One of the first things that people learn when approaching the complex and vast world of vintage watches is that minor details can often make a tremendous difference in terms of rarity and value. It could be the color of the date disc, the size of the crown, or a small print added to the dial, such as the name of a retailer. “Double signature” watches, with one dealer in the world still allowed to put his name on his products, nowadays, belong to the past. However, it is worth discovering the story of Serpico Y Laino, one of the most highly regarded signatures in the history of watchmaking.
Two immigrants meet in Caracas
We associate the name of the Caracas dealer with some of the most important watches sold at auction in recent years. The highlight is the Patek Philippe 2499, sold by Phillips in November 2021 at 3.5 million Swiss Francs, setting a record for reference. Although Serpico and Laino’s signature is associated with Patek watches, the Venezuelan dealer has sold Rolex of equal historical significance over the years, from elegant yellow and rose gold “ovetti”, to sporty models such as the Datocompax, Submariner, and GMT-Master.
The story of the boutique began in the 1930s. Vincenzo “Vicente” Laino was an Italian goldsmith born in Basilicata and got on a boat to follow his fortune on the other side of the Atlantic. When he landed in Caracas, with little money, but many ambitions, he met another emigrant compatriot of his, Leopoldo Serpico. The latter had already owned a jewelry shop in the capital for some years. Although Vicente could not contribute financially to the business, Leopoldo was far-sighted enough to sense his trading skills, so they agreed to work together and renamed the company Serpico Y Laino, Joyeria Fina.
The rise of Serpico Y Laino
Leopoldo’s jewelry shop was already successful and had a loyal clientele, but they knew there were many opportunities to expand their business. Therefore, they extended their offer with wristwatches: a product that was rapidly becoming popular and in-demand at the time. Having to choose a brand, they rapidly agreed on Rolex, a name that was well known in the country but did not have any official dealers yet. Vicente then went to Geneva, where, it is said, he met Hans Wilsdorf himself. Once returned to Venezuela, Serpico Y Laino had formally become the exclusive importer of Rolex for the entire country. The agreement included approval to imprint the jeweler’s name on the dials of watches sold.
Later, it was the turn of Patek Philippe, which similarly reached an agreement with Serpico Y Laino, making them exclusive importers and retailers of his brand in Venezuela.
Nowadays, this commercial strategy, now reserved only for one shop on Fifth Avenue, might seem a bit odd. However, things worked differently back then: reading the name of the trusted jeweler on the dial had a certain appeal and often encouraged customers to buy watches of still unknown brands, otherwise left unsold. In the South America of the 1940s, Patek Philippe was nothing more than a semi-unknown brand from the other side of the world. However, with the “seal of approval” by Serpico and Laino, it would appear as an excellent product for customers.
A little secret
Judging by the number of pieces they sold over the years, Leopold and Vicente could count on very wealthy customers. the double signature had probably tempted many of them. Some, however, preferred to go completely under the radar, and bought watches without the Serpico Y Laino signature on the dial. We know this because the company was always very meticulous in its inventory management, stamping “S&L” on the back of all the watches it imported. So, if you are going to buy a watch with a signed dial, don’t forget to check the case back too!
An untimely death
The business of the two Italian partners continued for many years, even after Leopold’s untimely death in 1944. Vicente guided the company alone for another fifteen years until his death in 1959. By this time, Serpico Y Laino was a renowned jewelry shop, a landmark for the wealthiest families in the country. However, a storm was about to hit Venezuela: the 1960s were a complex decade for the nation, undermined by political instability, rising crime, and kidnappings of the business elite. These events, combined with the loss of the two founders, forced the company to close in 1966.
The legacy of Serpico and Laino, as we have seen, continues to attract collectors all around the world. Here at The Watch Boutique, we are proud to offer you a taste of it with a beautiful Rolex 1675 Freccino. And if your collection is missing another double signature, contact us: we will certainly be able to find that special piece you are looking for!
written by Alvise Mori