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by Nick Payne July 23, 2020 4 min read

Purchasing a Rolex, Tudor, or Panerai from someone other than an Authorized Dealer can be a nerve-racking process.  With a thriving, global secondary market, it can be very tempting to find your next watch somewhere other than a jewelry store.  In this guide, we’ll walk through the five best ways to authenticate a high end Swiss watch.

Tip Number 1: No Single Guarantee

Many manufacturers, none more so than Rolex, have increasingly added difficult-to-manufacture features to their watches in order to slow the production of counterfeits.  Some examples include engraving on the rehaut (the metal ring around the watch dial) and laser-etching on the sapphire crystal itself.  Despite the complexity of these features, counterfeit producers have been able to replicate them.  

And that brings us to our first tip: No individual feature is a guarantee of authenticity. 

Gone are the days where one can state “this is real because of the weight,” “this is real because of the laser etched crown,” or even “this is real because it has a sweeping second hand.”  From a general perspective, a potential buyer will need to seek deeper nuance.  The process of authenticating is stacking positive attributes of the deal while looking for a dealbreaker.

how to spot a fake rolex
Engraved rehaut on a Rolex Submariner ref. 116610 courtesy of @rolexdiver

Tip Number 2: Seller

The adage “buy the seller, not the watch” is more true than ever.  And in fact that is our second tip: Buy the entire deal, not the watch.

When viewed in its entirety, the odds are better when you are buying from a reputable seller, when the watch includes boxes and papers, and if the watch includes the original sales receipt.  Good sellers with a strong history can still make mistakes, and having paperwork increases your odds.  Though it may irk some sellers, a few payment options (such as PayPal) can offer buyer protection.

Tip Number 3: Another Watch

Our third tip is:Side-by-side comparison. The single most important way to authenticate is to have another watch to compare, especially of that exact reference. Whether in person or in photos, a known-good baseline will help you with fine details such as finishing and color.  Many “tells” of a counterfeit watch are so nuanced that they are only apparent when viewed side-by-side.

how to spot a fake rolex
Check out these side-by-side photos of a Rolex GMT Master II
, but one of them is fake. Can you tell?  Have you made your guess? The one on the left is fake.  The hole in the crown is slightly too large, and the edges of the hour hand lack some of the crispness of the genuine article.

Tip Number 4: Functionality

If your potential purchase has any functionality beyond time, date, and chronograph, you’re potentially in luck.  As of this writing,most counterfeit watch complications operate differently (or not at all) compared to their functional brethren.

Specifically watches such as the Rolex GMT, Yachtmaster II, Skydweller, or other jumping-hour flyer GMTs are strong candidates.  Fake versions will either not have the correct functionality, or operating the functionality will be markedly different.

Tip Number 5: Check the Details

Using good photos or even better a loupe, you should perform a methodical check of the watch for inaccuracies (if it is a cheap fake) or poor finishing ( in the case of a high-end fake).  Here’s a quick checklist.

    • Movement: If it is an automatic movement, confirm a smooth sweep of the second hand.  Pull the crown, use the functionality, note how the movement feels to operate.
    • Crystal: Check the shape, anti-reflective coating (if applicable), and laser etched crown (if applicable)
    • Rehaut:  Check the rehaut for height, thickness, and engraving (if applicable)
    • Bezel: Color and material are good initial checks.  If it is a Rolex, the size and shape of the pearl for older models, and the platinum engraving for newer models, are important.  If it is a machined bezel, assess the quality of the machining against a known-good example.
    • Crown and Crown Guard Shape: The size and shape of the crown guards are frequently close but not perfect.  If it is a machined crown, this is a prime opportunity to spot sloppy machining.
    • Font Size, Color, and Crispness: Dial printing is not an easy task, and sloppy print is a good giveaway.
    • Hand Stack: While many high end fakes will not exhibit this flaw, be sure to compare the order of hands as they stack on the cannon pinion.
    • Hands: Under magnification, check the crispness of the hands.  Low-grade manufacturing often exhibits rough edges.
    • Bracelet End Link Fitment: How tightly does the bracelet end link fit to the watch case?
    • Clasp Printing and Operation: Review font printing on the clasp and assess fitment and operation of the clasp.
    • Movement: Should you have the opportunity, a look at the movement will help you build your case on authenticity.

Buying a watch on the secondary market can be a great opportunity to track down your hard-to-find grail.  But with that opportunity comes risk.  I’ll leave you with advice that I was given as a child: If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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Nick Payne
Nick Payne



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