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Fake Watches: How to Distinguish Real Watches from Replica Watches

5 tips for buying watches on the Internet

According to the Swiss watch industry association FH, there are more counterfeit watches than originals. Every year tens of millions of counterfeit watches are offered, while the Swiss watch industry produces around 30 million watches. Among them are well-known models from all brands. Watches are one of the most common counterfeit products. In recent years it has been observed that the sale of replica watches has shifted from websites to social media such as Facebook, Youtube or Instagram. This makes it more and more difficult to find out about the counterfeiters. A specially set up department of the Swiss Watch Industry Association deals daily with tracking down such Internet offers, arranges for them to be closed and destroys counterfeit watches. Often times, however, watch buyers are unaware that they are buying a counterfeit watch as the fakes are becoming more and more professional.

In this article from my Fratellowatches blog I want to give you five tips for the Watch purchase type: These should help you to distinguish real watches from replica (sometimes also written “replica”).


But I have to make a little confession right at the beginning: It's not something I'm particularly proud of, but it shows how easily one can be deceived. In 2003 I started looking for an Oyster bracelet for my RolexDatejustI received with an Jubilee bracelet when I bought it. I quickly found what I was looking for on eBay and after getting an overview of the seller ratings, I decided to click on “Buy Now”. I can't remember the exact price, but it was attractive.

Tip for buying a watch # 1: Don't get carried away by the impulse

However, the amount was not small enough to be labeled "too good to be true". When the bracelet got to me, I noticed very quickly that it was a fake (or so-called replica). Had I not been so hasty with my purchase decision and had I better checked the offer beforehand, I would have noticed that the clasp codes are wrong and the reference number is engraved in the wrong place. So there was no longer any talk of a real Oyster bracelet for my Datejust. With this purchase I paid my tuition. Since then, I've stopped making impulse purchases unless I'm absolutely sure that everything is okay.

In this article I would like to introduce myself to the purchase of Replica watches - or even worse - so-called Frankenwatches, that is, to deal with clocks that are assembled from a wide variety of parts. People who would very much like to own a Rolex or Breitling, for example, but only have a limited budget of 100 euros or less are interested in buying cheap counterfeits.

Not all replica watches are created equal

They are fully aware that they are buying plagiarism and they have no intention of buying an original. Because the counterfeit luxury watches probably also go perfectly with the imitation Louis Vuitton bag and the imitation Hermès belt. But let's not devote ourselves further to this category. Because: “Fake watches are for fake people” - and those who value good quality materials and design will not buy a replica.

First, however, I have to differentiate between replica watches and Frankenwatches. Replica watches are complete fakes. Nothing about them is real. An example of this is the fake Daytona that appears in “Kill Bill II”. It can be clearly recognized as a forgery on the dial, more precisely on the chronograph totalizers. But be careful - nowadays, some replicas can hardly be distinguished from the original. Because these models are also made of usable stainless steel, most of the details are correct and maybe they are even sold with forged papers and in a counterfeit box.

Tip for buying a watch # 2: Not a specialist retailer? Check the offer carefully

So be careful when purchasing a mechanical watch that you do not purchase from an authorized retailer. However, two aspects can give an indication of whether it is a fake:

How to identify a replica watch:

1 .: The price: If the price is too good to be true, keep your hands off the watch.

2 .: The clockwork: Make sure that the watch has an original movement and check the details of the watch to be absolutely sure. The best thing to do is to take a similar watch with you that you know is real.

Frankenwatches, on the other hand, are another, and in my opinion even more dangerous, affair. A Frankenwatch is a watch whose components are almost all originals.

The difference between replica watches and Frankenwatches

However, the individual parts that make up the watch do not belong together - either because they did not fit together at the time of manufacture or were not originally built into the model. A Rolex Submariner from 1965, for example, becomes a Frankenwatch with the movement of a Rolex produced later, which doesn't even have to be that of a Submariner. If the owner adds a bracelet that does not belong to the original, a bezel from a later model and a replacement plexiglass, the result is a Frankenwatch. All that remains of the original Submariner is the case itself. And it is precisely this mix that often makes it so difficult to distinguish a real vintage watch from a Frankenwatch.



Tip for buying a watch # 3: Research the brand and model history

In both cases, knowledge is the key to making the right purchase decision. To avoid buying a replica, you should inform yourself sufficiently about the models in question and their history. The level of knowledge naturally depends on the level of documentation about a brand or a specific watch. There are great books on numerous watches and brands, such as the Rolex GMT Master, the Omega Speedmaster (“Moonwatch Only”) or the watches from the Swiss brand Longines (“Longines Watches”), which will make you real experts in this field. The books are not cheap, but can save you from an expensive bad buy.

The simplest method, however, is to go to an authorized dealer and buy a new watch. However, that doesn't solve the problems in the second-hand and vintage watch market. The demand for some discontinued models and vintage watches is so strong that the prices are correspondingly high and this fact in turn attracts criminals who specialize in the production of copies and with the deception of passionate collectors and buyers want to make a fortune.

Here we have put together 5 tips for buying vintage watches.

Tip for buying a watch # 4: Contact the manufacturer

Many watch brands also keep claiming that the internet and online shops are a bad place to buy watches. This view is particularly represented by brands that do not have a clear strategy with regard to online business and thus easily avoid the discussion. Of course we know better. Because numerous brands are happy to help if you want to know something about a watch that is no longer manufactured or even a vintage watch. They provide information about whether the parts are original, provide information about the origin of the watch, and sometimes the manufacturers even offer an inspection of the watch and its quality. The latter means, however, that you have already bought the watch. If there is a lot of money involved, a salesperson may agree to have the watch checked for authenticity by a brand or a brand's service center. Unfortunately, this option comes too late for the singer John Mayer, because he found out that some of his watches are replicas.

Regardless of whether you acquire the knowledge of watches yourself or rely on the knowledge of other collectors, you are well prepared not to buy a replica. Of course, this rule applies not only to online purchases, but also to used and vintage watches that are sold in traditional shops and at auctions (yes, even Frankenwatches and replicas are auctioned there from time to time).

Used watches with manufacturer's guarantee

In the future, some watch brands are planning to equip their own used watches with a manufacturer certificate and to offer them again. Linde Werdelin was one of the first watch brands to offer used watches itself. Audemars Piguet and Breitling also announced some time ago that they would like to get into this business. When brands themselves sell used watches with a (refreshed) warranty and through their own network (or even directly), they are a good alternative for watch fans. Used watches are exchanged for new watches, they are checked or, if necessary, they are given a revision and are offered again on the market. It is not yet entirely clear what exactly this will look like in the future. You can find out more about this topic here.

Tip for buying a watch # 5: Use collector knowledge

In addition, there are brand forums in which numerous experienced users post helpful articles on the topic of replicas, and of course various watch blogs that deal with different wristwatches. Gather as much information as possible about original models, possible fakes and Frankenwatches, and always get a second opinion when in doubt.
Tips around the topic of replica can also be shared in the comments section.

Robert-Jan Broer, born in 1977, lives in the Netherlands. Watches are his passion. He is the author of various watch magazines and has been running the Fratellowatches blog since 2004. On Watchtime.net we make his articles available in German:www.fratellowatches.com

Continuously updated article, originally posted in September 2014.