Ah, fake watches.
Bad or good, we can’t help but be fascinated by them, even as they cheapen the carefully crafted brand images of the Swiss watch industry or bankroll dubious overseas business practices. But ultimately, it’s the quality and emotional value that makes a watch meaningful. And a fake watch has no soul.
The Rolex Submariner is probably the most copied watch on the market. You don’t need fake watches to tell you that—other watch brands do their own “homages” to the Submariner’s iconic design all the time. So we brought in one of our watchmakers to take a closer look at a fake Rolex Submariner and it’s very real counterpart, and give the run-down on how to tell them apart in the field.
The First Glance
The big difference between a real and fake Submariner will be the weight. Rolexes (and Submariners especially) are known for being pretty hefty. This is because of the metals used in the manufacture of the watch—nobody ever said a Rolex was dinky. A producer of fakes won’t be able to reproduce that type of quality metal at the right cost, so expect a fake watch to come in a bit lighter.
Likewise, polishing is a huge giveaway. When it comes to Swiss watches, you should expect nothing less than perfection—smooth finish and clean edges. Be on the look-out for sharpness or discomfort on the case or the bracelet.
And then there’s the crystal. Most luxury watches have a sapphire crystal that’s super hard and scratch-resistant. In fact, at this point in luxury watch manufacturing, the sapphire crystal is pretty standard. A lot of fake watches will try to cut corners by putting in glass or plastic crystals over the dial, which you can identify pretty easily by roughing it up a bit (or even tapping on it).
Often, fake watches try to recreate or copy a serial number—Rolex has a system in which they dole these out, both for their vintage and modern models. It’s really easy to get fooled by a printed serial on the case or outer dial, but it’s also easy enough to double check.
Rolex bracelets are often hard to imitate to any advanced degree—their clasp system is pretty sophisticated; the construction and finishing on a fake will often give it away. Consistent, clean lines are key.
Open up the back of a real Rolex Submariner, and what will you find? The correct model number, serial numbers, all verified and valid. But open up the back of a fake? It’s kind of a crap shoot. Some producers will attempt to copy the caseback inscriptions (and often make some spelling errors). Others won’t even bother. You never really know until you open it up.
And that brings us to the movement. A fake watch will never have the real thing inside—too sophisticated, too expensive to reproduce. But they’ll substitute where they can, bringing in more cheaply-manufactured movements (like the Miyota movement we found in our fake). Sometimes they’ll try their hand at replicating the movement too, so be prepared to look pretty closely when you scrutinize.
We can agree that it’s pretty fun to compare the replica to the real thing—especially when it’s bad. But sometimes you come across a really skilled replica manufacturer that can fool even the biggest watch nerd. That’s why you trust the experts to tell you for sure.
To check out other information on spotting fakes, visit our Real vs. Fake Watch Roundup.