This is a topic that will never be finished. As long as there is money involved, fraud attempts will occur and people will try to sell counterfeit watches. We are not talking about a $20 fake Rolex that you can spot from a mile’s distance, but counterfeiting on a level that takes a bit of research to know whether you are being tricked (or not).
Although we reckon you know you are getting scammed when someone is offering you a $1,000 Rolex Submariner, but what about the Submariner watches that are priced just below the average market price? Always make sure you know what you are buying, especially from dealers or sellers you don’t know.
Brands from Audemars Piguet to Zenith: all are also available as counterfeits. The trick is to distinguish a fake from a real watch. Besides the generic comments on “Buy the Seller” and “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”, you need some pointers what to look for and how to identify a fake watch.
The answer is in the details of the watch. It requires a bit of experience, and, in some cases, even the help from an expert or from the watch manufacturer, but identifying an authentic watch is mainly done by visually checking for certain details.
These include the use of certain materials as well as the finish and quality of the exterior (case, bracelet, crown, pushers, etc.), but they are mainly found on the dial. Here you will be able to tell right from wrong, using high-resolution images from an authentic watch as a reference. The size of the logo, the typography, the use of wording on the dial (Swiss Made, T Swiss Made T, T < 25 Swiss Made, etc.), the size of hour markers, the print quality on the dial, and so on.
Be careful now, as some watch manufacturers also work with different dial suppliers. Not every change or deviation is per definition reason to believe something is not authentic.
Some brands also use specific ‘water marks’ to make the life of counterfeiters a bit more difficult. Omega engraves a little symbol in the caseback of their watches that seems to be hard to copy (looking like a globe) and Rolex uses laser-etched crowns in their sapphire crystals and show the serial number of a watch on the dial (outer ring). The problem with Rolex, Omega, and some other big brands is that they don’t always (Rolex never) use a transparent caseback. In most cases, the movement used in the watch will immediately give away whether a watch is authentic or not. In some cases, counterfeiters will use imitation ETA movements or even real ETA movements for their watches, but not finish them on the same level as the real deal.
With high-end pieces from A. Lange & Söhne or Patek Philippe, for example, the cost of producing a similar looking (and finished) movement is too costly or simply impossible, so we don’t feel there is much danger there.
The biggest issue is identifying fake from authentic vintage watches, where counterfeiters have been using original parts to create that highly sought-after vintage Rolex Submariner, for example. We urge you to rely on experts that are willing to help you on this. In all honesty, it isn’t a bad thing to vent your questions and doubts on a public place like a forum, where there will always be people with interesting remarks and comments on the watch. The risk is that someone might go around your back and ‘snag’ your precious sought-after watch from the party that offers it as soon as you put it online with some questions. That’s still a smaller risk than buying a worthless fake piece, however.