Canadian doctor claims $27,000 Rolex bait-and-switch by California auctioneer
Dr. Gregory Baran was full of anticipation on a chilly Thursday in December 2021 as he carefully opened the small package delivered by a FedEx driver to his medical practice on the outskirts of Kingston, Ontario.
Baran had purchased an 18-karat gold Rolex Pearlmaster watch for nearly $27,000 three weeks earlier from 3 Kings Auction, a Redondo Beach-based online business. He planned to surprise his wife, Julia, with the expensive timepiece on their upcoming wedding anniversary.
“The Rolex is a piece of art and I wanted something she could use,” Baran, 59, explained in a phone interview. “It was the least I could do for her after 35 years of putting up with me.”
However, when he opened the box embossed with the Rolex name he was immediately struck with disbelief.
“Inside the box was a cheap, black sports watch that you might find in Walmart,” Baran said in a phone interview.
Julia Baran, 60, was even more blunt about her disappointment.
“I am flabbergasted that what was in the box is not what was written on the box,” she said. “I am terribly disappointed that someone would take away the joy for our 35th wedding anniversary celebration.”
Even worse, Baran said, 3Kings has refused to refund his purchase.
A woman who answered the phone earlier this week at 3 Kings said she personally packed and shipped the Rolex and stood by the decision not to reimburse Baran or provide him with another watch.
“We have proof we shipped the correct item,” said the woman, who declined to give her name.
Pressed for details, the woman told a Southern California News Group reporter to contact 3 Kings’ attorney, but declined to provide that person’s name or phone number.
Experienced auction buyer
According to the 3 Kings’ website, the auction house has been in business for more than 25 years and specializes in diamonds, gemstones and fine jewelry.
Baran, an avid antique collector, came across the Rolex while perusing LiveAuctioneers, an online platform that hosts auctions in real time.
Over the years, he has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on various items purchased through LiveAuctioneers and has never had any problems until the Rolex snafu. LiveAuctioneers is currently investigating Baran’s complaint. The physician believes LiveAuctioneers could have tried harder to resolve the issue, and possibly should have suspended 3 Kings.
Initially, Baran’s transaction with 3 Kings seemed unremarkable.
The day after winning the auction, he received a boilerplate invoice from 3 Kings along with instructions for wiring funds to the company’s Wells Fargo account. He also was notified that the Rolex might take three weeks to ship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though he didn’t know it then, the delay was the least of his problems.
Immediately after receiving the sports watch instead of the Rolex, Baran began bombarding LiveAuctioneers with emails requesting updates about efforts to recover his money, and expressing increasing frustration that the problem was unresolved.
“They did offer to refund my money if I returned the watch I had purchased but never received,” he said in an email to LiveAuctioneers. “Consequently, I am left to believe that this was a deliberate, fraudulent sale.”
In another email to LiveAuctioneers, Baran noted that the same Rolex he purchased from 3 Kings on Nov. 12 had been resold by an affiliated company, Golden Gate Auctioneer, less than a month later.
He also included screenshots from the LiveAuctioneers website showing that listings for both watches contained identical photos, descriptions and serial numbers.
LiveAuctioneers prodded 3 Kings repeatedly for details about Baran’s shipment, with a customer service representative advising the company in an email: “We urge you to look into this further as this bidder has a 10-year consistent record with no issue with an auction house.”
Neelam Jethva, vice president of operations at 3 Kings, wouldn’t budge.
“I believe this customer is not being honest, as I packed the Rolex watch and dropped off directly with FedEx,” Jethva said in an email to the LiveAuctioneers representative. “We are deeply upset that this customer is misrepresenting us.”
Baran described Jethva’s explanation as ludicrous.
“How convenient to have someone to absolutely remember packing and sending that particular watch when they sell hundreds per month,” he said. “There is no way they can prove the proper watch was sent.”
Jethva also explained how the same Rolex could have been listed during two different auctions less than a month apart. “The second listing on Dec. 8 must have been a mistake,” she told LiveAuctioneers. “We shipped the watch to this bidder and removed the item from our inventory.”
Lawsuit too costly
Still, Baran remained determined, consulting with a Los Angeles attorney about his options. However, he was informed that pursuing civil litigation against 3 Kings likely would cost more than $100,000. Baran also reported the incident to the Better Business Bureau and a skeptical Redondo Beach police detective, who speculated that maybe he had switched the watches out himself.
Redondo Beach police did not respond to requests for comment regarding whether it is investigating the problem.
In the end, the physician who had simply wanted to give his wife an expensive, romantic gift decided there was only one thing he could do.
“I was heartbroken that my plans fell through, so I bought a similar watch in Canada,” Baran said. “My story had a happy ending.”