How to spot a counterfeit

Spotting counterfeit timepieces is often an art in itself as the fakers are getting better and better at deceiving us. 

Fake watches

I know the title of this article promises to teach you how to spot a fake, and I wish it was as easy as offering a few quick tips and off you go. Unfortunately, today’s counterfeit watches are often so good it’s hard even for the brands to determine if a watch is a fake unless they take it apart.

Decades ago, fakes weren’t very sophisticated and they were relatively easy to spot. Sometimes brand names were slightly misspelled (Bolex watches, anyone? How about Audemars Piglet?) and the finishing on the watches was not very good. In general, the quality of fakes back then was abysmal, with most of them breaking within the first month of wear – indices and hands falling into the movement, bracelets snapping, crystals falling off and more.

Today, however, fakes are much, much better, which makes it increasingly harder to determine what is real and what is counterfeit.

And counterfeit watches are a huge problem. Estimates are that there are 40 million fake watches manufactured every year, representing more than $1 billion. Each year, about one million counterfeit watches are seized and destroyed, and the manufacture of fake watches has been linked to organized crime, child labor and even terrorism.

Fake watches

The best fakes today use precious metals, mechanical movements and are sold at close enough to retail prices that it just appears like you are getting a great deal.

If you buy a fake Panerai on the street corner in New York City for $50, you know it’s counterfeit (and you should be ashamed of yourself).

If you pay close to retail for the same watch at an unauthorized dealer, you might just think you are getting a heck of a deal.

Well, the truth is that if you buy from an unauthorized dealer, it really is buyer beware. You have no assurance that the watch isn’t counterfeit, and no recourse if you find out later that it is. Or, heaven forbid, the watch is stolen and the next time you take it in for service, it gets confiscated by the brand and sent back to its rightful owner.

We here at the Watch Pages have heard many stories of customers buying watches they thought were real only to be told by the brand when they took them in for regular service that the watches were indeed fakes.

So, the smartest thing to do to avoid buying a counterfeit is to only buy from authorized retailers or from companies, in the vintage world, that stand behind the watches they sell 100%.

A watch is an important and meaningful purchase. Make sure you do it the right way and you won’t be misled.