Fake watches are big business. The replica watch market is estimated at around $1bn a year – roughly a twentieth of the legitimate Swiss watch industry. According to some reports, as many as 30 per cent of watch searches are for replicas. Which means there’s a lot of fakes out there to snare the unwary. And spotting them is getting tougher. A couple of decades ago, you knew that ‘Bolex’ you bought in the airport probably definitely wasn’t legit. But fraudsters have honed their craft, employing expert watchmakers to produce timepieces near-indistinguishable from the real thing.
In some cases, genuine care and attention has gone into crafting these fakes. Case edges feature mixed polished and brushed finishing; quality mechanical watch (often ETA) movements are modified to look just like the intended originals; real luminescent paint is carefully applied to the numerals, and even serial numbers and small print are hand-engraved with apparent skill. With a good fake you’ll have to bust out a magnifying glass to notice discrepancies.
There are plenty of measures you can take though. To make sure your heirloom doesn’t turn out to be a horological mistake, learn a lesson from some the UK’s leading pre-owned watch experts and learn to sort the Frédérique Constants from the Frankenwatches.
Location, Location, Location
If that Paul Newman Rolex Daytona is one of four laid out on a blanket, then odds are it’s not authentic. But just because a watch is behind glass, that doesn’t mean it’s the real deal. Unless your dealer is affiliated with the brand, you can’t guarantee what they promise is what you get.
If watches are ever presented to you in this manner, walk away
Ask in store for what marques they’re licensed to sell and double-check on the watch brand’s official website for extra clarification. Sometimes it’s worth spending that little bit more on a watch sold at an authorised dealer, as opposed to something on eBay or Gumtree. Not only can you guarantee it’ll be authentic, but you’ll usually get some form of warranty and chances are the watch will have been serviced recently if it’s second hand, too.
Don’t Be Greedy
Watches often make smart investment pieces because they hold their value. So be wary of sellers who don’t know what a Rolex is worth.
“If it’s too good to be true, then it generally is,” says Tim Pavy, a retail specialist who’s worked with The Watch Gallery. “If you’re saving more than 25 per cent of the current market value of a similar model, it’s unlikely to be the genuine article.”
You’re highly unlikely to come across a watch from an established brand at an extremely reduced rate – pieces from the likes of Rolex and Omega are worth every penny and those who spend good money on them know this. So be realistic when it comes to potential discounts.
A picture tells a thousand words, and most of them are lies. If you’re buying through an online auction or second hand site, a “lack of detail in the photograph can be an indicator the seller has something to hide,” according to Pavy.
If the images are blurry, or they’ve not shot every angle, be wary. “A watch shown without the original box and papers can also sometimes indicate a lack of legitimacy.” You basically want every little detail – flaw or otherwise – shown, and ideally a description that sheds light on when the watch was bought, how often it was worn, and what the potential downsides are (scratches, dings or repairs).
Rolex is the world’s most faked watch brand
Weight It Out
Away from the near-legit super fakes, counterfeiters use cheap materials to save costs, so forgeries tend to feel lighter than the real deal. They’re rougher, too. “One of the hardest parts of making a genuine watch is the hand finishing, a process that cannot be replicated by machine,” says Watchfinder co-founder Lloyd Amsdon.
“A fake will often feel sharp on the edges, a sign it hasn’t been properly hand finished.” Good fakes can mimic the textured brushing of stainless steel, but up close there will likely be irregularities, so make use of a loupe here and get up close.
Speaking of a loupe, take one to the dial and look for any mispositioned letters or missing details. Luxury watches are sold on perfection; if your Audemars Piguet’s logo is out of alignment, it’s a fake, not a mistake.
“Good dial printing is a very hard thing to achieve for the prices fake watches sell at, and the fonts are usually proprietary to the brand,” says Amsdon. “That means a fake will have inconsistencies.” Before spending, search for an image of a legit dial (again, the marque’s official website is a good place to start) and compare every detail.
Engraving is often a tell-tale sign too. Get up close and check for consistency and smooth lines – the texture of the lettering should be perfectly even and without flaw. With a fake there’ll often be jagged lines or a rough texture, so be aware.