Fake, copy, counterfeit, replica – are the names people give them.
You can buy them all around the world. They are getting better and better. Gone are the days when a fake watch was something you picked up from a market on holiday and wore for a few days until one of the hands fell off – usually within a few weeks.
That level of rubbish still exists, for sure, but the counterfeiting industry has become incredibly sophisticated in recent years. To the point where now, you can buy a replica Rolex or Patek that looks, feels and functions almost exactly like the real thing.
This is an unavoidable consequence of the explosion we have seen in demand for Rolex watches. When waiting lists for a new Rolex stretch into the years and any that are available out there on the secondary market can be changing hands for more than double the retail price, that creates a market for serious fakes that themselves can cost into the thousands.
There is no shortage of great videos on ‘How To Spot A Fake Rolex’ on the internet and on YouTube with “common” tips. However, I’ve noticed that a lot of these videos miss a few really obvious tips that no one seems to mention. So, I’d like to share with you tips that help ME sniff out the bad ones.
Firstly, I am strongly against the buying and of course, the selling of counterfeit watches. It is illegal, dangerous and funds organised crime in a world full of dirty money and forced unethical labour. It’s damaging to the watch industry by stealing revenue from genuine brands. It is also a waste of money and reflects badly on the owner because fake watches are for fake people and it can heavily dent an owner’s reputation.
Secondly, there are two levels of Rolex fakes. Lower cost fakes, that I call the “Holiday Special Editions”, costing anything from £10 – £20 and upto £80 (or £100).
Then we have Super Clones. Which sounds quite scary. Like a huge killer hornet or an evil attack force from Star Wars. And rightly so you should be scared of them.
They sometimes even have professionals in the industry struggling to tell them apart from real ones. Counterfitters tend not to make replicas of vintage Rolex as mass produced clones. They tend to focus more on modern Rolex.
So, how can you tell them apart?
Genuine Rolex watches have a smooth sweeping second hand – and copies do not. They have more of a jittery motion. But not everyone knows why this is.
Modern Rolex watches beat away at 4hz – which is 28,800 vph or – VIBRATIONS PER HOUR. A watch ticking at 4Hz makes 4 oscillations per second, or 8 semi-oscillations (or vibrations) per second. There are 60 seconds in a minute, so this watch would tick at 480 semi-oscillations (vibrations) per minute.
Multiplying the 480 vibrations per minute by the 60 minutes in an hour yields the 28,800 vph figure. Since this watch ticks 8 times per second, a chronograph function in a 28,800 vph watch can time events to the nearest 1/8 of a second.
Now most ‘Holiday Special Edition’ copies will have movements with the more typical, lower beat rate of 21,600 vph – (VIBRATIONS PER HOUR) which is 3 Hz.
This is similar to an old vintage Rolex or a more basic, entry level mechanical watch. But NOT like a modern Rolex because 28,800 vph is a more sophisticated movement – something cheap clones won’t have.
This difference in Vibrations Per Hour is the reason for the difference between the smoother second hand and the stuttering appearing one. 28,800 vph has 8 little ticks of the second hand per second, so it looks very smooth. 21,600 vph has 6 little ticks of the second hand per second. So, it looks more jittery.
For comparison, a Zenith El Primero with a 36,000 vph beat rate – 5 hertz – has 10 little ticks per second, so is super smooth. A vintage watch with a 18,000 vph beat rate – 2.5 Hertz – has 5 little ticks per second, so is considerably more jittery.
Super clones would most likely be 28,800 vph, but zillions of the other fakes are not.
So this is the first red flag for me. I use a timegrapher which most watch professionals will have – and even some hobbyists too.
You can get low cost phone + app timegrapher options to check the beat rate yourself.
It doesn’t need to be a professional or an expensive one.
Next I also use my timegrapher to see Amplitude and Beat Error readings of the watch.
Unless the watch has been massively abused or damaged, modern Rolex watches have a self-imposed, strict standard of -2 to +2 seconds tolerance per day – a tolerance specific to Rolex. This is considerably more exacting than the requirement set by COSC, the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute. Even plus-minus 5 to 10s isn’t too bad, and the watch probably just needs a service. However, the fake watches that I have tested have Beat Errors and movements more like Plus/Minus 10 to 20 seconds. Or Even plus/minus 30 to 40 seconds.
Again – this is an instant cause for concern and a big red flag for me.
I listen to the sound of the ‘tick’. A quick instant check is to listen to the sound the watch makes as it ticks away. I am talking about the actual sound of the movement – the internal engine that drives the watch. Fakes have a very basic sounding “tic-toc tic-toc sound”. Whereas a modern Rolex (from the last 20-30 years or so) will have a more advanced sound. The sort of sound you might expect from a world leading, high precision piece of technology. It sounds more like “chicca-chicca-chicca-chicca”.
Not just because the beat is faster (28,800 vph), but there is a gentle mechanical sounding chime within the sound. Like a distant church bell with a beautiful echo. Or the gentle, rapid tapping of a butter knife on a wine glass.
It is not a basic “tic-toc tic-toc” that you might get from an ‘off the shelf’ movement.
It’s very hard to explain but it sounds more ‘premium’ owing to the advanced technologies used in Rolex movements such as the Parachrom Bleu hairspring and other high end technology powering the watch. This would be hard to replicate with a basic copy movement.
You can tell a fake, even one with a good ETA movement, from the real thing by this sound. I hear this sound really bright and clear when I wear my Rolex in bed beating away in the silence of the night.
A fourth quick check is to see if you can easily take the caseback off the watch.
If you can take it off just using a little air-ball thing – it may be fake as modern Rolex watches require a specialist tool to remove the caseback. Note – This isn’t the case for vintage Rolex watches. Of all the fakes I have ever checked, this is true. I can easily remove the caseback. Whereas I certainly can’t take the caseback off any genuine Rolex watches without my specialist tool.
Last but not least, my fifth check is a bit more specialist. It involves removing the caseback of the watch – which on modern watches requires specialist equipment.
So, this won’t be for everyone and I recommend this is left for watchmakers and professionals with experience. Mistakes and mishandling could be disastrous.
I check to see if the balance wheel on the movement of the watch has little adjusters called Microstella nuts on the balance wheel. These are a highly specialised bit of technology from a world leading company. A fake making factory – that I call a FAKE-TORY simply would not be able to replicate this feature on a clone due to its complexity.
Get ready for me to geek out a bit here….
In 1957, Rolex launched a new generation of movements, the 1500 calibres, equipped with gold Microstella screws on the balance wheel. Today, the screws have been replaced with gold Microstella NUTS. This enhancement in technology offered new performance of the movement. The regulating organ is the beating heart of a movement, and is amongst the most important parts of a watch. It is made up of the escapement and the oscillator, and it defines the speed at which the watch runs. It will come as no surprise that Rolex developed their own solutions in that field.
FREE-SPRUNG BALANCE WHEEL WITH MICROSTELLA NUTS
There are two main ways of regulating a mechanical movement.
The most common way consists of using a regulator mechanism. The active part of the hairspring is lengthened or shortened – sliding the regulator index holding the spring.
The other solution is to use a free-sprung balance – where the length of the hairspring remains the same, but watchmakers change the inertia of the high-precision machined balance wheel.
It is fitted with the two pairs of ‘Microstella’ nuts, and they adjust the nuts affecting the weight balance for improved poise.
This is the high-grade solution used by Rolex and it’s super-advanced because free-sprung balances improve precision by eliminating certain errors.
Also, they are less affected by impact shocks that might cause the regulator index to move.
These signature Rolex gold adjustment screws allow for precise micro regulation
and adjusting these (always in pairs) toward the inside, reduces the “inertia of the balance” for a rate gain and vice-versa.
If you come across a watch that has coarse engravings, rough edges on any part of their watch… RED FLAG. When trying to spot a fake Rolex, quality will ultimately be the deciding factor, and if there is any aspect of a timepiece short of perfection, you can be confident it is most likely a fake. On the dial, using a eye-glass you can inspect small details that are hard to see with your naked eye. Is the logo well-applied? Is the date perfectly centred?
Is the font smooth and without jagged edges or interruption?
Look at the watch’s hands. Are they smooth and rounded at the ends or are they roughly cut? It’s details like this that often sets the real apart from the fake.
The cyclops lens should be precision applied and is quite a pronounced feature. A fake is likely to have a relatively flat cyclops in comparison.
Look at the finishing of the crown. The craftsmanship should spare no detail. The weight of the watch should be premium. The engraving of the serial number should be sharp, crisp and precision engraved with perfect alignment and spacing. Clean, not messy.
If you are brave enough to look inside at the movement, the same attention to detail goes. You can do a visual inspection of the watch’s movement to an online visual reference check. Do they look the same? A fake will certainly not.
Don’t be fooled by paperwork There seems to be this assumption that if a watch comes with official papers and documents, it must be authentic.
Not only are papers much easier to replicate than watches, but there’s no guarantee that the papers genuinely belong to the watch in question.
Remember, a fake may look a little like a Rolex but it won’t feel like a Rolex and it won’t make you feel like it should. It won’t have the beating heart of a Rolex and it will make you feel like a fake.
Now you’re equipped with some extra knowledge and tools that will help protect you from buying a counterfeit watch and spotting a fake Rolex. These tricks should come in handy for sure.