Is It Real? - Replica Watches
Replica (a "nice" way of saying counterfeit) watches seem to be everywhere. Once found only at swap-meets, flea markets, and street-corners, these watches are now everywhere. Go to your favourite search engine and type in "rolex replica" and see just how many thousands of sites you find. Online auctions have also added to the spread of fakes, and often true counterfeits.
A "Real" Replica
There are genuine replicas in the watch world. These include watches that are "re-issues" of models from the past. Companies like Hamilton do this fairly frequently. The picture above shows an original Hamilton Ventura from the late 1950s and a current re-issue. The face, case, and overall look of the watch are virtually identical to the original. The "guts" have been updated to include a new quartz-regulated movement as opposed to the original electric movement. Recently, Doxa has re-issued a limited number of dive watches that are virtual replicas of their orange-faced diver from the 1960s.
Legitimate replicas and re-issues do exist, but are not the intended topic here, I just wanted to be clear on my terms.
A "Fake" Watch vs. "Fake" Rolex
Again, just to be clear, a fake watch would be something that looks like a watch, but isn't. It wouldn't function. A watch can be a fake Rolex and still be a real watch. Sometimes (on very rare occasions) it can even be a pretty good watch. so, when I use "fake" I mean a "real" timekeeping watch that isn't the brand it appears to be.
Counterfeit = Misrepresented
This is the "worst case" situation when talking about replica watches - a true counterfeit. A watch being represented by the seller as something that it's not. As it happens, the one pictured above is the real thing. I am frequently asked to render a go or no-go opinion on watches from online auctions. I'll relate a representational situation: A client calls and says he needs me to look at a watch quickly to determine if it is genuine. The client comes to my office with an alleged Rolex Submariner in a box, with papers. He says he needs an answer quickly because he only has five days to return the watch. The box and papers look good, and the watch meets my external examination as far as being genuine is concerned. I take the back of the case off, and there sits a cheap Chinese-made movement. I'm glad for my client because he says he can return this obviously counterfeit watch. I hear back in a couple of weeks from a very distraught person who wants to know what he should do with the "piece of s*!t watch" that he's stuck with. He's really upset because the seller PROMISED he could return it and is now not even responding to emails. As might be expected, my client bought the watch through an online auction, paid in cash via Western Union, and has no information about the seller other than an email address. Even the return address on the packaging the watch arrived in is bogus. My client is out almost $1,000.
It's shocking for me to think of how often this happens. In my opinion, it comes down to being "blinded" to a set of warning signs by the desire to get a deal that really is too good to be true.
If you want a genuine watch, be prepared to pay (at least close to) the going rate. Buy from a reputable dealer and have your purchase independently verified.
There are some counterfeits out there that are really hard to spot. I can think of one Rolex Submariner fake that very nearly fooled me. Everything was as is should be, even the movement appeared genuine. It was only through partial disassembly that I was able to verify that the movement was a (very, very good) Chinese copy of a Rolex movement. This is certainly not the general rule with fakes. It's hard to imagine someone putting the expense into a fake that this particular watch obviously had, especially when it's so easy to make huge amounts of money on cheap fakes.
The "Swiss-Made" Replica/Fake
I can't even count the number of sellers (mostly online) claiming to have "Real Swiss-Made Replicas." These watches are touted as being "virtually identical to the real thing for $1000s less" and sometimes even as being "impossible to tell from the original."
The Bad News
In many years of examining these "Swiss-Made" replicas...... NONE OF THEM were actually made in Switzerland. NONE, not a single one. But, but, but, they PROMISED! OK, let's think about this, these people are selling a product that by it's very nature is a misrepresentation, to say nothing of illegal. On what basis do you expect honesty? But, but, but, they charge almost $1,000 for one, they couldn't do that if they weren't really Swiss. They can do it, because people are willing to pay it. Let's look at what you may get for your $1,000.
First, here's a picture of a genuine Rolex movement:
Here's a photo, taken from a watch brought to me by a client, purchased from a well-know online replica store. He paid $850 for this watch:
The watch looked pretty good from the outside, the face was correct, even the font on the date display was correct. The watch was represented by the seller as "Swiss-Made" and, of course, it wasn't. "CHINA" is clearly stamped on the rotor of the, pretty cheap, movement. A small disc of adhesive paper was stuck onto a gear to represent the genuine Rolex colouring. The inside of the case had Chinese stampings on it.
My client sent this watch back to the seller, via insured Priority Mail. After weeks of emails, he was told that they couldn't give him a refund because the watch had been opened, voiding the warranty. Of course they only knew this because my client told them that the watch had been inspected. He was able to get his money back from his credit card company, ONLY BECAUSE HE COULD PROVE HE RETURNED IT. This is a big "gotcha" with a lot of these online sales. If there's no address to ship back to, and no proof of return, you will not get any help from your credit card company.
I am sure most of the people who buy from these places take the watch at face value and the online seller makes a whole bunch of money. This watch could not have cost them more than $50, if that, and the got $850 for it. It did look to be a decently made case, band and face, so I suppose most people would take the "Swiss" part on faith. The thing is, for a LOT LESS then $850, they could have purchased any of a number of watches (Citizen, Seiko, Charles Hubert, Tauchmeister, even Invicta) that would have been a better product, especially over time.
Yes, It Does Happen
There are a few, VERY, VERY FEW, replica watches that actually do have Swiss movements in them. Even these are made in Asia and the rest of the components are of Asian origin.
The above picture is from a replica Submariner that I examined for a friend. The watch was very well made, of good quality components. Imagine my surprise when I opened the case and saw.... A REAL SWISS MOVEMENT. Yup, inside the well-made case was an ETA 2836, and it wasn't just slapped in there either.
This watch was put together by someone who knew what they were doing. It's got a good Swiss movement and will likely work quite well for many years. So? How about the money???? This watch was acquired for $425. Yes, it was an online auction, and yes, it was misrepresented as a genuine Rolex, but at that price...... This is THE EXCEPTION, not the rule, and the vast majority of people who buy "high end" replicas are NOT getting their money's worth.
Japanese or Italian Models
In my experience, there is no such thing. The VAST majority of of these watches contain inexpensive Chinese movements. I have NEVER seen an "Italian" replica that contained a single Italian or European component. A few, very few, have Miyota movements in them, usually the Miyota 8215. Miyota is part of Citizen and they make a fine movement for the money. This movement is WIDELY used by other watch companies including Charles Hubert, Aeromatic, Tauchmeister, Elgin, Gruen, Invicta, and so forth. I would say that many of the replicas sold as "High End Swiss" actually contain this movement. Again, why would you believe anything claimed on these websites and auctions?
A lot of often-faked watches are chronographs in their genuine form: Rolex Daytona, Omega Speedmaster, Breitling Navitimer, etc. It's usually pretty easy to spot these fakes as the chronograph functions DON'T WORK AS INTENDED or the movement is quartz, which means a fake right away. There is no such thing as a genuine quartz Daytona, sorry. The most common situation is that the replica will have a mechanical movement, but the subdials that are supposed to display chronograph functions are actually small calendar wheels showing the "day" or "date" and the pushers that should start, stop, and reset the chronograph simply adjust these calendar displays.
Again, there are quite a few claimed "Swiss-Made" versions out there. They usually claim to have a Valjoux 7750 or 7751 movement. This is a very nice movement and lots of my favourite watches utilize this robust "engine", but it is seldom actually used in a replica watch. I have looked at about a dozen of these watches, and only ONE actually had a Valjoux 7750 in it. THE VAST MAJORITY of these claimed "Swiss-Made" functioning chronographs have an Asian movement in them, as pictured below:
The client who brought in this watch paid $1,400 for it and thought he was getting a Swiss-made replica. The movement is Asian and other components are Asian, but this doesn't mean cheap. In this case, Everything about the watch was well done: the movement, the case, the bracelet, the face, everything. It's a good watch and will likely work just fine for several years. That's not the point. The point is that it IS NOT Swiss-Made, DOES NOT contain a Swiss movement, and is certainly not worth anything like $1,400. I would say $500 tops. I showed this client a less-than $500 Aeromatic automatic chronograph with a titanium case and he just about burst into tears.
Where Can One Buy a Decent Replica?
In the first place, you shouldn't buy one. Not only are the odds stacked HEAVILY against you as far as getting anything decent goes, you can get much better watches for your money. There are watches out there (older Invicta models come to mind) that look a LOT like a Rolex Submariner, are actually made with Swiss parts, have a warranty, and cost $300 - $500. Another example? Looking for something like a Rolex Presidential? Look at the Ernest Borel Nobel Series or a Sandoz. They've got "the look" and are actually very well-made watches with wonderful Swiss movements.
In the second place, even on-line sources that deliver a good, fairly priced product, may not be there for future needs, or may not be there at all. I have heard of MANY websites that were reported to be shipping very high quality watches one week and then absolute junk the next.
The links below will take you to Adobe Acrobat™ files about specific watches that I have examined.
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Last modified: January 10, 2013