Patrizzi Sues New Operators of Antiquorum

Osvaldo Patrizzi, founder of Antiquorum, the international fine watch auction house, has filed legal actions against those who took over the company and ousted him and other top officials in early August. Meanwhile, an Antiquorum spokesperson said the company could have a permanent replacement for Patrizzi “within the next few weeks.”

“Civil and criminal actions” were filed in the courts of Geneva, Switzerland, site of Antiquorum’s headquarters, in August, said Didier Plantin, Patrizzi’s lawyer and former legal consultant to Antiquorum, in a JCK interview. Patrizzi’s U.S. lawyers were also “instructed to act to … protect his [Patrizzi’s] interests and the company’s,” he said. There were no court rulings, yet, at press time.

Antiquorum’s current management had no comment about the legal actions or Patrizzi’s allegations, said spokesperson Karin Tasso.

The legal suits, said Plantin, sought to “prove that any and all allegations or accusations against him [i.e., Patrizzi] and/or the former management of the company are wrong, illegal, irresponsible, and mainly destructive to Antiquorum.” One legal question could be whether Antiquorum’s new operators have sufficient shares to control the company.

The legal suits followed unexpected top management changes at Antiquorum. On Aug. 2, Patrizzi—who had been chairman and chief executive officer—was ousted by a new board of shareholders. Also leaving were Marc Schumacher, chief operating officer, Michel Cohendet, managing director, Alex Cohendet, financial and administrative director, Plantin, Kathryn Bonanno Patrizzi, his wife and a jewelry consultant, and Patrizzi’s daughters; Roberta, then in charge of Antiquorum’s Geneva showroom, and Patricia, then overseeing inventory.

Temporarily succeeding Patrizzi in Antiquorum’s top posts was John Tsukahara, director of ArtistHouse Holdings, the Japanese conglomerate which bought 50 percent of Antiquorum in 2006. In mid-September, Antiquorum’s new board was talking with “a high potential candidate [known] within the international watch collector’s community” as a permanent replacement, Tasso told JCK. “We hope to welcome him within a few weeks.”

She also said Antiquorum’s operational organization and responsibilities were being restructured. The new board “will invest heavily in optimizing our organization, our structures, and our processes, so we can grow,” she said. “We’ll continue to strengthen our brand and position Antiquorum for further growth. There is a lot of untapped potential waiting to be unleashed.”

An Aug. 22 company statement said “irreconcilable opinions” on Antiquorum’s strategy and direction caused Patrizzi’s departure. Its new board also ordered a forensic audit of Antiquorum’s “financial management and governance.” That’s still unfinished in early October.

Patrizzi in a JCK interview contended his dismissal was because the new board “wanted to take over the control” of Antiquorum, to which he would “in no way” agree. The attempt began, he said, at an informal shareholders meeting in June in New York City, where the new board was allegedly created after he left, and ended Aug. 2 in Geneva, when he and others were dismissed.

Concerning the audit, Patrizzi contended it’s based on “a trumped-up accusation” about financial management to “justify the take-over.” He said, “We had to give quarterly financial information and had an audit every year, and there weren’t any complaints.” In the company’s 34 years, “never has even one penny ever been missing.”

Patrizzi wouldn’t discuss Antiquorum events and projects, but is “very disappointed” about TimeZone.com, the world’s largest English language Web site, which Antiquorum, under Patrizzi, bought early this year. His intent, he said then, was to make it “the most complete horology site on the Web” for watch enthusiasts, with access to Antiquorum’s database of 30,000 horological items and pictures. Now, he feels it’s becoming “just a marketing tool for Antiquorum.”

Of his own future, Patrizzi, 62, said he’s “still full of ideas and projects. I’m a person who needs to dream, and must try to realize my dreams.”

Patrizzi started Antiquorum in 1974 and built it into the world’s leading auction house for fine watches and a leading source for watch collectors, setting many world records. It was the first (in the early 1980s) to take watch auctions online (including bidding), and it’s known for beautiful watch catalogs and record-setting thematic auctions. Antiquorum has offices in 10 cities serving 13 countries, including New York, London, Moscow, Paris, Munich, Shanghai, and Tokyo.