It is well-known that counterfeit luxury goods flood the market each year. Some of these are advertised as replicas and some are just fakes being passed off as the real thing. The watch market, in particular, is not immune to counterfeits and as technology advances the fakes get more convincing.
Recently, we had a fake Cartier come through our watch shop and decided to take a deeper look. But first, a little background on Cartier.
Louis-François Cartier began his family-owned jewelry and watch business in Paris in 1847 when he took over his master’s workshop. In 1874 his son Alfred took over the company. However, it wasn’t until Alfred’s three sons Pierre, Jacque, and Louis got involved that the company became a worldwide name. Cartier remained family-owned until 1964. Though the headquarters is still in Paris, they are now owned by Richemont.
The fake watch that “graced” our bench was a Cartier Ballon Bleu. The Ballon Bleu is one of Cartier’s newer models, but has quickly become iconic. It features Cartier’s classic roman numerals and blue, sword-shaped hands. Depending on the materials used, this watch has a variety of price points, but in this case, the fake was a stainless-steel model.
The Ballon Bleu Side-by-Side
Let’s break down the differences between this fake Ballon Bleu and a real one, as we look at the two watches side-by-side.
Upon first glance, to even the trained eye, this watch could easily be perceived as authentic. This was due, in part, to the fact that the watch itself came with a box and manual. That is not something that is typical among fakes. The box very closely mirrored a real Cartier box and the quality was pretty good. However, the manual was a bit off. The paper wasn’t as thick or to the standard that Cartier uses.
When we picked it up, the watch was of a similar weight of a real. Oftentimes fake watches don’t have the same heft as their authentic counterparts. This is because counterfeiters skimp on materials to save costs.
The Ballon Bleu Front
When looking at the two watches side-by-side there are some noticeable differences. To start, the word “automatic” is written on the bottom portion of the real Cartier dial. It is missing on the fake. Also, in roman numeral “VII,” you can see differences in the word “Cartier.” The writing is smaller and tighter on the real Ballon Bleu.
Upon closer look the undulating wave-style pattern inside the dial isn’t quite the same either. The real one looks tighter with smaller arcs around the center of the dial. The silver coloring of the dial is also not the same. Lastly, the gap between the minute markers, set just inside the roman numeral hour markers, is also much smaller.
When examining the cases of the two watches, the most noticeable difference is the crown. The fluting on the crown of the fake Ballon Bleu is bigger and clunkier. On the case itself, the gap where the crystal sits on the case is thinner. The detailing of these two things is just not to the caliber that Cartier would produce.
From the side view of the watch you can tell a difference in how the crystal photographs. The real Ballon Bleu’s crystal gives distortion when looking through it. The fake does not. This may seem counterintuitive, but is due to the thickness and quality of the crystal.
Lastly, the back of the fake Ballon Bleu is a bit different than the real. To start, the caseback is etched. On a real Ballon Bleu the quality is much higher, and the caseback information is engraved. The word “automatic” appears again in the engraving (like it did on the dial) on the real watch. On the fake, the word “automatic” is missing and an extra set of numbers is etched into the bottom. Also, on the real Cartier there is an engraving in the first link of the bracelet. This is missing on the fake.
Most consumers aren’t going to get the opportunity to open a watch and study the movement inside, so it’s important to be able to spot fakes from the aesthetic differences. This Cartier is definitely one of the more convincing fakes we have seen come through. It is of a higher quality than many counterfeit watches and there is an elevated level of detail. As a standalone timepiece, it could definitely fool an untrained eye. However, when you place the watch side-by-side with an authentic Ballon Bleu the quality and craftsmanship don’t hold up.
The best way to keep yourself from getting duped into buying a fake is to arm yourself with as much information as you can about the watch you want to purchase. To see more fake that have crossed our watchmaker’s benches, visit our “Real Vs. Fake Roundup.”