Ways to identify a fake luxury watch

A few weeks ago, we did a deep-dive into collecting and investing in luxury watches. The issue featured a special podcast episode with Dovi Spigelman: an Alternative Assets reader and luxury watch dealer here in Melbourne.

In the podcast, I told the story of my grandfather’s Rolex. It was a special gift from him to my mother, and my mother later gave it to me.

Only problem is, the watch was totally fake.

As it turns out, fraud remains one of the biggest themes in the world of watch investing. The industry of fakes has been fooling many consumers for a long time.

So today we continue our exploration into the world of watches, with some tips on how to identify fake luxury watches.

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Tips for identifying fake luxury watches

According to an estimate by Haute Horlogerie, about 40 million fake Swiss watches go on sale annually (!) That’s ten million more than the authentic ones produced by multiple Swiss watch brands. These figures alone show how lucrative the market for counterfeits is, which is pretty disturbing.

Fortunately, it’s possible to spot a fake designer watch 95% of the time. You just have to know what to look for and what you’re looking for. You’ll learn to do that after reading this article that has tips for identifying authentic luxury watches.

Image courtesy of Pinterest

Examine the details

The devil is in the details is an adage that stays true with watches. You probably won’t see it right away, but some subtle ones that aren’t visible to the naked eye a fake watch has over an authentic one. Hence, familiarizing yourself with these details comes in handy when you’re at the store or on a brand’s website looking for your new luxury watch.

Luxury watchmakers have also been smart about their product’s detailing due to the counterfeits in the market. They’ve intentionally placed little somethings on their timepieces to serve as the unique feature of their design. Being one of the famous brands that get counterfeited, Rolex made this a point to help buyers determine fake from authentic.

The dial of the Rolex Daytona has a distinct look that you can only see with bright lighting. The dial should be visible when you look at its reflection along with each one of its hands. If they’re not, then it’s not authentic.

Real on the left, fake on the right. The fake’s edges are a bit coarser, losing the catch of light they should have when the watch is angled at a specific angle. Photo courtesy of perfectrolex.io
See the way the light catches the lettering? That’s intentional. The fake Rolex on the right doesn’t have that. Photo courtesy of perfectrolex.io

Be wary of online sources

Online shopping and e-commerce didn’t only change the way consumers buy products but also how they perceive them. Identifying a genuine timepiece over a counterfeit online is different from doing it in real life. It all comes down to how legit the seller you’re buying from is.

If you prefer purchasing your new luxury watch online, make sure you check the website’s legitimacy and the seller. Look for reviews on the website or look at the seller’s follower count if it’s on social media. If your preferred model is in stock, then buy straight from the brand’s website if you can.

You can purchase a Seiko Presage on the Seiko online boutique to ensure authenticity. Also, look at price offers because if it’s too good to be true, then it usually is.

Read the product specs

In relation to purchasing watches online, product specifications are one thing you need to be wary of when looking at a digital catalog. It’s something you don’t put much weight on if you’re buying from a physical store, but in online stores, it becomes a factor. It’s because you don’t see the real product; you only see photos of it.

Taking note of a watch’s specification helps in identifying if it’s original or fake. Do your research and compare what you found to the product presented to you. It’ll prevent you from wasting your money on a counterfeit or replica purchase.

When shopping online, avoid purchasing one that doesn’t indicate all its details. Also, try to familiarize yourself with stamps, logos, and trademark designs of the brands you choose to buy from to make correct choices. For example, a Tag Heuer watch should have the logo pressed into the steel and not glued. If you notice any glue residue around where the logo is, then it’s not legit.

Fake on the left, real on the right. Among other things, the fake’s markings are glued in, as opposed to being embedded. Image courtesy of Reddit.

Weigh the watch

Most luxury watches are made of high-quality materials such as gold and other precious metals that carry weight. If a watch that looks heavy but isn’t should raise alarms. Fakes commonly have lead weights in the watch’s case to make them feel heavy when held.

Always hold the luxury watch you’re looking to buy to feel its weight. You should also note that not all original timepieces are supposed to be heavy. Some are made with lightweight metal and have lost some weight over the years due to polishing and refurbishment.

This reiterates that something of high quality shouldn’t only look elegant but feel that way as well. You should feel the weight of the entire watch when you’re holding it, not just a single part. A genuine watch is always heavier and sturdier because it’s equipped with a dozen tiny moving parts, aside from the exquisite materials used to make it.

Look at the movement

The movement of a watch is the mechanism that powers it. Counterfeiters typically don’t take too much time when it comes to replicating features related to it. That’s because it’s no easy task to falsify a watch’s movement type.

Brands are quite specific in constructing their watch’s movement. You can see that in its individual components’ character engravings. For instance, some luxury brands apply blued screws in mechanical movements using a bluing furnace, while the fake ones only use paint.

There are also ways to identify counterfeit designer watches for specific brands. For example, a mechanical movement Omega watch will have a second hand that smoothly sweeps around its face. The same goes for a real Rolex watch; the second hand should sweep smoothly instead of jumping.

Check the lettering

Watchmakers who work on making designer products use precise engraving instruments to create legible lettering. The lettering on designer brands should be crisp, clean, and placed correctly. You should look for its position and see if it’s difficult to read.

If you see that one letter of the brand name is uneven or curvy, the watch is likely fake. Engraving rules also apply to serial numbers. If one digit of the serial number is muddled, look for another watch.

Look for a serial and model number

Every watch has a serial and a model number included in its body, packaging, and either or the warranty. It’s either engraved or printed somewhere on the timepiece. Make sure to look at the serial or model number to see if it’s laser-etched properly and not sloppily printed.

For Omega watches, the watch number is laser-etched on the lug, and it should match the one provided with the Chronometer Certificate and warranty. For Rolex, you can find the serial number at the ‘6’ between the case’s lugs. Their timepieces also have a registered design number engraved between the lugs at the ‘12.’

On the other hand, Tag Heuer watches have their serial number included in the movement that matches the casing and the paperwork that comes with them. The rule for these numbers is simple: if it doesn’t correspond to the paperwork or missing from the watch, it’s probably fake.


Help yourself and the watch industry by learning how to spot counterfeit watches. It may be a lot of work, but knowing even the smallest details will identify the originals from fakes easier. Always buy authentic luxury watches because they possess more value, and it helps watchmakers earn the money they deserve from their hard work.



Stefan von Imhof

Stefan von Imhof

Stefan von Imhof is the co-founder and CEO of Alts.co.  With a background in alternative asset analysis, valuations, and due diligence, Stefan was born for this world. His alternative investing  newsletter has grown into Alts.co — the world's largest alt investing community, with over 120,000 investors. Originally from Boston and later Santa Barbara, CA, he now lives in Melbourne, Australia with his beautiful wife.

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