These days, it is far too easy to be duped by a fake watch. Counterfeiters have taken extensive measures to ensure that their products closely resemble those of authentic luxury brands, so telling the difference between a real Cartier and a copy is not as easy as making sure the brand name is spelled correctly on the watch’s face anymore.
Unsurprisingly, the most popular brand that counterfeiters base their fake goods on is Rolex. Because the brand has a universally-recognized name that evokes wealth and status, Rolex models are incredibly susceptible to counterfeit. Other popular brands include Audemars Piguet, Panerai, and Omega, each of which uses specific nuances that distinguish its individual timepieces from the rest. With a view to make sure you avoid counterfeit watch scams, we have compiled this quick guide to suss out whether that watch you’re considering is authentic or not.
The most popular luxury watch brand to fake is also, luckily, the one with the most brand-specific details that you can use to authenticate a watch you’re eyeing. Out of these details, the most common ones that counterfeiters get wrong include the design of the caseback, the date window, and the watch’s engravings.
Contrary to popular belief, Rolex watches usually have very plain casebacks. With few exceptions, like the Cellini Prince and Sea Dweller models, the brand’s casebacks are solid with no engravings. If a watch claims to be Rolex and has a clear or skeleton caseback or has an engraved caseback, it is most likely fake.
Rolex’s date complications, while visually simple, actually involve a complex piece of glass technology called a cyclops. Rolex’s cyclopes are made in a very specific way that is difficult to replicate. This convex magnification lens covers the date window and magnifies the date 2.5x. Most counterfeiters will probably not pay attention to such a minute detail, so they end up using 1.5x magnification lenses on their fake products.
Finally, pay attention to the watch’s engraving, including the text on the dial. Every piece of text on a Rolex watch should be engraved or etched into the material, not simply printed or stamped on. Obviously, any spelling mistakes, smudges, line mistakes and font irregularities are key giveaways for a counterfeit watch. Real Rolexes created after 2002 also have an incredibly small micro-etching on the crystal that protects the face. This etching is a series of tiny dots arranged to form the Rolex crown logo, and it appears below the 6 o’clock on the watch’s face.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore is arguably the brand’s most sought-after model, so naturally, it is also the one that is most likely to be counterfeited. Like most fake luxury products, the counterfeiters behind this watch’s cheap replicas will likely miss many of the minute details that make the originals so desirable. When in the market for the Royal Oak, here are the big things to look for to suss out a fake model: the dial’s markings and Tapisserie pattern, the size of the case, and other easy-to-overlook details.
An Audemars Piguet dial has a very specific design that forgers often slip up on. For example, on counterfeit pieces with black dials, the numerals will often be missing a metal surround. Or, more commonly, forgers will either forgo the complicated Tapisserie pattern on the dial completely, or botch the design. Also, while genuine Royal Oaks have a bright and consistent luminous quality to them, counterfeiters will not have the same kind of glow due to the cheap phosphorescent glowing solution they apply to fake models.
The date complication is always easy to flub because each brand uses a different cyclops with different magnification levels. As such, this is a good way to spot a fake watch, especially if you are already familiar with how a genuine date complication from a specific brand should look. For Audemars Piguet counterfeits, the dial will usually be too far over to the right side of the watch.
Just as most forged watches are usually much lighter than their original counterparts due to the quality of their metal casings, they also tend to be incorrectly sized. Fake Audemars Piguet casebacks are often much thicker than those of the authentic models.
The details that go into Panerai’s craftsmanship are integral to the functionality and longevity of their watches, but on counterfeit pieces, the minutiae are often forgotten in favor of cheaper production costs. To that end, the unique characteristics that distinguish Panerai watches, like hand-sewn leather and twisted lugs, are left off their forged counterparts. These are the details you need to think about when picking up a Panerai that might not be authentic.
Because forgers don’t use high-quality marking tools, the engravings on Panerai counterfeits, like on most counterfeit watches, are likely going to be subpar. Where on the originals the markings will be deep, clearly cut out and clean of mistakes, forged watches will have blurry markings with soft edges that were made using acid that leaves a sandy-looking finish on the lettering. Sometimes, forgers will leave out engraved details entirely, like the engraving of the Panerai logo and a reference number on the buckle of every watch.
To ensure that their hand-sewn leather straps aren’t subjected to too much wear and tear from proximity to the hardware, Panerai uses twisted lugs to keep the strap a millimeter away from the case and to improve the strap’s grip on the wrist. Forgers tend to use standard flat lugs to save money.
Like the others on this list, Omega is one of the most highly-respected luxury watch brands on the market. Their designs strike the perfect balance between style and functionality, which is why, when forgers play mix-and-match with the elements of fake Omega watches, the difference in aesthetic and in performance is palpable.
This is one of the most important things to look out for, as it is common for counterfeiters to swap out a watch’s complicated movement for a cheaper, simpler one, or to switch one watch’s caseback for that of another. If the Omega you are eyeing contains elements from models from different collections, like a Speedmaster face fastened onto what appears to be the body of a Seamaster, then it’s probably fake.
In the same vein, if the watch has non-functioning dials or multiple crown positions but no complications, the piece is most likely a counterfeit. Forgers tend not to bother with replicating the functions of Omega watches because the additional parts and labor will hike up the overhead price, so check the functions of your Omega watch and make sure each crown position controls a corresponding complication on the piece.
Naturally, all counterfeit watches are not the same, and it can be very difficult sometimes to gauge whether a watch is truly authentic or not, especially with the advances in technology that have made production cheaper and easier. If you have serious doubts about a watch, your best bet is to bring it to a professional who can tell you with absolute certainty whether your piece is the real thing or not.
Also, as always, remember to buy from a trusted source. Make sure you are dealing with a reputable dealer that has your best interests in mind.