Genuine: the Problem with Fake Watches and How to Spot One

Fake watches are a huge problem in the watch industry, both for theft of patented and trademarked products, as well as making the purchase of a used watch a very difficult and discerning process. Because of the prevailing problem and my lack of expertise in this area, I asked @fakewatchalert to write a guest post. I have included some additional resources at the bottom of this post. 

Rolex Submariner

Rolex Submariner (Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/callmewhatever/22082979120; licensed under CC)

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Since we are dealing with 70+ years of watches, there are many nuances, some we have just had to overlook for the sake of space and others with which we don’t even know — enlighten us for the benefit of our readers. If we have overlooked or misstated anything, we welcome your constructive feedback and corrections. Please email us.

Post written by @fakewatchalert (follow on Instagram for regular postings of FAKE watch analyses)

As a person who is passionate about watches, whether it be a Seiko or a Rolex, I care about watches as a conversation starter, a personal brand identity, and a way to signal that I am a fellow watch enthusiast. Whenever I’m out in public, one of the first things I notice about people is what’s on their wrist. This doesn’t mean I judge them or size them up for their watch, rather it’s a passion and I can tell if this is a fellow hobbyist or not. As the Watch Ponder blog has previously posted about, you can learn a lot about a person based on the type of watch they wear because of the signal it sends. Whether fair or not, every watch sends its own signal (even an Apple Watch sends a signal). Because this is a hobby I care about, I instinctively notice key features of watches that give away a brand from a distance. Whether it is the iconic Jubilee bracelet on a Rolex, the unique link bracelet used on Breitling’s signature Chronomat or the simplistic but large rounded-square look of a Panerai, I have learned to spot them from afar. They become a magnet for finding fellow enthusiasts and usually lead to conversations — watch collectors are passionate about their hobby.

Fake watch scene

Buying online can be risky. Make sure you know before you buy! (by Watch Ponder)

 

The Problem of Fake Watches

A luxury timepiece represents so much more than just a watch; it’s a symbol of taste and personal brand, and can even (as I will show) tell a bit about a person’s character. This may sound like a stretch but it arises due to a significant and credible problem for the industry: fake watches. People wear a watch to send a signal about what they are, their hobbies, and their personal brand. When a person INTENTIONALLY buys and wears a fake watch, it says that a person is willing to present a false-truth; they are willing to attempt to present something as genuine that they know to be fake. I don’t care if you (or I) wear $10 watches, $100 watches, or $1000 watches — what matters is that we like the watch we wear — I promise, true watch collectors appreciate all genuine watches, whether a name brand, a start-up brand, a classic, or a common watch (I can’t speak for watch snobs — if you disagree with this, read Watch Ponder’s post on watch snobs…) When people try to present themselves as wearing something they know to be fake, it comes across as an attempt to draw attention while being disingenuous (whether they intend that or not). This has nothing to do with being a watch snob (again, I could care less HOW MUCH a watch costs) and has everything to do with being genuine — don’t fake it to put up a facade — be proud of who you are. I caveat all of this with saying that even the best of us can be fooled and some fakes out there are that good. This post is intended to help you spot those and avoid them.

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Example of an expensive fake Rolex designed to fool even the best (source: bestreplica.sr)

To be clear before I fully dive into this post, there are two major distinctions in the world of fake watches. First, there are high-quality fakes (see above), the ones that you need to open up and inspect the internal movements to notice. Sometimes even the best collectors make a mistake and get these wrong. These fakes are the ones you might find for a few hundred dollars, maybe even thousands. On the other hand, you have your $20 fakes that you can buy in the back alleys of many major cities. These are your watches that completely miss the mark on both appearance and function, yet bear the symbol of the watch they intend to replicate. To a watch enthusiast like myself, fake watches are embarrassing, and can be heart-breaking for the person who accidentally and unknowingly buys a fake, and sometimes laughable in appearance. Whether a cheap knock-off that happens to bear the Rolex Crown, or a finely crafted but intentional fake, these are watches that buyers (usually) try their best to avoid (see Watch Ponder’s previous post on how to buy used) and worry about accidentally acquiring. The purpose of this post is to help you identify some of the common features I usually look for on a watch to ensure authenticity. They are usually easily identifiable when compared to the real thing and often times completely miss the mark when trying to replicate a luxury timepiece. As the man behind @FakeWatchAlert, I have seen some really terrible fakes (and some very good ones too); Datejusts missing date windows, Rolexes with tourbillions, spelling errors on dials, the list goes on.

 

Rolex: The Most Faked Watch

Rolex is at the pinnacle of watchmaking; their watches are stunning timepieces that tend to “hold their value” (debatable) and have become an international icon equated with success and horology. Despite the attempts by Silicon Valley to take over the watchmaking industry (see the post on Apple Watches), demand for Rolex has remained constant and as a result, is highly sought after by collectors and novices alike. As a result, Rolex is the most faked watch in the world. People go to great lengths to duplicate the valuable timepieces made by Rolex, that carry the liquidity of currency. While there are many watch brands out there that are faked, I am going to focus on Rolex because it is the most commonly faked, and the principles for spotting a fake apply across all brands — take what you learn here and you will avoid most of the fakes out there.

When it comes to a fake Rolex, you never know what you’re going to get. On an authentic Rolex, detail is everything; they manufacture nothing but perfection and they have added many hard (or impossible?) features that make it difficult for a scam-artist to copy. Before going after the features we will note below, simply look for the laser-etched “ROLEX” name and Serial number around the bezel (known as rehaut engraving — more on this later), under the crystal of the watch (does not apply to vintage Rolexes; this is a more recent feature since 2005).

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Note above the 6-o’clock hash, the etched Rolex Crown in the crystal. The rehaut engraving is the “ROLEX” etched into the steel on the sides (source: Watch Ponder)

Additionally, above the 6-o’clock hash, in the crystal, there is a very faint etched Rolex Crown logo. Finally, look at the materials the watch is made with. Does it have the Cerachrome bezel (ceramic bezel found on Subs) or an actual white gold fluted bezel (for example)? Apart from these, there is no specific guide to follow when looking for fake Rolexes because the models are so different and there special custom orders, custom mods, special editions, editions that only ran for a short period or time, etc. In order to provide you with as much detail as I can, I will present to you the common things to look for on the most faked Rolex models: DateJust (II) and Day-Date, YachtMaster II, Submariner & GMT II, and the Daytona. In my experience, these are easily the most commonly faked Rolexes, with the Daytona and the Yachtmaster II tied for the top spot (because they have the highest resale value). Again, these are not hard and fast rules, only guidelines in most circumstances.

OysterQuartz

Example of a real Rolex Battery Operated Quartz watch that “ticks” (source: eBay.com)

Before I start with the nuances of models, (personal opinion) never ever buy a Rolex that has a “ticking” second hand (that has a visible tick-tick-tick-tick pattern to it – generally 1 tick per second). Modern Rolexes are automatic watches, and their second hand “sweeps” (looks like a continuous motion — actually 8 beats per second). A ticking second hand is the sign of a battery-operated quartz watch, which Rolex only made the Oyster Quartz watches in the 1970’s through 2001 in response to the so-called Quartz Crisis. I recommend avoiding any Rolex that is quartz both for collectability reasons (it’s not what most people are after with Rolex) and it is also a risky move lest you get a fake; automatic movements are much more expensive and difficult to fake than a simple quartz (though there are still plenty of automatic fakes out there). (Read more on OysterQuartz here)

Rolex DateJust (& DateJust II) and Day-Date

Major things to look for:

  • Cyclops Magnification (the part of the crystal that is over the date, intended to magnify the date)
  • The bracelet of the watch
  • Day &/or Date Window(s)

The Datejust (II) and the Day-Date are two of the most iconic styles Rolex produces, remaining virtually unchanged for generations. The most common error of even good fakes is the Cyclops Magnification. An authentic Rolex date window will be magnified 2.5 times, looking something like this:

Fake Datejust

The real Datejust is on the left. (Photo ebay.com blog, Modifications by Watch Ponder)

First, notice the date window is off-center from the magnification. Second, notice that the magnification is not quite what it should be. This is hard to tell in a picture, but becomes very obvious when holding one in your hand and can shift the watch in the light. On a side note, check to make sure there is actual crystal on the watch face. Many cheaper fakes use plastic or glass, not crystal.

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Oyster Bracelet on Sub (Watch Ponder)

The next thing to look at is the bracelet. This is a very easy part for a scam artist to mix up. Rolex has two types of bracelets they manufacture: the first is the Jubilee bracelet (pictured earlier) and is much more common on older Rolexes (and on brand new ones as of this year’s Basil Fair re-introduction of the classic Datejust). The second bracelet is the Oyster bracelet, which is most iconically on the Submariner. Both the Jubilee and Oyster bracelets can be found on the DateJust, however Rolex has never put them on the Day-Date. Instead the Day-Date gets it’s own bracelet, the President Bracelet. If the President is found on a watch without the Day-Date feature, it’s a fake.**

Correction:  As many of you have pointed out, the Oyster can be found on the Day-Date in gold, which was incorrectly stated in the original version of this post.

**Additional correction to the original post: It was brought to our attention by @reaney13 (and verified) that in very rare cases, a Day-Date can have a gold Jubilee bracelet. Additionally, the women’s gold Datejust does have a President bracelet. 

The final test applies to all Rolexes, but will include here for the Datejust and the Day-Date, which are known as complication features on a watch. When the date on a Rolex changes, it happens with one very distinct and immediate “click” when the minute and hour hand pass the 12-o’clock marker. This is never off (unless the watch is broken — in which case don’t buy it) and it never “starts” to change earlier or “finish” later — it always clicks at exactly 12. If you ever see a Day window showing half a “Monday” and half a “Sunday”, or a date window showing half a “22” and half a “23”, starting around 11:45 and finishing around 12:15, it’s most definitely a fake. To test this on the spot, pull the crown out to set the time and spin the hands until 24 hours has passed and you can watch the Day/Date features in action when the hands pass the 12-o’clock. Listen and watch for the “click”!

This is an excellent video analysis by Weekly Reviews of a Rolex DateJust II that shows an example of the “click” vs. a fake:

Rolex Yachtmaster II

Major Things to Look For:

  • Bezel Font
  • Calendar Subdial
  • Regatta Chronograph
  • Bracelet Colors

The Yachtmaster II is easily the most identifiable fake. In most cases you can tell if this watch is fake with just a quick glance. The easiest and fastest way to determine authenticity is the bezel font (lettering) and it’s spacing. A curved “R” in Yachtmaster is a dead giveaway (See picture). The leg on the bottom right should be straight, not curved or rounded off. In addition, the spacing between the numbers and letters should be even throughout, again a pretty easy sign from a quick glance.

Fake Yachtmaster2

Fake Yachtmaster II (Photo source, modifications by Watch Ponder)

Next thing to look for is the single subdial in the lower center of the dial. This will ALWAYS measure seconds as opposed to days (should be 0-59). Often times replicas will show a subdial with a scale from 1-31.

The third thing to look at is the Regatta Chronograph, which is a 10-minute countdown dial that wraps around the mid to upper half of the watch. This feature is often faked as well– the small triangular hand is usually unproportionate and very small in comparison to an authentic Rolex’s hand. A correct Regatta hand will have equal lengths on all sides and create a perfect triangle.

The last thing to look for that I want to mention on the Yachtmaster II is the Two-Tone model. This watch comes with the iconic Oyster bracelet, however ,the two-tone model does not come in Yellow gold. The two-tone model only comes in Everose gold (a darker, reddish colored gold).

Rolex Submariner and GMT II

Major Things to Look For:

  • Cyclops Magnification
  • Crown/Crown Guards
  • Rehaut Engraving
  • Hand-stack/ Bracelet Fit
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Real Rolex Submariner in Green (Source: Watch Ponder)

The Rolex Submariner is the most iconic watch in the world. It is beautiful from every angle and embodies everything that is Rolex. The GMT II bears a very striking resemblance to the Submariner and is often times confused with it, however when taking a closer look, each one is different in its own regard. Common traits of both models are the Cyclops Magnification window (which I covered with the DateJust/Day-Date), the crown and crown guards, the bracelet fit, and the rehaut engraving.  Each one of these traits can be mentioned for just about every Rolex model, however, they tend to be most commonly faked on the GMT-II and Submariner models.

First, I start with looking at the crown and crown guards (note: this depends on the age of the watch). Newer models will have a larger set of crown guards and a crown that will fit proportionally. Current models that are being sold (such as the 114060 or the 116710BLNR) have larger guards, while a model from the 1960s, such as the 5513 will look much smaller. If you’re trying to determine real or fake based solely on the crown guards, you might need to do a little research with it’s reference number just to be safe. This is definitely worth your time, especially if buying online.

The next thing to look for is the rehaut engraving. The rehaut is the small space around the dial of a Rolex that sits beneath the sapphire crystal. Since 2005, depending on the model, every Rolex produced has had it’s rehaut engraved with “ROLEX” in all caps, starting from the bottom left, wrapping around the length of the dial, to the bottom right. Above the 6-o’clock position, the watch will have it’s serial number engraved (note: on older models, the SN is engraved between the lugs, under the end of the bracelet and is only visible if the bracelet is removed). Many times the fakes I find have very highly polished rehauts that reflect the hour markers of the dial. Legit Rolex rehauts are a brushed steel that don’t reflect anything. If the rehaut is too shiny or even too angled, this is a dead giveaway. A genuine Rolex rehaut will not reflect the case or dial and if looking at the watch directly, it will be virtually unnoticeable. If any resemblance of the rehaut exists from a direct angle, it is a fake.

The bracelet fit is another feature that is usually identifiable, however, is very frequently overlooked. The lugs and the bracelet should meet perfectly, with no gaps or breaks between them. The slightest gap is usually a sign of a fake watch (see example photo).

The last thing to look for is the GMT hand-stack. The GMT has 4 hands, as opposed to the submariner’s 3. In addition to the hour, minute, and second hands, the GMT has a 24 hour GMT hand. The order of the hands is what to look for. Often times the GMT hand is at the very bottom of the watch, however, the authentic order should go as follows: Hours, GMT, Minutes, Seconds. Anything else is a sure sign of a fake.

Rolex Daytona

Major Things to Look For:

  • Subdials
  • Bezel Rotation

Last up is the Rolex Daytona. The biggest problem with just about every Daytona is the subdial content and spacing. The Daytona will never have a calendar subdial, meaning it will never indicate what day of the week/month it is or what month we are in. Any subdial that shows a calendar feature is a dead giveaway. In addition, the placement and spacing of the subdials is also significant and commonly wrong. The two subdials on the left and right should be placed proportionality at the 10-o’clock and 2-o’clock hour markers and the bottom subdial should be distanced proportionally from the other two. It is difficult to explain, but the biggest thing to remember here is that each one should be spaced equally and evenly.

Fake Daytona

Real vs. Fake Daytona (Photo: infoquest publishing, modifications by Watch Ponder)

Next is the bezel: The bezel on the Daytona does NOT rotate. If you see one that does, its fake!

To me, fake watches are a plague on the industry. The greatness that is Rolex isn’t the perception others have when they see it; instead it is the feeling it gives you. Wearing a luxury watch should be about your hobby, your love of watches, and communicating your personal brand. Rolexes command a premium price because of the quality they have exhibited for years. The feeling of purchasing and wearing something like a Rolex for the very first time is second to none, and cannot be achieved through a fake facade. People strive for luxury items all the time, but by opting for a cheap replica they present themselves as disingenuous and are missing out on the true joy that is watch collecting! A genuine Seiko is far superior both in brand and appearance to a fake Rolex — don’t cheat yourself. It’s not about what brand you have on your wrist, rather it’s about the enjoyment of collecting genuine articles regardless of the brand. People who intentionally wear fakes reveal themselves to be more concerned with brand recognition and the opinion of others rather than true watch collectors. Don’t cheat yourself!

Additional Resources

Hopefully, you were able to learn something from my post and enjoyed reading my take on fakes. If you think you’ve found a fake somewhere send me a message and I’ll check it out (I do my best to respond to all DM’s).

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your comments below or contact me through Instagram

Additional reading on fake Rolexes:

http://www.rolxcellence.com/fakes.html

http://www.ebay.com/gds/How-to-spot-a-fake-Rolex-/10000000000796968/g.html

 

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I have a passion for watches and am a collector of luxury watches. I write opinion-based articles that try to bring the business lens to my writing to provide readers with a view of the business, marketing, and strategies of the watch industry companies I look into. In addition to Watch Ponder, I do speaking, freelance writing, and publish in other watch blogs and magazines. I do this as a hobby and because of my passion for watches. I am also a member of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors.

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