How to recognize fake luxury wristwatches; especially a Rolex

Collecting, or buying, a luxury wristwatch for yourself can be an expensive and challenging proposition. So many of the top luxury brands can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars so it is important to be able to tell the authentic luxury brands from so many of the fakes that are on the market. Some of the top luxury brands that are often counterfeited are Rolex, Patek Philippe, IWC, Jager-LeCoultre, Vacheron & Constantin, Piaget, and Audemars Piguet.

Research and reliability are the keys…

First of all, you need to decide which luxury brand you may want to buy. If you don’t  know what a real luxury brand looks like, how will you ever be able to detect a fake one? One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with the watch you want is to go online to the company’s site and look at photos of the watch.  You can also go to various auction house websites that are known for selling watches and view the photos from past sales and this will also enable you see what they sold for.

The safest way to buy your new luxury watch is to go to a reputable jeweler who is authorized to represent that brand or a watch merchant. For those trying to look for a deal, then, perhaps, buying a luxury wristwatch could be problematic in that you may end up with a fake. Too many venture out to Craigslist and eBay only to get seriously burned by fake products. In the end, it is the reputation of the seller that comes into play and can be your most reliable source. It may cost you, but in the end you can rest assured that you, in all likelihood, purchased and original and not a fake.

Checking out the basics…

There are, typically, five different areas you should be checking out with regard to any wristwatch purchase particularly a luxury one.  The material the watch is made from as well as the weight of the watch is the first two things you need to be aware of.

Weight will be the easiest to determine provided you have a sense of the original. The fake wristwatch will undoubtedly weigh less due to the cheaper materials used to make the watch. The color of the case and metal bracelet and the finishing will not have the luster of an original and it is important to remember that gold wristwatches will be hallmarked while the fakes will likely not.

Another giveaway will, certainly, be the movement. No matter how real the fake watch looks, the movement will be inferior to the original luxury brand. If you have one and believe it to be a fake, a watchmaker will be able to remove the back of the case and examine the movement and immediately be able to tell in the movement is genuine.

The engraving and markings are clearer and more distinct on the real luxury brands. The markings on the dial as well as the numerals can also appear to be slightly larger or smaller on a fake. Also, believe it or not, many have found actual spelling errors on the counterfeits.

History and paperwork are invaluable…

The history of a watch, especially if it antique or vintage, can be invaluable in determining if the watch is real or fake. If you are dealing with a private dealer or collector, they will likely know where the piece had originated. If it was from an estate sale, the legitimate dealer or collector should have a definite paper trail. You may not end up with a luxury wrist watch that comes with authentication but it is always better if you do. Having the certificate, the matching serial numbers and the matching boxes can go a long way toward securing peace of mind.  However, high-end fakes reproduce such paperwork and box.

How to determine if your Rolex is genuine…

When trying to determine the authenticity of a Rolex watch, it may be pertinent to understand how Rolex actually makes its watches:

  • Rolex uses the highest grade of stainless steel (Submariner model) available and it is extremely hard to machine but they use it because the quality really shows.
  • Rolex has its own research and development laboratories. They have their own scientists and their lab facilities are dedicated to ensuring that Rolex watches are among the finest in the world.
  • Most people believe that Rolex watches are made through a machine assembly process. This is not so. Each watch is hand tested and assembled from the machined parts that are so precise that they are almost impossible to reproduce.
  • Rolex has its own foundry in its production facility that produces gold for their watches. Their completed watches, as well as their gold supply, are in a state of the art vault deep underground.
  • Each Oyster cased Rolex is tested in water tanks to be water resistant up to 300 meters. Also, all of the diamonds and jewels are hand picked from the best suppliers and are applied by hand into the watches.
  • Not only are all of the materials for a Rolex made in-house, but it actually takes almost one year to make a single Rolex watch.

Recognizing the fake Rolex can be tricky…

A Rolex watch is one of the most sought after watches in the world. Because of this, the market in counterfeit Rolexes is tremendous. Fakes can cost as little as $200 and the quality of the counterfeits has become increasingly better over the last decade. The quality has become so good that even many dealers and collectors are getting fooled. Here are some tips on how to spot the bogus ones:

  • The safest way, perhaps, is to actually know the dealer or seller you intend to deal with. At least you must be aware of their reputation. What to especially look for with a seller or a dealer is a guarantee of authenticity.
  • Try and avoid Craigslist and eBay at all costs. While there are reputable dealers on eBay, neither site guarantees anything and neither takes responsibility if someone is defrauded.
  • Take a closer look at the stampings on the face of the watch itself. Many fakes don’t even bother with the Rolex crown at the top of the dial just below the 12 o’clock position. Often, too, the gold slashes (if applicable) marking the numerals are missing. The beautiful brushed gold of the face is also something the fakes are unable to replicate most of the time.
  • Many of the bogus Rolexes don’t have a sweeping second hand and the widow showing the date is all wrong as it is difficult to replicate the beveling of the Rolex date window.
  • One of the best ways to tell the fake is to look at the engraving. Rolex engraving is deep and intricate. It is such a work of art that the etchings will actually glow if you tilt the watch to a certain angle. Few counterfeiters have the skill or the patience for such craftsmanship.
  • Getting back to the dial face, you can look closely for smudges and any unevenness to the script. The Rolex fonts are stunningly perfect with no errors at all. Also take a closer look at the Cyclops magnifying lens that envelops the date at three o’clock position. The true Rolex magnifies at two and a half times and has a definitive convex shape to it. The fakes will be flat and often hard to read without squinting.
  • Is the watch you’re looking to buy waterproof? Did you test it? Rolexes are waterproof and most counterfeiters don’t take the time to do so with their bogus replicas.
  • The Rolex has some serious heft to it and will obviously weigh more than a potential fake. If it feels rather light in your hand, the watch is likely bogus.
  • Finally, check out the caseback. Rolex doesn’t make a clear caseback that enables you to see the movement so if you turn a watch over and you have a clear window in which to observe the movement, you know it is a fake. Another caseback trick is that many fakes engrave the Rolex name and crown logo on the caseback. A true Rolex has no engraving on the back.
  • For Rolexes made from 2002 onward, at the six o’clock position, Rolex has etched a very small crown on the inside of the crystal. It is extremely difficult to see without a magnifying glass. Typical counterfeiters simply don’t have the technology or the skill to do this so remember this with later Rolex watches.  This is not to say fakes don’t have this because high-end fakes do.  I have seen it.

Craig Duling

Craig Duling's fascination with timepieces goes back at least to his college days, when he built a digital clock from scratch for his senior year physics lab class. Currently the head of Heritage Management Services, a business management firm in San Francisco, Craig Duling is also a significant collector of rare antique pocket watches. Pocket watches are often associated with images of 19th-century railroad conductors consulting them as steam trains left the station. This close attention to correct time was essential. In the 19th century, most trains traveled in both directions on single sets of tracks. Sidings were placed at regular intervals to allow trains to pass safely. Printed timetables showed the arrival and departure of trains, as well as when they were waiting in sidings. This system depended on accurate watches. The problem with this became evident in 1891 when two trains in Ohio had a head-on collision, killing nine people. Investigation disclosed that the engineer's watch on the passenger train had stopped and restarted, making it four minutes slow. This tragedy prompted railroad officials to set up standards for pocket watches. These specifications mandated that watches share a common design, as well as being reliable, easy to read, and impervious to extremes of temperature.