Talk to me about fake watches…

Kes 1

Kes Crockett | Watch Department

Here in the Fellows watch department we see somewhere in the region of 5,000 watches per year, spread across our Luxury and Online watch sales. The vast majority of watches brought into us are honest pre-owned timepieces which go on to live happily ever after in their new homes. On rare occasions, but with increasing frequency, we have to reject a watch because it is fake.

Counterfeit…replica…clone…snide. Lots of different terms but they all mean essentially the same thing; An unauthorised copy of an authentic item.

“But who wouldn’t want a Rolex at a fraction of the price, what’s the harm in it?” I hear you ask.

Well, apart from buying what is likely a very poor quality item, endorsing the illegal theft of Trademarks and funding organised crime, not a lot I suppose. But this blog isn’t going to focus on why you should avoid fakes, but rather how you can spot them.

For the purposes of this feature we will look at copies of three well known watch brands and pinpoint the telltale signs that give them away. Normally we would use a side-by-side comparison to illustrate the subtle differences between fake and genuine but in a real life situation where you are required to assess a watch, you may not have a genuine watch of the same model to compare with. Having access to the internet can however be extremely useful. Just make sure the images you are studying during your game of “spot the difference” are reputable. Often high quality photographs, especially of modern watches can be found on the manufacturer’s website.

It is important to stress that the standard of fake watches is improving all the time and that current “Superfakes” are almost indistinguishable to the untrained eye.

Cartier Santos

The easiest of the three watches and no need to even open the case on this one.

The dial is poor but it it’s not terrible. The fakers have managed to get their text printed fairly centrally and have included the “hidden Cartier” in the V numeral at seven. It should always be here or at the ten marker. There is an area of discolouration between the centre of the dial and four. Could be an area of damage on a genuine watch but could also be a poorly manufactured fake dial. Some genuine watches will have an aftermarket dial so it is vital to consider the watch as a whole before making judgement. There is an inner minute track but it looks a bit strange. Normally the five minute intervals would be marked more heavily to stand out from the rest. The date window looks very low on the dial, what does a google image of the same watch look like?

With your spidey senses tingling from that dubious dial you can now switch attention to the case back. It’s numbered. One of those sets of numbers will be the reference of the watch, the other an individual serial number. If you google the reference 987901 what comes up? Answer… not a bi-metal Santos, but a stainless steel Santos without the yellow metal bezel and screws. Not looking good now.

The text to the case back is all there but the quality is very poor. We would expect a luxury watch to have an engraved case back, whereas this is etched. Very different and much cheaper and easier to produce.

The screws. These case back screws are a dead giveaway. Cartier will never use Phillips (cross head) screws on a watch case. Always slotted. That rule goes for almost every other luxury watch brand. Once you have seen those screws there is no need to open the watch and inspect the movement.

The general finishing of the watch is OK, but as is always the case, the fakers put much less effort into the bits you don’t see. Look at the edge of the clasp, a component which is concealed by the bracelet when the watch is worn. My first crack on the band saw in year 7 Design Technology class produced a better result than that.

Conclusion: Low quality fake, 2/10, must try harder.

Omega Seamaster Professional

This Omega dive watch is an imitation of a “Bond’ Seamaster, reference 2531.80.00. Better executed than the Cartier covered above but still relatively easy to spot to an observant watch enthusiast.

The dial is reasonably well printed with text that is a close copy of the genuine article. However under closer inspection the surrounds to the luminous hour markers show very poor finishing. This is most noticeable at the six and nine indices, especially under magnification. When compared with an image of a genuine watch the markers are the wrong style; applied rather than painted.

The positioning of the date window seems off, with it being closer to the centre of the dial than would be expected. This is often the case where the dial needs to be configured to suit the donor movement underneath, which is not of the same dimensions as an authentic watch.

The luminous dot to the bezel looks too large and a comparison with a well-chosen google image confirms this. At this point, having only seen the dial side, we can be almost certain this watch is counterfeit, but we will remove the case back to confirm.

The clasp in comparison to the Cartier is finished to a reasonable standard but still a little rough.

The movement. If there was any doubt on authenticity from the externals of the watch, opening the case back confirms our suspicions. As mentioned previously, the fakers put least effort into the hidden components and watches without an exhibition case back are a prime candidate for this cost cutting opportunity. Luxury watch manufacturers always put their name on the movement, regardless of whether they produce their own mechanisms or use those of a third party such as Eta.

As suspected from the positioning of the dial side date window, the movement is also undersized which is why there has been a need for a plastic movement ring to hold it securely in place. Whilst movement rings can be seen quite often in luxury watches, they are invariably metal rather than cheap plastic alternatives.

Conclusion: Mid-range fake, 4/10.

Panerai Submersible 1950

The best of the bunch by far is this Panerai Submersible. It is by no means perfect but certainly good enough to fool an unsuspecting watch buyer.

Externally, you really would need a comparison image to make a judgement on this watch. The text quality is very good, the colouring of the luminous markers well executed and the date window reasonably placed on the dial. At this stage there are only a couple of minor warning signs. Firstly, the detailing to the bezel does not quite match that on the images from Panerai’s website, with the luminous zero dot in particular seeming wrong. Secondly, the post which the hour and minute hand sits on to the centre of the dial does not have the highly polished “mirror” finish we would expect to see. Nothing major though and further investigation needed.

Continuing with the outside of the watch we can see that the strap and buckle are both of decent quality. The roughness of the Cartier and Omega is nowhere to be seen and the buckle engraving is of a high standard.

Again a watch with a closed case back but unlike previous, less sophisticated fakes, this time the movement has been given some attention. No plastic movement ring, “manufacturer” logo to the rotor and caliber information to the plates as would be seen on the real thing. The printing is all good and the layout of the mechanism seems to match a genuine P9000 at first glance. However, a closer look under magnification reveals exactly what is going on here.

A generic movement has been dressed with superficial components which to the untrained eye are fairly convincing. The escapement assembly which has been highlighted with two arrows is the easiest place to spot the deception. The blue arrow is pointing to the escape wheel. When the watch is running, it would expected for this component to rotate, easily checked if you’re looking for it. In this case it is static, just a prop designed to fool us. The red arrow points to the balance cock. As you can see, this again is a non-functional component and is so poorly executed that the upper half has separated from the lower half. This is all the information we need to know this watch is a fake.

Conclusion: High quality fake, 6/10, close but no cigar.

Unfortunately, it is a sad reality that the counterfeits we see in the market place are continually improving and the potential to fall victim to a dishonest seller with a convincing superfake has never been greater. Here at Fellows we make great efforts to stay one step ahead of the game, inspecting each and every watch before they’re entered into auction.

Hopefully this blog provides some useful tips on spotting a replica. It would be nice if we didn’t need to…

As the ‘Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie’ said: “Fake watches are for fake people. Be authentic. Buy real”.

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