steadily began to appreciate timekeeping instruments and made up his mind to one day buy one he could actually enjoy wearing. When it came time to make a “serious” watch purchase, a Rolex was his target. And not just any Rolex, but one that was “a variation on a theme,” such as a Datejust stamped “Tiffany & Co.,” “Joyería Riviera,” “Beyer,” or “Serpico Y Laino.” Most of the Serpico Y Laino-signed dials he came across were on the aforementioned steel sport models or on solid gold complications, like a moonphase or triple calendar – untouchable examples from both an availability and pricing standpoint for a young professional and newbie watch enthusiast, like Andrew.

Not holding out much hope that he’d land a co-branded Datejust, Andrew began expanding his search to include other variations that would set his Datejust apart from those worn by the masses, such as one having a “roulette” date wheel. As Andrew researched unique dial/part combinations, he – without fail – stumbled on links and comment threads about double-signed dials. Even though Andrew all but ruled out that he could afford one, he felt there was no harm in clicking-through… In the unlikeliest of events, that he came across one at a palatable price, being knowledgeable about font characteristics, case markings, and historical context, would be invaluable to judge authenticity. You can never be too cautious buying vintage Rolex – especially ones with retailer names. 

Serpico side

As luck would have it, Andrew happened upon this ref. 1601 Datejust – stamped “Serpico Y Laino” – on the Vintage Rolex Forum. If you think he got lucky, the seller told the story how he originally discovered it at a garage sale in Weston, Florida. According to Wikipedia, “As of 2010, Weston had the highest number and highest percentage of Venezuelans in the United States…”

That was the first sign that this watch was legit. According to the seller, “Weston has old money from Venezuela and Colombia. As the old original buyers die, their kids have no idea of the value [of the stuff they inherit].”

The serial number on Andrew’s Datejust is in the 2.8 million range, which dates its production to around 1969. He was curious “how this watch could have been co-branded, knowing that Serpico Y Laino closed in 1966…” According to the seller, goods (i.e. Rolex watches) were still being delivered to satisfy orders placed before management had the slightest inkling that the business would soon cease to exist. Vicente Laino’s nephew, Andréas Gambardella Laino, operated a showroom out of a hotel to do right by clients and fulfill their preexisting requests, as well as to sell inventory that was unspoken for, to the general public.

From online documents* alluding to interviews with the Laino family: When Andréas took over, sometime after 1966, he didn’t have permission to use the name “Serpico Y Laino,” so he called the business “Serla.” Sometime in the very-late 1960s Andréas was granted the rights to use the name “Serpico Y Laino.” At this time, it’s assumed that he resumed the old practice of stamping dials with the company name, which helps explain why Andrew’s Datejust, from around 1969, has the co-branding: it must have been delivered and/or sold after Andréas was able to use the Serpico Y Laino name. Andréas Gambardella Laino died prematurely in the early 1970s, which marked the end of an era and Serpico Y Laino as the institution it once was…

Serpico wrist

It’s been almost three years since Andrew lucked out on this Datejust and he’s worn it everyday since getting it. And until I geeked out over its special dial, it’s gone completely undetected by his coworkers and the public, which is perfectly fine with him.  Andrew confessed to me that he “love[s] this watch so much; [he’s] not looking for another Rolex.” Until he seizes his next grail watch, a stainless steel Patek Philippe Calatrava ref. 565 with yellow gold applied Breguet numerals and blued hands, this is the only watch that will be on his wrist; just like his quartz ship clock, which “dings” every hour, will always rest on the mantel atop his fireplace.

* certain information written in this article, along with the vintage photographs of the Serpico Y Laino boutique, stationary, and watch case are credited to Rolex Passion Report and Luciano Buscarini.

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