Fake and Counterfeit Watches
What are counterfeit watches and how to avoid getting burned buying a watch that was not the real thing
- What are fake and counterfeit watches?
- I found a great deal on a luxury watch brand I haven't heard of, is it a counterfeit? << NEW!
- Why aren't fakes stopped by company legal action or international law enforcement?
- Who makes fakes and where do they come from?
- Are there fakes to watch out for with vintage watches? << NEW!
- Why do people buy fakes and what does it say about them? << NEW!
- Where do people buy fakes?
- What should I do if I encounter a fake?
- How do I identify a counterfeit watch?
- How do I avoid mis-identifying a real watch as a fake?
What are fake and counterfeit watches?
Most popular makes of fine watches are prone to having their designs copied by manufacturers of
replica watches. These watches sell from as little as US$10 to several hundred dollars -- but US$100-150
appears to be the most common range. They vary from generic look-alike to exacting reproductions of
the exteriors of the genuine watch. Often, even details such as the manufacturers logo, serial numbers,
and other markings are reproduced.
Quality and durability can vary highly. One Internet site selling replica Omega watches reported
the average life span of many of them to be only 2 to 3 years.
So far, the makers of these watches appear to mainly be making counterfeits of current and recent model
watches. Presumably, there is not a large enough market for fakes of older and vintage watches to make
it worthwhile to pursue.
But also understand that counterfeit watches are not a new concept -- so you may occasionally encounter
fake watches made many years ago. Some of these older fakes were watches of other cheaper brands that were
relabeled by repainting the dial with a different logo and at times even stamping the back or movement
with marks like would have appeared on the other brand.
Possessing such a watch is not illegal. But the maker and sellers of the replicas are usually in violation
of the legal copyrights on the original manufacturer's copyrights and trademarks.
I found a great deal on a luxury watch brand I haven't heard of, is it a counterfeit?
Not necessarily, but they might be luxury watch imposters. Fakes
copy the well known brand names you probably have heard of. But there is
another category of wristwatch products being sold on the Internet and through
magazine ads that are not actually counterfeit--but they are sold using outrageous
misrepresentations and should be equally avoided.
These "luxury watch imposters" are inexpensive watches being misleadingly
represented as if they were fine luxury timepieces. They are sold under their own brand name,
so they are not fakes of another company's brand. But their products are of modest to staggeringly
cheap manufacture and have none of the merits of the fine, expensive brands they allude to.
The typical scam on these are a combination of:
- An impressive Swiss, German or European sounding name.
- An impressive "retail price" or "RRP" (recommended retail price).
- Fancy verbiage that sounds like what a luxury watch brand would say.
- Impressive comparisons of features to those of "other" luxury timepieces.
- A special price you can buy it for that is incredibly below the retail price.
The deception here is that claimed retail price is a complete lie. These watches sell regularly at
prices that are a trivial fraction--often as much as 70-95% off--of their claimed retail value.
How can they sell them so cheap? Simple, they are cheap watches. Ones made to be profitably sold in the
low, usually US$10-75, price range of their actual asking price. Any perception that these luxury
imposters are even remotely worth in the US$250-2500 range is nothing more than pure marketing bravado
and intentional deception.
Consumer protection agencies clearly label such exaggerated retail pricing
as a misleading and deceptive sales tactic. The following is an example from the
United States Federal Trade
"Many members of the purchasing public believe that a
manufacturer's list price, or suggested retail price, is the price at which an article is generally
sold. Therefore, if a reduction from this price is advertised, many people will believe that they are
being offered a genuine bargain. To the extent that list or suggested retail prices do not
in fact correspond to prices at which a substantial number of sales of the article in
question are made, the advertisement of a reduction may mislead the consumer."
Here are some tips on spotting luxury watch imposter brands:
- No real luxury watch sells new for a street, catalog or Internet price of under US$250.
- No real luxury watch sells new for more than 50% off of its genuine retail price--even from the
most aggressive discount dealers.
- No real luxury brands are ever sold at "fire sales," massive inventory clearances or end
of model year closeouts. They are valuable jewelry items that no business ever has to resort to liquidating
at a below-wholesale loss.
- A real luxury brand will be well discussed on the Internet. Do a Google search for the
brand name. If you can't find collectors and owners discussing the merits of the brand, it
is unlikely to be a true luxury brand.
- A real luxury brand will be sold through well known dealers. If you see a brand sold mostly
on auction sites--and never anywhere near it's claimed retail price--it is not a luxury brand.
- Only in rare cases do these ultra-cheap imposter brands have official company websites
that showcase the products. Just because you see a incredibly sophisticated website doesn't ensure that
the brand is actually a valid luxury brand.
Three specific brands known to play the luxury watch imposter game are:
- Klaus Kobec -- Advertises heavily in magazines as being comparable to US$2,000+ watches,
with a retail price of US$900, but can be yours for only US$200.
- Krug Baumen -- Sold on auction sites. Claims "RRP" in the £475-625 (US$900-1,200) range, yet
they routinely sell in the £15-50 (US$30-100) range. Even has an impressive looking official website
for the brand.
- Montre Suisse -- Sold on auction sites especially in the United Kingdom, often in bulk
lots of 5 to 10 pieces. Claims a retail price of £129.99 (approximately US$250), yet are sold in any
quantity you want for less than £5.99 (US$12) each. Ironically, their name translates to "Swiss style."
Ultimately, any deal on a new luxury timepiece that looks too good to be true... is assuredly a
scam. The economics of the manufacturing and selling products make it impossible for new
wristwatches to be sold at 70-95% off of a legitimate retail price. Deceptive retail prices are used
to get buyers excited that they are "saving" hundreds of dollars on an item. An excitement that
causes them to overlook that they are really only purchasing low-end merchandise that is neither a
luxury product nor worth anything more than the dime-store price they actually paid for it.
Why aren't fakes stopped by company legal action or international law enforcement?
Several reasons. One, these sellers are like cockroaches. You stomp one and two more pop out.
The legal costs of pursuing them are practically money flushed down the toilet because it never
stops the problem. The only way to effectively attack the fake market is to cut off their
Asia-based sources -- which requires international cooperation. And frankly right now, the
government and international enforcement agents across the world have more important global
threats to protect their citizens from than just fake watches.
Two, anyone who wants a US$1,000 to US$20,000+ watch and will settle for a US$100 fake of it was
not a serious buyer. They either would never have bought the real thing, or will toy with the
fake and eventually return to their original desire and buy a real one after the brand-name
image makes them feel good, but the fake itself disappoints. So while these products do infringe
on the name brands, they don't really hurt sales, therefore manufacturers do not have a financial
incentive to aggressively pursue them. They tend to do enough that they can prove in any court
cases that do arise that they have enforced their trademarks. But more than that is profitless to them.
And third, where the cheap fake is being sold for a high price as the real thing are cases of
fraud between the buyer and the seller, to be handled by the police and legal system. There is no
reason for the manufacturer of the real thing to get involved. Wasn't their product, wasn't their
dealers, the only connection to them was a forgery.
While most of us dislike the fake wristwatch market, the reality is that the time, money,
resources and incentives to do much seriously about it are just not there. And realize that most of
the people being cheated buying fakes sold as the real thing were playing a risky game -- buying
from questionable or unauthorized sources, ignoring common sense warning signs on an expensive
purchase, merely to get a cheaper price on something that looked like what they wanted. They played
a game and they lost. So my extent of sympathy for those buyers is somewhat limited -- especially to
the point that I do not want manufacturers to raise prices so they can spend the smart watch buyer's
money protecting the foolish watch buyers from their poor shopping decisions.
Who makes fakes and where do they come from?
Thousands of counterfeit luxury watches seized and destroyed by Asian officials [images courtesy CNN Headline News]
Counterfeit watches appear to come mainly from Asian countries. People out to make a quick buck
manufacture these watches--often with either little understanding of or contempt for European or American
copyrights and trademarks they are stealing.
Are there fakes to watch out for with vintage watches?
Yes. Fakes of some sorts have been around for a while. The concept of a watch being totally
faked from scratch is fairly modern--mostly in the past 20 years. But fake older watches exist
and usually fall in one of the following categories:
- A generic make watch doctored up with fake Big Name Brand markings. Most
commonly, someone merely repainted the dial with a Big Name Brand logo. Though occasionally
Big Name Brand markings were etched or stickered on the movement or inside, too. Usually
there is no attempt to match a specific model of Big Name Brand--just to make something else
look like it is part of the Big Name Brand brand.
- A generic make watch doctored up with some genuine Big Name Brand or
look-alike parts added to it. Usually still not trying to exactly replicate a specific Big Name Brand
model, but looking like it is part of the Big Name Brand brand.
- A *genuine* Big Name Brand watch doctored up with genuine Big Name Brand
or lookalike parts to falsely resemble a rarer or more valuable Big Name Brand model. A prime
example of this are fairly common 1960s OMEGA Seamaster 120 watches that someone replaces/repaints the
dial and adds a diver's bezel to make them closely resemble the rare and much more valuable Seamaster
300 of the same time period.
- A *genuine* Big Name Brand watch that the movement failed and was replaced with a
generic movement--because the replacement was not available, was too expensive or to cheat the customer.
Sometimes a watchmaker would etch the Big Name Brand logo on the replacement movement or salvage
the part of the original movement that had the logo or serial number on it and fit it on the replacement
- Modern made fakes from scratch to resemble older collectible models.
- and finally--this you see mostly with ROLEX--fake 18K gold cases and bracelets with
genuine ROLEX movements salvaged out of older stainless steel models.
Why do people buy fakes and what does it say about them?
Through years of studing fakes and talking with people about them, we have never heard
any good justification for buying or wearing them... only excuses why some people believe
they deserve the perception of owning 'luxury' products without having to go to the effort
and expense to buy the real things.
Curiously, people who buy fakes seem to have a contradicting thought process. They act
like it is 'only a name' when they choose a counterfeit product with a premium brand name
on it. Counterfeit buyers seem to be ignorant of or ignore the real merits that make the
genuine item far more valuable than the fakes--they just consider one watch to be about the
same as any other.
But they obviously consider the luxury name brand important enough that
they are willing to accept items of highly dubious quality and origin just to get that brand
name on them. So we have yet to find how to interpret people's willingness to pay for
counterfeit versions of 'the name'--especially when they have contempt for or ignorance of
why the name is valuable--as anything other than wanting to cheaply impress themself and others.
Here's what buying and wearing fake/counterfeit watches really says about the wearer:
- Poor Grasp of Value - Replicas are made to sell by looking like something far
more valuable than they are. They are seldom made for quality, carry no warranty, are made
from cheap parts and are usually not worth repairing. They are basically overpriced disposable
products, so are a poor value for your money.
- Lack of Integrity - Those that choose cheap replicas to try to impress others that
they have a real luxury watch are using falsehoods to represent themselves. So that makes
people wonder what else about how you represent yourself is false.
- Weak Ethics - Choosing replica watches shows the world that you are willing to support
unethical and illegal businesses--not giving a care about the ethics and legalities involved if
they get in the way of getting something that you want cheaply.
- Gullible - Especially where someone unknowingly buys a fake, they show themselves to
be easily deceived and someone that throws caution to the winds trying to get a super deal on
an expensive item.
- Isolated - Certainly there are no clubs for owners of fakes. No comraderie among
fellow owners. No sharing of tips, tricks and performance issues. No assistance with operation,
warranty or repair issues. Fake buyers are on their own with nobody to care, nobody to help and
nobody to compliment or encourage them--except for the occasional person you might encounter that
doesn't know enough about watches to realize you are trying to 'impress' them with a cheap counterfeit.
Where do people buy fakes?
The most common places are street vendors in major cities, flea markets, less
reputable pawn shops, and Internet auction sites. Generally, these are all places
where fly-by-night sellers can operate. Normally, counterfeits sell for anywhere from
$50 to 150. Sellers of these illegally produced merchandise are frequently pursued by
law enforcement and arrested.
In many cases, the buyer will understand that they are not buying genuine merchandise.
But sometimes the buyer is completely unaware they are buying a fake. They may even pay
hundreds of dollars -- believing they are getting an incredible deal on an expensive watch.
What should I do if I encounter a fake?
Simply walk away. While they may look similar to the real thing, they are normally
very cheap and short lived watches. Even at their appealing prices of US$50-150, you
would be much better off buying a genuine watch of reputable brand than buying these
cheap counterfeits. As mentioned above, the life span of most of these fakes in only
2-3 years of use. That is a poor deal for the price.
How do I identify a counterfeit watch?
- Know the real models -- browse the manufacturer catalogs and the display collections of an
authorized dealer. Handle the real thing. Be familiar with not only the face of the
watch, but also the bracelet, clasp, and the back of the watch.
- Understand that manufacturer catalogs and websites usually do not show all the models
and variations they make. So just because you do not see an item in a catalog or on an
official website is not by itself proof that a watch is fake.
- Look at the zOwie Rogues Gallery of Fakes
page for photos showing some of the tell-tale incorrect features on some of the counterfeit
Omega watches we've seen. Even if you are interested in other brands of watches, the
illustrations of fake Omega watches will show you what types of errors and omissions to
look for on any fake.
- Are the logos and face details incorrectly or poorly reproduced?
- Are details wrong? Often, fakes confuse names and parts from different watches. Or a replica may have style of hands normally
found on a different model watch.
- Does it have any unusual, unexpected, missing, or non-functional features? While it looks really neat, not very many genuine
fine watches have see-through backs. Fakes may not replicate unusual features, such as a helium relief valve, or those features may
not function. Chronographs may have non-operating subdials and stopwatch functions.
- Are any of the colors or texture details wrong? Fakes sometimes come in color combinations or bezel textures not available on the
- Clasp on bracelet may look different and have a much simpler latch mechanism. Bracelets my be made simpler.
- The quartz Chronograph dilemma: Because of the complexities involved, you will seldom find a fake watch with working chronograph
(stopwatch) functions that has an automatic movement. So if you see what should be a mechanical movement chronograph where the
second hand is moving in 1 second increments, it is likely a fake.
How do I avoid mis-identifying a real watch as a fake?
Fine watch makers such as Rolex, Omega, IWC, Breitling, Cartier and others have made thousands of models over
the past century. Many older models look similar enough to current or other models that their
differences can be mistaken as signs of a fake. Similarly, manufacturers sometimes made some unusual
or custom versions for specific International markets that would be unknown or seem odd even to people
experienced with that brand of watch in their part of the world.
So how do you tell when a watch is really a real one? The number one test is to find the manufacturer's
serial number. On modern Omega watches, the 8-digit serial number is laser etched on the outside of the
watch--usually on the back of one of the lugs, or on the back of the case. On older Omega watches, the
number is still 8 digits, but almost always inside the watch, engraved into the movement. Rolex watches
normally have their model and serial numbers on the ouside side of the case, between the lugs where the
bracelet or strap attach.
The presence of a correctly engraved or laser etched serial number is often enough to confirm the watch
is real--except for fake Rolex watches that often do bear fake serial numbers. The next step is to have
the manufacturer validate the serial number. It is best if you can also include a photo of the watch
with your request. They will respond with the technical details that you can use to confirm that
the serial number does indeed belong to that watch. For information on contacting Omega for this assistance,
see Tell Me About My Omega.
Even if the watch is genuine, having a manufacturer's representative check the serial number and view
the watch or a photo of it can also identify if the watch has been altered. Especially on older watches, they
may have had their dials repainted (sometime to completely different color combinations) or had exterior
replacement parts (especially crowns and bracelets) that were not original to that specific model.