I begin this article with a small confession. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it is an example of how easy it is to be tricked. It was probably around 2003 when I started searching for an Oyster bracelet for my Rolex Datejust (which came on a Jubilee bracelet). I quickly found one on eBay and, after doing a quick feedback check on the seller, I decided to hit the “Buy Now” button.
I don’t recall the exact price but it was reasonable enough, certainly not so cheap that it was “too good to be true.” After receiving the bracelet, I almost immediately discovered that it was a counterfeit. If I had only done my homework, I would have known that the clasp codes were incorrect and that the reference number was engraved in the wrong location on the bracelet. Essentially, I paid for my lesson by buying this counterfeit bracelet. No more impulsive “Buy Now” clicks unless I am absolutely sure everything is correct.
There is another article on Watchtime.com, “Buyer Beware”, which is an interesting read, but mainly focused on the topic of how counterfeit watches pose a potential risk for the watch industry. In this article, I would like to put the focus more on the buyers of counterfeit watches or — even worse – the so-called “Frankenwatches.”
Many buyers of cheap, counterfeit watches are simply people who would love to own a Rolex but have a budget of about $25. They know they are buying a fake watch; they have no intention of buying the real thing. And the watch will probably go well with their fake Louis Vuitton bag and Hermès belt (people still wear these things?).
So let’s skip that discussion as well. You and I are not in this category and probably never will be. Fake watches are for fake people.
Let’s make a distinction between counterfeit watches and Frankenwatches as well. A counterfeit watch – or bracelet, as I mentioned in my small introduction – is a complete fake. Nothing is genuine about the watch. Some makers of counterfeit watches are quite good these days, which means they make them out of decent stainless steel, get most of the little details correct, and perhaps even provide a fake box and fake papers. Be very careful about those. Two things will probably give away it is fake: 1.) The price. It is probably too good to be true. 2.) The movement. There will be some other things as well, mainly in the details of the watch. So either make sure you are able to verify whether there is valid movement inside or study all the details of the watch to be sure. Ideally, you would bring a similar watch with you that you know to be genuine.
Frankenwatches are another thing, and in my opinion, even more dangerous. A Frankenwatch is a watch that consists of (mainly) original and genuine parts but they are either not period-accurate or did not originally come with that specific timepiece. An example would be a Rolex Submariner from 1965, with a movement from a more recent Rolex watch Rolex (maybe not even a Submariner), a wrong bracelet, a bezel inlay from a later model, and an aftermarket plexiglas crystal. This, or another mix of ingredients, can make it hard to determine whether a watch is genuine or not.
In both cases, you need some self-education to avoid buying either a counterfeit watch or a Frankenwatch. The level of education varies, of course, and also depends on whether there is a lot of documentation on a brand or specific watch, or whether there is little or none.
The easiest way to prevent yourself from buying a counterfeit or Frankenwatch is by going to an authorized dealer and buying a new watch. However, that doesn’t solve the issues in the market of pre-owned and vintage watches. Some discontinued and vintage watches are so high in demand – with corresponding price tags – that it also attracts scum. Scum that tries to make a fortune from of the passionate collectors and buyers of pre-owned and vintage watches that think they have found their Horological Holy Grail.
Some watch brands are eager to characterize the internet as a bad place, more or less the sewer of society. We know better, of course. This view, in my opinion, mainly comes from brands that do not have a clear strategy or vision regarding online sales yet and use it as an excuse to avoid the discussion. However, other brands are very helpful if you need more information about a discontinued watch or even a vintage watch. Some will inform you whether the parts are original, and sometimes may even offer to do a check-up on the watch. In the latter case, however, this of course means that you’ve already bought it. If a lot of money is involved, a seller might agree to have the watch checked for authenticity at a brand’s service center. Unfortunately, John Mayer came to this decision a bit too late, but it is how he found out some of his watches were no good.
Buying a genuine watch is a matter of doing the homework. Whether you do the research yourself or would rather “borrow” a bit of knowledge from other collectors or sources, it will prevent you from making many mistakes. From rather stupid ones (like my own fake bracelet) to ones that were about to remain unexposed if you didn’t made that extra mile. This rule does not only apply to internet sales, of course, but also to pre-owned and vintage watches sold by traditional brick-and-mortar shops and auctions (yes, people, Frankenwatches and counterfeits even show up there once in a while).
Common sense and education is key when it comes to purchasing a watch from any channel other than an authorized dealer or brand boutique. There are some really great books out there that can make you a virtual expert on this subject matter, brand forums with a lot of knowledgeable contributors and of course various watch blogs that have covered a lot of different of wristwatches. Absorb as much information as you can and do not forget to ask about a second opinion when you are in doubt. If you have any tips to share, please leave a comment below.
(Photo of the fake Rolex with cheap Chinese-made mechanical movement by Suisse Watch Service.)
This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.
I would rather have a real mid end vintage watch like a benrus (have a few in my collection) than a fake Rolex because I cannot afford a real one. I do not support lowlifes that copy watches !!
Wow. Great collection of watches. I really like watches.Rolex brand is one of my favourites brands.
Thanks for providing great information about watches
These days with the lots of online dealerships how can you be certain that you will get the real deal?
I found a Seiko on a very good price because they made a 26 % discount, but now it is in the to good to be true category.
I decided that battling dishonest vintage watch dealers was simply too much trouble after paying for one too many Rolexes that were assembled to appeal to my desire to own interesting examples of that worthy brand. I recall famously a converted lady’s pocketwatch that had its dial rotated with lugs attached to hold a strap and fitted with a old Rolex movement that received a vote of confidence from a respected Swiss horologist many years ago when a friend was determined to source insurance for a piece that the expert considered “museum calibre”! I was aquainted with a local vintage dealer who detailed the entire process of creating that collectible! I buy a watch when I feel a desire for an addition from authorized dealer with a decent reputation.
Buy new from authorized dealers or mfg direct. End of authentication issues!
I ABSOLUTELY AGREE WITH ROBERT. IT MAY SOUND, WELL, TOO SIMPLISTIC BUT IF YOU ARE GOING TO INVEST A REASONABLE SUM OF MONEY INTO A PARTICULAR BRAND OF WATCH AND YOU WANT IT TO REFLECT YOUR PERSONNA OR YOUR FLAIR, MAKE SURE IT IS THE REAL McCOY!!! IF YOU CAN’T AFFORD A ROLEX, WELL, YOU MAY TRY FOR TUDOR, THE AFFORDABLE YOUNGER BROTHER OF ROLEX, OR MANY OF THE MORE ECONOMIC AND STILL NICE BRANDS LIKE OMEGA, ORIS, TAG HEUER, HAMILTON, MIDO AND OTHERS. IF YOU CAN’T AFFORD A PATEK PHILLIPPE OR A PIAGET, DON’T KILL YOURSELF OVER IT!!! LIFE IS TOO PRECIOUS AND YOU MAY STRIKE GOLD AT THE LOTTO EVENTUALLY, BUT A FAKE……COME ON, LOVE YOURSELF!!!
Thanks good article, one has to be careful it happened to me in LA while I was looking in 1996 for Sub blue face First it had no holes on the side for bracelet, 2) blue colour on Bazel did not match with dial. 3) gold was little to yellow compare to my wife’s date just . Price was 3/4 of new one . I am glad I did not buy, the best walk I ever took with my wife without that watch . One should listen to his wife some times.
Very helpful, for Omega, do you know if there is a book to become more savvy on the brand? Thank you
Omega published, Omega A Journey Through Time. We may still have a copy of it for sale at 1-888-289-0038 or email@example.com or we may be sold out by now. As far as I know the book is out of print. Whne I spoke to Omega a couple of years ago they said they were going to start work on an updated version, but I have no idea if they have or not. Cheers, Steve
I found the article helpful
I’m quite new to watch collecting and appreciation and knew about fakes (there’s a lot of fake in the world) but I’d never considered the “frankenwatch”. It may be more expensive but I’ll be sticking with certified retailers. Interesting reading
Buy the seller first not the watch. Some sellers said that their watch was overhauled when in fact it wasn’t. A lot of vintage watch sellers are mostly watch brokers not watchmakers.Check the feedback and the warranty. Also if you are buying a vintage watch , check the spare parts availability because for some movements spare parts availability is poor.I mostly buy vintage timepieces not modern ones, I have used chrono 24, two negative experiences when with an american selelr and another one with a so called highly reputed swiss seller, the watch I recieved weren’t overhauled properly and I paid a little bit too much. My first positive experience was with an italier seller who sold me an outstanding valjoux 72 diving chrono at a bargain price in nos condition.
I bought a Chopard Mille Miglia 1997 on… eBay. That’s bad I know. But I dis the “homework” as far as I could. Incidentally, a detail bothered me: the anniversary date 1927-1997 that I could see on similar models on Internet wasn’t written on the dial of the watch I considered to buy. So I wrote to a guy who has the exact same model, frankly asking if he was sure hits watch was a genuine one, and I asked to Chopard too, with the serial number. It appeared I could buy the watch, so I did, then I sens it directly to Chopard for a real check and the upkeep. And after all, I have a genuine Chopard of 1997 that works perfectly and the boutique even gave me a box for free. (And Sorry y if m’y English is not that genuine ;-) )
The love of knowledge about watches and also languages I have a pocket watch that I would like to know so mobile who do I take it to It wasn’t father I’m 69—
The deception of copies sold as genuine pieces is terrible. At least with cheap copies you know exactly what you are getting, and provided you don’t subsequently pass it off as genuine no harm is done as you were never in the market for the real thing in the first place.
An amusing story: I was on the beach in Spain some 15 years ago and had lost my watch just the previous day. So when a watch seller came by selling “genuine fake Rolexes” for 40 euros I bought a Submariner. I still have it, it still works and it remains to this day the most accurate Rolex that has ever passed through my workshop!
Interesting article. I have bought many mid range watches on ebay and a few High end also. The main problem is now, the “High end” replica/fake wstches are that good you literally can’t really tell. Omega copies even have Sapphire anti reflective crystal, top end stainless case and almost perfect bracelets!!!!
I’ve found Omega/Breitling customer service in UK to be really helpful. Before buying, i check serial number from pics, contact the above and they will say if it corresponds to the model etc. I know some top end fakes even have serial numbers lazer etched, but this is the exception i expect.
CAN ANYONE ACCESS OR DOES ROLEX PUBLISH THE CURRENT LIST OF STOLEN SERIAL NUMBER ROLEX’S???
Yes if you call Rolex they will tell you.
I own an original Rolex GMT 1, and have had many Rolexes, IWC’s, JLC’s, Omega’s, etc, etc over the years.
Even I nearly got caught with a JLC from a ‘reputable’ second hand dealer, with papers and COA.
It was only after I did some digging did I find the COA was issued by a jeweller (not a watchmaker) connected to the business, and that the serial number on the back of the watch came from a different model (with a different shaped back plate- no chance of it fitting this particular watch).
When I quizzed the jeweller, they admitted the watch ‘looked’ genuine to them, and issued the COA to the pawnbroker, for the fear of not issuing it meant losing the dealer’s future business.
As with everything- self education and buyer beware are the keys to not getting swindled.
i also support the ‘100% positive’ feedback advice on ebay. Make sure any seller has 100% positive, and have gained it from selling high end products, not buttons or the like : )
The problem with the eBay system is that if
You give a negative feedback to someone;
They can retaliate and give you a negative
feedback. So, if you care about your own
Feedbacks – your hands are tied! Only if you are a one time user and really don’ care can you slam a bad guy. Kind of self serving for ebay.
I purchased what I thought was a, “Real,” Piaget Chronograph from the 1950’s. The seller had perfect 100% feedback, but when I got the watch I had a feeling the it wasn’t real. Long story short…bought a book about Piaget watches from that era and none of the watches depicted a movement like the one in mine. After further investigation I found that it had a Landron 48 Suisse movement in it. Took awhile, but at least I got my money back. Unfortunately, eBay and Paypal could care less about if it was a genuine watch. Buyer beware when working within this realm!!!
I found using a very reputable used watch retailer such as Watchuwant in the U.S.A..they can source and check authenticity before you buy saving you time and money buying scrap…or Chrono 24 in Europe where you can compare and find best prices from proper dealers..liked the article…Colin..
Uh, Chrono 24?
I wouldn’t trust them unless the listing was from an authorized dealer.
I know of at least one dealer (probably more) they allow to list on Chrono 24 that has a horrible reputation. The complaints I have seen for this dealer include outright fakes, watches sent that are not as presented, failure to issue refunds, not sending product, you get the idea. This seller doesn’t offer a big discount so they do not fall into the too good to be true category.
The best advice I can give is if you are using Chrono 24 is to do your research. Run a search on the seller, look for reviews, if there are a lot of bad reviews, don’t order from them.
I’ve always enjoyed reading your articles about watches and this article is very relevant for all collectors. Because of all the pitfalls in buying pre-owned watches,i have up till now refrained from buying any of them.
My concern is that some of us simply do not have the time to properly varify if a specific watch is authentic,and i do not have a solution to this!
Another concern is that the prices of new watches have increased a lot over the past 2-3years(so it seems to me) and this must unfortunately boost the market for counterfeits! Maybe the watch companies should look at that if and where they can.
Rudolf de Bruin.
I buy on eBay only with dealers rated at 100% and stared. I still click on the dealer,s name looking for any negatives. If even one negative I don’t buy. Presently I’m having a ninety percent satisfaction rate.
Thanks for warning others. I learned my great lesson years ago with a Mont Blanc pen. Fortunately I got my money back that time. I have bought a few second hand watches but always from a reputable retailer. I made some really good buys from one nation chain back when they briefly carried previously owned watched.
The other thing people have to understand is that it isn’t limited to just expensive watches. I was in picking up some watches that needed batteries at my local watch makers shop the other weekend when somebody came in and wanted to sell a used Seiko. A few minutes later the propriertor, a master watchmaker btw, came back and pronounced it a fake. A fake Seiko? Wasn’t even a Grand Seiko or Spring Drive or even a Velatura, just a run of the mill one. His assistant who checked me out a few minutes later related how they had another one come through the shop a few weeks earlier. I would have never thought anybody would knock off a Seiko. Why?
Be careful out there.
There are several well known sellers of fake watches out there on the internet, some even with Amazon shops, so best you look for any negative reviews before jumping on what appears to be a bargain.
u wan buy fake wolex? 30 dollar!
I would love to own a real Rolex Daytona ! But, alas I am not wealthy. I would not be interested in a cheap knockoff, but I have seen some replica Rolex that have Swiss Eta’s in them. They are not cheap,
but they ARE FAKE. I do have some older Zenith autos, a couple of Breitlings, including a Blackbird Super
quartz, a Superocean 42. Having knowledge is the key to what is real and not.
I find your article very interesting. In my opinion, the main problem is that watch buyers generally are NOT experts identifying fake watches; even if documentation may be found on the websites of some brands. Excellent quality fakes from Asia are fooling even experienced Jewelers. The best that some Watch Associations can do is to reiterate that one must buy from an authorized dealer and ask for the paperwork (but how do you know the paperwork isn’t also fake). They even scan the internet for fakes and try to identify brand-price relationships that sound “too good to be true”. It is an inefficient methodology which does not identify even 1% of the 40M+ counterfeit luxury watches produced each year; and occasionally eve leads to false accusations of wrong doing.
Would it not be great if there existed a solution which helped all watch buyers to identify in real time if the watch they were about to buy, in the boutique or over the Internet, were real or fake, legitimate or stolen? The Chrono Registry, independent of watch brands and jewelers and cooperates with Police worldwide. Even if you had a watch stolen years ago, you could register it now with pictures and serial number (before someone else does) and improve your chances of finding it; no matter where in the world it might be. No lists are published but the system matches up lost serial numbers with those being checked.
I believe every watch manufacture should have its own database where a client can register the watches’ model number and serial number along with your email address, paperwork and your name and maybe address as well. None of this information is to be seen by any person or the new purchaser of a watch except for the manufacturers use only. At least there will be a trail of all correct information about the watch when it was sold. Sort of like transfer papers when a car is sold!! But no government stamp duty thanks!! This would mean every watch produced must also come with a model number and serial number etched into the case and somewhere on the movement as well obviously matching the paperwork In the case a timepiece is ever sold the new purchaser will need to enter the new details on the manufacturers website to authenticate the sale. This will need to be performed at the same time that the money is handed over.
If a watch is lost or stolen it can be reported on the manufactures site and if a potential thief tries to register the new piece, they will raise suspicion.
Admittedly I have a watch that is not hard to get either new or in the aftermarket, a 42mm Omega Planet Ocean. But it was my first premium watch purchase. Of course I still wanted to save money so I looked into aftermarket options, even met with a seller face to face, inspected the watch which had all the authorized dealer cards and was $1000 less then new. I was 99.999% certain it was authentic and a nice deal. Nonetheless I still ended up buying it directly from an authorized dealer because for my first nice watch I wanted to be certain it was authentic and in the end I also wanted it to have my own “story” if you will, from day 1.
Great first “proper” watch to own.
At one time I did work for Cartier and the then president said the biggest concern Cartier had when it came to imitations was not cheap knock-offs but quality knock-offs that were really good watches and would last. People with cheap ones knew they had cheap imitations and eventually some of them would buy the real thing. The people who had been sold quality knock-offs often didn’t know they were not the real thing until they took them in for repairs.
Very true! It is about these watches that are being so close to the original and also sold as being the original. Same goes for the so-called Frankenwatches.
What does “fratello” mean? It doesn’t appear in either my Australian Macquarie Dictionary or the US-centric online dictionary.
Fratello is Italian for ‘brother’, which is my last name in Dutch (Broer). When I started Fratello Watches blog in 2004 I decided that ‘Broer’ is a bit difficult to pronounce in some languages. Fratello has the same meaning, but is being pronounced the same in most countries. As simple as that :)