What do I look for when trying to determine if a watch is authentic or not? Quite a few things to be honest, but some clues are much more apparent than others. This is certainly far from a comprehensive article, one could probably write a veritable anthology on spotting fakes. That being said there are some dead giveaways when it comes to counterfeiting.
First things first, take the transaction at face value. Does this deal seem too good to be true? It probably (and usually) is. But sometimes you get lucky. I highly recommend not relying on luck too heavily, especially when we are talking 4 and 5 figure dollar amounts. Do you know who you’re purchasing the watch from? Do a quick Google search (on both their real name and username if it’s a web/forum transaction). Ask if they are reputable on the forums, or if other users have a history with them. If you’re going through an authorized dealer obviously these concerns are minimized. But it doesn’t hurt to ask if the watch has been opened by a watchmaker, or what else would help appease the customer. At Govberg, we’re authorized dealers for the vast majority of the watches we resell as pre-owned. We also have our own watch repair company with Swiss trained watchmakers who authenticate our watches. There’s some peace of mind in knowing that we would never sell anything that wasn’t 100% legitimate. Not only would it be a huge ordeal with the customer, but we would potentially ruin our reputation with the brand we misrepresented.
Looking at the Dial
Moving on to the watch itself, start with dial. How does the logo look? Crisp, clean, and applied properly? Is it positioned correctly on the dial? The internet is your friend as a reference here, you can use reputable sources to investigate what the correct version is. Past auction records are also a good source of correct model images. The lettering on the dial is just as important as the logo. Are the edges of the letters sharp? Is everything spaced and aligned in a manner consistent with what one would expect from an obsessive watchmaker? For a lot of brands there are standalone sites that are dedicated to cataloging the variations and iterations of specific models. The patina on the markers should also match the overall condition of the watch. If the hands look flawless, but there’s some water damage on the dial, you can assume the hands have been replaced. This wouldn’t necessarily make the watch fake, you just want to make sure it isn’t being misrepresented. If the watch’s serial or reference number is intact, visible, and unaltered, you can reference the production time frame with the appropriate configuration of the reference from that period. When you Google a vintage Submariner, you could scroll through the minutiae for hours on end.
Now take a look at the case and bracelet (or strap and buckle). Does it feel right? Do all the parts fit together properly and have significant weight and sturdy construction? Are there any stamps on the buckle or elsewhere, like on the end-links? Do they look deep enough, or have they been cheaply etched? The screws most likely have Loctite or a similar substance on them if they’re relatively current. The watch overall should have the proper finishing; a mix of satin finish and high polish, expertly done and on the right sections of the watch and bracelet/links.
Additional Identifying Factors
In addition to the small details in the dial and specific materials used in the case and bracelet, you’ll want to listen to the watch if you are able to see it in person. Can you hear every tick? Luxury watches are typically made with extremely smooth mechanisms. This means that you shouldn’t hear the watch tick. If you do hear ticking, the watch may not be what it is represented as and could either be a Frankenstein or fake. While you have the watch in front of you, you’ll want to look at the movement. Counterfeit watches will never have as good of a movement as the real, typically in-house made, movements. This is where previous sales from reputable sources also come in handy when you’re referencing pictures on the internet. If you’re not sure what you’re looking at, you can consult with a watch expert.
While there is so much that goes into spotting a fake watch, this a starting point. Remember to conduct your research and work with reputable dealers. Feel free to also ask for more pictures of the watch from different angles or lighting sources to get the best possible information without physically having the watch in front of you. If you’re lucky enough to be able to see the watch in person before purchasing, don’t be afraid to ask questions or even ask to have a watchmaker look at the mechanics inside the case. Hopefully this serves as a stepping stone in your quest to acquire the perfect timepiece. Happy hunting!