Rolex watches are the quintessential luxury watch. Renowned for their rigorous Swiss made movement, fine precious metals and incredibly beautiful machined details, Rolex timepieces are some of the most sought after watches on the planet. As such, the counterfeit market for these watches is booming and has been for years.
It’s simple; the demand is so high. Rolex has become almost synonymous with the rich and the famous and has been for nearly 40 years. Having an expensive watch is one of the most ‘Hollywood’ ways to show off and flaunt your wealth, and no other luxury brand has the name recognition, but also the quality, to resonate with the average person.
Having a market comprised of seriously high demand and significant culture status, coupled with the fact that so few people know much about watches, makes it easy for counterfeiters to move their product. But with that comes fakes, and the fake Rolex market relies on the fact that everyone wants one on their wrist. As long as it has that famous logo, to most people it might as well be real even if it isn’t.
As you’ll see below, some of the ‘tells’ of a fake are so simple and elementary that anyone with even a cursory knowledge of watches should be able to tell them apart. However, the market for counterfeits has several segments; from cheap $20 knockoffs (easy to tell) to $2500 near replicas (very difficult to tell, even for seasoned jewelers) that increase in difficulty substantially.
Our goal here is not to make a master watch authenticator out of you, but rather give you some quick and easy ways to spot the vast majority of fakes within seconds, but also to appreciate the real thing.
The most common and easiest way to tell is to watch the second hand. Does the second hand tick? That’s a sign of a quartz movement (meaning the watch has a battery). A true Rolex brand watch exhibits a smooth, automatic or mechanical movement that sweeps the second hand around the face. If you’re so inclined, here is a good beginners guide to the 3 different types of watch movements.
Take a look at these two gifs:
This gif shows the sweeping second hand on an authentic watch.
Here is a ticking second hand, indicative of a quartz movement.
If you look at the face of the watch, many Rolex models will have a ‘cyclops’ over the date display. Here is a picture of one:
It’s a small, raised section glass that magnifies the date wheel cut into the watch face. The proper magnification set by Rolex is somewhere around 2.5x. Many fakes will not magnify at all, but rather be a simple piece of raised glass. Aesthetically it will look very similar, but the careful eye should be able to see if the magnification is present or not.
Another problem is the glass face of the watch, there are many formulations of glass, but in the case of Rolex they use sapphire glass. This glass will set off most jeweler’s diamond thermal testers, used to determine of a diamond is real or fake, whereas the regular glass in most fakes will not.
Rolex is known for their attention to detail. Everything on the watch should be virtually perfect, from the machined metal down to the font itself. If anything is even slightly misaligned, that’s a telltale sign that it’s probably a fake. The hardest thing for counterfeiters to get right, it seems, is the alignment of the numbers within the date display.
Take a look at this image of a fake date display – notice the 3 is slightly off when compared to the bottom of the 2.
A defect of this nature would have never made it out the factory and onto the market, if it was genuine.
Another common issue with the fakes is that they have blurry font. Lettering on the face or back, or on the underside of the clasp is often blurry and not precision printed / engraved. This one probably boils down to the limitations on production in the various counterfeit shops. It costs a lot of money to do it right, and many of these watches aren’t selling for enough money to warrant such an expensive attention to detail.
Here is an image comparing a fake with blurry letters to a genuine product. The fake is on the left:
A real Rolex has some heft to it. Many seasoned jewelers can tell instantly by simply holding the watch in their hand. Some of the more sophisticated fakes now have taken this into consideration and include materials designed to increase the weight – but it’s still not difficult to tell when combined with the other factors we’ve pointed out above.
The easiest and most straightforward way is simply to go to an authorized dealer. If you live close to a major city, odds are there is one near you. Otherwise, there are a handful of genuine authorized dealers on the internet.
We do recommend that you steer clear of eBay, craigslist and other general online outlets – these are rife with counterfeits and sellers looking to take advantage of the booming Rolex market, and peoples’ limited understanding of the characteristics of a genuine timepiece. Also, keep in mind that if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. There’s a reason people routinely shell out $5k+ for a genuine Rolex – and it’s unlikely that you’re buying that same quality for $500 from a guy behind the bowling alley.