In 2019, I visited Hong Kong which is known as the “watch capital of Asia.” At least, that’s what I heard in my neck of the woods. As a watch person, I was excited to visit watch shops and to look at what was available on the pre-owned side of things. While strolling the hilly and narrow streets of the city, I would often come across tiny stalls where elderly gentlemen would sell pre-owned Rolexes. They looked legit from what I could tell and not being a Rolex expert. I also visited brick-and-mortar boutiques and was surprised that they often had all new Rolex sports models available.
A fact that was odd since the Swiss brand already had one-year waitlists in 2019 for most stainless steel sports models. Then, it all made sense. I noticed that many people in Hong Kong wore Rolexes, from elderly people doing Tai Chi in the neighborhood park to food cart vendors to museum security guards. It was clear that they weren’t all wearing Rolexes but high-end replicas. After this trip, I started noticing how many people around me wear Submariners. Not that it is impossible to do so, however I found it odd to see people from all age groups wearing a modern Sub, again knowing how long the waitlists are. Maybe I’m mistaken here.
In this article, therefore, we’re going to discuss the current situation of Rolex replicas and what you can do to ensure you are buying an authentic watch.
Rolex Replicas Have Become Really Good
Before we continue, allow me to make something clear: we, at Everest, do not support selling or buying replica Rolexes or replicas of other brands for that matter. However, we are watch enthusiasts too—not to say “nuts”—so we are concerned about the fact that replicas have become really, really good. I saw fake Rolexes being sold in random jewelry stores in New York City when I used to live there, and I could easily tell they weren't real. The proportions were off, the finish looked ghastly, and the prices were naturally too good to be true. (I mean, a $250 Submariner? Come on!)
But the ones I saw in Hong Kong looked good from afar, and those which pop on the internet now appear, from a digital distance, as the real deal too. Whoever makes replicas nowadays has been continuously improving their manufacturing methods and spent extra time studying the tiny details which used to make it easy to spot a fake one from far away. For example, the Rolex Coronet used to look smudgy and just pasted on the dial of replicas, or there would be dust particles inside the dial and the hands would clearly show rough finishing with the naked eye.
But now replicas have become of such high quality that there exist different tiers, with some costing upward of $1,000.
How to Spot a Fake Rolex
The easiest thing to do is to only buy from certified dealers whether it be brick-and-mortar stores or online. And if you buy second hand from an individual, get the watch certified by a Rolex authorized dealer or an experienced watchmaker. A friend of mine bought a used Rolex and was able to do just that. (Any reluctance from the seller to go through this process is an immediate red flag.) There are websites also which guarantee the authenticity of the watch and which have gained a solid reputation for selling real Rolexes. Do your research and ask around before making a purchase, especially on the second hand market.
Now, from what I could tell doing my research is that there are a few ways to spot a fake Rolex which you should be aware of. And this applies to models from the Swiss brand currently being offered, not vintage ones. It seems that the dishonest people who make replicas only copy modern references. And like the U.S. Mint has to find new ways to make dollar bills harder to counterfeit, Rolex does the same with its watches. Until a few years ago, for example, Rolex didn’t put what looks like a hologram of the coronet logo at the center of the dial. Now they do and replicas also come with that feature. That’s what makes it hard to spot replicas.
In any case, the first clue to sort a replica from a real Rolex is the quality of the finish. However, you will have to invest in a loupe to be able to see the details of the dial and hands. Replicas often come with imperfect finishes, for example tiny metal particles sticking out from the hands, rough or uneven edges, and blemishes. The surrounds on the hour markers are thicker than that on the real Rolexes because the replicas use stainless steel while Rolex uses white gold. The finish on the case itself, although they can look identical from afar, show the differences when looking up close. Especially when observing the brushed finishes where the replicas have a rougher finish showing more apparent lines while the brushing on Rolexes truly has a satin aspect.
From a mechanical standpoint, the action of the Glidelock (the tool-less micro-adjustment mechanism found on the Submariner) is rougher and less precise on replicas while it is buttery smooth on the real watches. Similarly, opening and closing the claps also can feel rough on the fake ones, so does unscrewing the crown and setting the date and time. This poor crown action is also linked to the fact that replicas don’t come with Rolex calibers and instead a no-name look-alike. Speaking of the movement, those on replicas won’t be running as well as the real calibers, something that is easy to spot by putting the watch on a time grapher. All Rolex Submariners are chronometer certified and will therefore be accurate and show a healthy amplitude.
As far as I can tell, most replicas found on the market are of the Submariner, and a few of the Explorers 1 and 2. This must be due to the fact that the Submariner is the most sought-after Rolex sports model. And it seems that this kind of article should be updated every so often since replicas are getting better each year. If you can, only buy from authorized dealers or renowned second-hand dealers and not from a random Joe Schmo who isn’t keen on having you show the watch to a watchmaker.
And if you are in doubt, test out how the crown and bracelet work, and buy a loupe to look closely at the finish on the hands and hour markers. Lastly, it seems replicas don’t come with the proper alignment of the word “Rolex” on the rehaut and that Googling whatever serial number the supposedly Rolex comes with, could easily indicate that you are dealing with a fake one. (If your Google search returns any result when looking up the serial number, this means more than one person has the same.)Featured image: www.reddit.com