Long gone are the days when an authentic watch was easy to tell from a fake. The advent of 3D printing and new technologies has given birth to ‘genuine fake’ watches that look almost identical to the real ones both on the outside and even inside. But even if there are people who are specifically looking for replicas, most classic watch buyers want to have an authentic watch since even the best fake would always be inferior to a genuine classic timepiece.
According to a Forbes report, 15 to 30% of web searches for watches are targeting replicas. Given such demand and technology advances, the market is flooded with fakes that are harder to identify, especially when they are disguised as authentic timepieces.
For these reasons, those who seek an authentic classic watch should be much more vigilant, especially when buying pre-owned. Prudent buyers should stay with certified dealers, know how the real watches look like and check the documentation. Here is how to spot a grey dealer, identify red flags on a watch and read the paperwork and why buying replica is just a bad idea.
Buying from Authorized Retailers vs. Grey Dealers
Buying a new timepiece from an authorized dealer listed on the brand’s website is almost a no-brainer (except for the waiting time and the budget) as official dealers can sell only genuine watches and never offer replicas. Meanwhile, buying outside the authorized dealer chain from shady sellers may present more problems than opportunities, so it is essential to check the seller’s background.
Although it is possible to source a new authentic luxury watch on a grey market with a significant discount, it would often have no warranty. The previous history of the watch and how did it get to the seller would also be unknown.
It only gets worse with black market dealers who can offer stolen watches or fakes. At the end of the day, buying from authorized dealers pays off by having a certainty of sourcing an authentic watch with traceable history and warranty.
What to Watch Out When Buying Outside Authorized Dealer Chain
Those who search for pre-owned authentic watches or look for lower prices may be tempted to buy outside authorized dealers chain. In doing so, it is essential to do due diligence on the sellers to avoid getting trapped in a shady deal.
The old rule, still true, is that you should buy the seller first then buy the watch. The first and easiest step would be to check the seller, read their reviews and feedback, read their social media pages, and find more about their history. While checking the seller’s credentials, it is always necessary to watch out for red flags, which include:
Absence of warranty or return policy. Those who buy a classic watch should always expect the seller to have a return policy and warranty. While buyers most often expect this when buying new watches, they sometimes overlook it when shopping for pre-owned. Meanwhile, the main reason to buy from a dealer and pay the dealer’s margin is having the dealer authenticate the watch and back up the deal.
Low price. Generally, if something is too good to be true, it is most likely too good to be true. There is no reason why first-tier luxury watches, such as Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Rolex or Omega, or anything in-between, should cost 15-25% less than elsewhere except for duty-free or tax-free pricing.
The only way to buy a luxury watch with a significant discount is by buying it from a grey or black market with all the perils of buying lost, stolen or fake luxury watches without any warranty or chances to have the watch serviced by an authorized service center.
Messy Presentation. If you are looking for a physical store to buy a classic timepiece and find watches of different brands mixed on one display, you can be sure these are fakes. There is absolutely no chance that any brand would allow an authorized shop to do that. Every authorized watch retailer should display the watches according to the brand’s requirements, excluding the possibility of messy presentation.
Quick Deals. When sellers try to push customers into quick deals with a promise of discounts or similar incentives, vigilant buyers should be immediately alerted. First-tier watch brands limit their production, and buying such watches normally takes a long waiting time, which is inconsistent with pushy sales tactics.
Know How the Authentic Watch Looks Like
Knowing the real thing is absolutely needed to stay away from fake. Although modern technology helps to replicate authentic watches very close to the original, there are many aspects that are hardly possible to imitate. Here are some of those aspects of a real watch to keep in mind (in no particular order).
Fonts (typefaces). Best watch brands use proprietary fonts, which are kept in strict secret. And even if someone gets an original font, printing it on the watch dial so finely as the original watchmaker would be hardly possible. Meanwhile, it is quite easy to spot a poorly made fake through inconsistencies in spacing or even errors.
Weight and general feel of the watch. Since authentic watches are made from high-quality materials, they are heavier than fakes. The latter ones are often made from sheet metal and can even include plastic.
Brushed stainless steel finishes. Original watchmakers pride themselves on the quality of brushed stainless steel finishes they use to highlight different parts of a watch. The best watch brands use superior techniques and hand finishing to achieve that unique and luxurious look of a classic watch. While high-quality fakes imitate such finishes with varying degrees of success, the finish on authentic watches is always superior.
Bracelet. This part of the watch is crucial for the feeling of a luxury watch and should be as immaculate as the watch itself. It should feel solid and robust and move smoothly. The clasp should work perfectly while having all the engravings in place. For example, speaking about Rolexes, the crown symbol on the clasp should have clear lines and sharp edges, which is hardly achievable with fakes.
Magnifying glass or cyclops. The cyclops is raised magnifying sapphire lens affixed to watch crystal to magnify the date. Speaking about Rolexes, their cyclops lenses produce a 2.5X magnifying effect and are very hard to imitate. Meanwhile, fake cyclops either don’t have any magnification or fall short of 2.5X enlargement.
Sound. The classic watch brands are all about perfection, especially when it comes to the watch movement. Therefore, if you hear any unusually loud ticking sounds, it is a sign that the watch is a fake.
Today, most classic watches are automatic or self-winding. Unlike quartz-powered watches, which are ticking once per second, automatic watches tick several times per second. If you hear a once-per-second ticking from a watch marketed as automatic, it is a sign it is faked with a quartz movement inside.
Meanwhile, it should be remembered that classic mechanical watches with manual winding also produce a once-per-second ticking similar to quartz watches, so that you should apply the ‘ticking test’ having this in mind.
Movement. Usually, buyers cannot access the inner mechanism when purchasing a watch with a non-see-through case. Meanwhile, those who have a rare chance to access an inside of a watch can easily spot fakes. Every part of the original watch movement is about perfection, including finishes, while fake manufacturers just cannot achieve the same level of quality.
Besides, most of the top watch brands have their brand names engraved on the movement parts. At the same time, replica movements often have no engraving on movements or have it poorly done.
Serial number. Even if a fake watch has a serial number, it will hardly be properly engraved. Quality engraving is difficult to achieve so that the serial number on fakes will look inferior. Meanwhile, it is a good idea to check if the serial number on the watch matches with those on the paperwork.
Check the Paperwork
The truth is that watch’s “box and papers” can be faked even easier than the watch itself. Scammers know that many buyers view a watch with a box and paperwork with more trust. For this reason, fraudsters can either fake the B&P or fake the paperwork only and buy original boxes from private sellers on eBay, Craigslist and other sites.
At the same time, a genuine box and papers are always a great thing to have as they increase the resale price of the watch. Besides, you might even be refused service by authorized service centers in the absence of a certificate in some countries. Finally, the paperwork provides another safeguard against fakes as it must include the same serial number as the watch and the bracelet.
Why Buy Only Authentic Watches
Although buying a high-quality fake luxury watch mimicking a well-known brand might be tempting for those who cannot afford a genuine classic timepiece, going for a fake is not a good idea. Even the best or so-called genuine fake watches, made with great precision and modern technology, are many times inferior to the authentic ones in all respect. The manufacturers of fakes cannot match the technology employed by authentic watchmakers because of the sheer amount of investments, know-how, and expertise available with the brands.
Meanwhile, buyers cannot expect a fake to be serviced similar to authentic watches in official workshops, not to mention any warranty service. In fact, fake watches can be confiscated by the authorities while the owners might face penalties up to criminal liability. Thus, for example, the authorities in the United States routinely seize counterfeit watches explaining that such goods threaten American consumers and negatively affect the image of the brands and the economy as a whole.