Gone are the days when a fake watch was just something you picked up from a market on holiday for $10 (£8) and wore until one of the hands fell off – usually within a few weeks. That level of tat still exists, for sure, but the counterfeiting industry has become incredibly sophisticated in recent years – to the point where now, you can buy a fake Rolex Daytona chronograph that looks, feels and functions almost exactly like the real thing.
Partly, that is an unavoidable consequence of the explosion we have seen in demand for Rolex’s key models. When waiting lists for a new Daytona stretch into the years, and any that are out there can be changing hands for more double the £9,550 retail price, that creates a market for serious fakes that themselves can cost around £1,000.
If that sounds ridiculous, consider that the fake Rolex here, examined in detail by Watchfinder, is being made with real 904L steel – the same top-grade metal used in the real watch. It will use real ceramic in the bezel, real sapphire crystal, and has the exact same locking construction to the bracelet.
Advances in milling and rapid prototyping machinery mean that all of the above can be achieved with minimal hand-craft involved (which remains one of the un-fakeable defining characteristics of a real high-end watch).
So far, that’s enough effort to fool a lot of people, but what’s new – and somewhat jaw-dropping – is that inside the watch you will find a replica Rolex movement, an eerily good mimic of the real Calibre 4130 introduced in 2000.
This is a big development. Checking the movement remained, until now, an easy way to weed out fakes. With a Rolex you’ll always need the right tools at hand, as they never have sapphire casebacks, but unscrewing the metal back would usually have revealed a poor imitation; an ETA 7750 or Chinese Sea-Gull movement, perhaps with some cursory modifications to masquerade as a Rolex.
Now you’ll see something that at first, and even second, glance, looks legit. The layout is identical, down to the column wheel and balance bridge, and without magnification, so is the engraving. The use of gold screws in certain locations is spot on, and the recognisable burgundy-purple reversing wheels are present and correct.
Faking an entire movement isn’t easy; chronograph calibres in particular are challenging to assemble, so even when you’ve gone to the effort of reproducing every component, getting it to work isn’t exactly a piece of cake. Someone’s put real time into this.
So how can you tell the two apart? The devil, as always, is in the detail. Starting on the outside, you can see that the printing of the dial text is marginally less precise. The shade of red for “Daytona” above the six o’clock subdial is too bright. The hour markers, five-pointed crown and hands don’t catch the light as they should; their edges aren’t crisp and, when you zoom in, you can see evidence of machining which the genuine watch would never display.
The ceramic bezel doesn’t shimmer; Rolex coats its bezels with a fine layer of platinum dust for exactly this reason – something the counterfeiters can’t copy (yet). Looking at the bracelet, you can see tiny gaps where it meets the case. And on the crown and pushers, the finely brushed and polished finish to the jagged, knurled surfaces isn’t as sophisticated. These are all things you’ll need to examine really closely to pick up, and it’s the same story with the movement.
Here again, the finishing isn’t as good; the right type of graining or brushing has been used in the right places, but looking at it through a loupe shows coarser, less consistent work on the fake. Edges aren’t smooth, still bearing burrs from the machine that milled them out, and things like screw-heads lack the mirror polish that you’re paying for on a real Rolex.
There’s a technical tell, too – the fake movement has an ordinary regulated balance wheel; Rolex uses a free-sprung balance (in brief, a fiddlier, high-grade approach to fine-tuning the hairspring that determines how accurately a watch is running) – but this is serious watch-nerd stuff.
Serious watch-nerd stuff, though, is what you’re paying for – even if what you thought you were paying for was just a brand name and one of the most desirable watches on the market. It’s the level of hand-finishing and the dedication to quality that marks the real thing out from the fake. Of course, you’re not expected to understand the finer horological points, but you do want to take comfort in knowing they’re there.
Watchfinder was able to point these subtle details out by comparing the fake side-by-side with a real Daytona; but if one isn’t to hand, spotting all the tell-tale signs just got a thousand times harder.
What it comes down to is good old-fashioned folk wisdom: if a deal looks too good to be true, it always is. Buy from someone you trust. When a fake is this good, no-one is going to realise it’s a rip-off from across the room, but you’ll know that you’re the fraud for wearing it.
If you’re looking for a new timepiece, check out our guide to the best watches
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read more at https://www.wired.co.uk/ by Chris Hall