How to Spot a Fake Watch

Today’s counterfeit watches are looking so good that it is truly a challenge to tell if your watch is a fake. But we bring a few guidelines that may help.

If you are a watch lover, and you see a deal on a watch that is too good to be true, chances are, it’s not a genuine brand name watch. This doesn’t happen when you buy from authorized brand retailers. Their merchandise is legit. However, if you are shopping online or even in a marketplace, chances are you could be buying a fake.

Many of today’s big brands are taking actions to try to stop the making of counterfeit watches, but they have little authority. Many governments seize and destroy loads of known counterfeit luxury goods, but much of it still falls through the cracks. According to the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie in Switzerland, counterfeiting of watches is a more than  $500 billion business annually.

How to spot a fake watch
Photo provided by www.stop-piracy.ch

Some of that business is fueled by consumers who want the look without spending the money. For those people, a knock-off watch that looks good screams a big brand name just as nicely as the real thing. But for purists who hate replicas, it’s sometimes hard to know if your watch is real or fake. Additionally, sometimes people are gifted a fake watch and then are disappointed in the way it doesn’t withstand time as well as expected, hurting the consumer’s impression of the real brand.  Here, we take a look at some precautions you can take and things you can check before buying that watch.

Buy From Authorized Retailers

Many brands hand-select the retail stores that they will allow to sell their watches. Those retailers have to buy a certain amount of product and have to adhere to the brand guidelines when selling. However, you can rest assured that if you are buying from an authorized retailer, your watch is genuine.

How to spot a fake watch? Guide
Boutique Vacheron Constantin in Longemalle, Geneva

Buy Pre-Owned Watches From Reputable Sources

If you are searching for a pre-owned watch, it is best to buy from sources that authenticate their watches and that offer a money-back guarantee if the watch is found to be fake. There are some highly reputable sources that offer certified pre-owned watches.

Familiarize Yourself With the brand

In general, watch collectors who are very familiar with a particular brand can have an edge on first-time buyers because they know the tiny details to look for. As such, it is important to take a close look at the brand, its codes, and the details it touts when building its watches. Some brands consistently add details to their watches, such as Swiss Made on the dial, or some other identifiable feature.

Franck Muller Crazy Hours Cintrée Curvex™
Franck Muller Crazy Hours Cintrée Curvex™

Remember That The Devil is in the Details

This is the single most important factor to consider when buying a watch: the devil is in the details. You need to carefully check the intricacies of the dial, case, and bracelet or strap before you pounce. It is best, if possible, to do this in person where you can see and study the watch. Details to look closely at:

The Dial:

Be familiar with the most recent logo of the watch brand you are buying. Make sure the font size and style are consistently clean and crisp. Study the dial to make sure it is exactly in line. A dead giveaway that a watch is a fake is a slightly askew dial. Look at the hands and the markers or numerals, as well.  You will want to be especially vigilant because the hands and numbers should be exactly in place and neatly finished. You can google the exact watch on the brand’s site as a reference to compare. Also, make sure the crown is a match.

Hamilton Intra-Matic Automatic
Hamilton Intra-Matic Automatic

The Materials:

Fine timepieces are always nicely finished and polished with no rough edges on the bezel or the lugs. A good watch will not snag clothing. Be sure the metal is highly finished. Dull or slightly grainy finishes are an indication that the watch might not be genuine. If you are purchasing a noble metal or steel watch, feel the weight of it and make sure it compares properly with similar watches and is not flimsy. If the watch has a strap instead of a bracelet, look for proper stitching and clean edges. Always double-check that the bracelet clasp works properly, as well. Bad fakes will most likely have poor clasps – a minor detail the counterfeiters often overlook.

Ulysse Nardin Diver Net strap stitching
Ulysse Nardin Diver Net strap stitching

The Caseback:

Some watches have engravings on the case back that indicate a serial number, or the water resistance of the watch, or other information. Look to be sure the engravings are beautifully executed and are not sloppy or blurry (another indication of a fake).

Longines The Longines Legend Diver Watch
Longines The Longines Legend Diver Watch Case Back
Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon
Audemars Piguet Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Selfwinding Flying Tourbillon Case Back

Even with these guidelines, in today’s world, fake watches are being built better and better every day. So even if you take all of the above into consideration, you could be buying a replica if you are not purchasing from a reputable seller and if you are buying based on price.

If you see a $10,000 watch for $2,000, chances are that it is a fake. Remember when looking to buy a watch, to always bring a jeweler’s loupe with you. And, in the end, if you are still unsure, you can always ask an expert watchmaker who can help authenticate the watch with his expertise, or by opening the case back up and seeing what’s inside.

About the Author

Roberta Naas - Watch Journalist
Roberta Naas

Roberta Naas is a veteran watch and jewelry journalist who began her career in the early 1980’s, and was the first female watch journalist in the United States. She is the editor and founder of the authoritative watch blog, ATimelyPerspective, has written six books on watches, writes for numerous consumer publications (including Forbes and Elite Traveler) – and always brings forth in her work the essence of what makes watches tick. She tirelessly travels the world in search of watch news and stories that she turns into compelling and enlightening articles.

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