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Feature: Spot a fake Rolex like an expert

Counterfeit watches, especially Rolex models, are more sophisticated than they’ve ever been, and spotting one requires a meticulously trained eye. From the bracelet to the box itself, fakes are often barely discernible from the real thing. These essential tips from our trained experts will help ensure the Rolex you buy is genuine.

Crystals, dials and bezels

You don’t always have to dismantle a Rolex and inspect the movement under a loupe to detect a fake. Sometimes the dial of a watch can raise a few red flags.

Any lettering should be crisp and ever-so-slightly raised. There should be no signs of smudging or “bleeding” on the typeface. The same goes for the markers, which should also be in alignment. For example, the triangular hour marker on a Submariner’s dial should sit directly beneath the lume dot on the bezel when it’s at the 12 o’clock position.

The five-pointed crown logo should also be crisp, and gleam from hand-polishing, with factory-polished fakes tending to appear lifeless and dull in comparison.

Rolex models featuring a date function have—with very few exceptions—the signature “Cyclops” lens to magnify the date window beneath it. The correct magnification is x2.5, which is tricky for counterfeiters to get exactly right. Make sure the date is clear, bold and fills the lens. Another thing to check on modern Rolex watches is the barely noticeable crown logo micro-etched into the crystal at the 6 o’clock position.

With mono-coloured Submariners (e.g., all-green and all-blue models), the dial and bezel should match in shade, not just in colour. Be wary of discrepancies.

And then there’s the luminescent material on the markers and hands. In 2008, Rolex began using its very own Chromalight which gives off a distinctive electric-blue glow, as opposed to the green glow of the previously used SuperLuminova and older Luminova.

Given that Chromalight is a proprietary substance used exclusively by Rolex, the lume on any fake will almost certainly be of an inferior quality, even if it manages to match the exact blue hue of a genuine Rolex. Test it out if you can by charging it—with natural or artificial light—and make sure the glow doesn’t fade after a few minutes as a Chromalight’s glow should last several hours before needing to be recharged.

Vintage models, on the other hand, will have little or no glow at all and the tritium-based paint used for the markers would have developed a slight brown or cream patina. Make sure the lume colour is appropriate to the age of the watch and that the lume on the hands and markers match up.


If possible, inspect the movement, and be suspicious of any pre-owned watch dealer who refuses to remove the caseback at your request. With the caseback removed, there are several things you can look out for, ideally with the use of a jewellers’ loupe (there’s no excuse for not having one; they’re the price of a panini).

Firstly, Rolex movements are spartan-looking things without the elaborate engravings and precious-metal parts often used by high-end brands like Patek Philippe and A. Lange & Söhne, who often display them via open casebacks.

However, despite their minimalist looks, they are still marvels of precision engineering and there’s nothing coarse about their components. Rough edges on the bridges or rotor suggest it’s a fake, or at least a watch that is not 100 percent authentic.

The number of the movement—always clearly engraved in gold-coloured lettering on the movement itself—might also indicate a fake watch. Do your research beforehand and find out what the correct movement is for the watch you’re considering buying.

A Sky-Dweller, for example, should feature a Calibre 9001 or 9002, whose winding rotor is differently designed to those on other models. Only the most elaborate counterfeiters would go through the trouble of replicating these finer details.

Many Rolex watches run on its work-horse Calibre 3135 movement, used in its time-and-date models until it was phased out a few years ago and replaced by the Calibre 3235 (pictured).

Catching the eye amongst the various cogs and screws should be a blue Parachrom hairspring and two dark-red, Teflon-coated reversing wheels. Unfortunately, the better counterfeiters have even managed to replicate these parts, right down to the colours.

Box, papers and tags

Just because a Rolex watch comes with a box and papers doesn’t mean it’s not a fake. If you can counterfeit microscopic watch parts, imagine how easy it is to manufacture paper booklets and plastic tags. Counterfeiters even make the hologrammed card that modern Rolexes come with.

But that doesn’t mean they’re convincing. In fact, it’s an area where the bootleggers often cut corners.

A Rolex box, like the watches themselves, is a premium product that feels, looks and even smells of luxury. The dark green material coating the wooden box should be genuine leather, smoothly applied against the sides of the box. Fake versions often use imitation leather, with such giveaway signs as air bubbles spoiling the look. The crown logo on the lid should be a polished gold colour, with fakes often lacking the gleaming quality of the authentic version.

On opening a fake box, you can often detect a malodorous chemical waft from the glue holding the box together. Rest assured, the ever-fastidious Rolex wouldn’t allow anything so unpleasant to leave its factory gates.

If it comes with a warranty booklet, flick through it and look for poor print quality, cheap paper and even misspelt words. The difference between a fake and original booklet can often be as stark as that between Monopoly money and a bonafide banknote.

Always check that the serial number on the accompanying card matches that of the watch—you’ll find it stamped on the 6 o’clock side of the watch case, beneath the end link.

Bracelets and clasps

Modern Rolex bracelets are superbly executed. They are silkily reassuring to the touch and come without the coarse edges that are so common to watches by inferior brands—or indeed many fakes.

With a counterfeit watch, the bracelet end links may not sit flush against the case, with small gaps showing. A President bracelet with concealed clasp is perhaps the hardest bracelet to replicate. Make sure the prongs of the crown’s logo slightly overhang the link it sits on.

The quality of the logo on the crown itself can also signify a fake, as can the knurling (the grooves that help you grip the crown). Again, look for consistency and crispness.

Do your research. Look at what bracelet is true to that particular model and ensure yours is paired with the right case. A wrong bracelet may not necessarily be a fake bracelet, but it can affect the value of the watch.


Handle as many genuine Rolex watches as you can, as the feel of a watch can be as important as the look. Try on your friend’s Submariner and ask them nicely if you can borrow it for the weekend—as long as you promise not to leave the country. Attend watch events where you can talk to experts and be surrounded by Rolexes of every conceivable description. And, where possible, try them on at the boutique. Wind the crown and listen to the sound it makes. Feel how the clasp doesn’t cut under your nails when you lift it up.

The more genuine Rolex watches you see, hold and wear, the stronger your fake-detection skills will be.

Buying from a trusted luxury pre-owned watch retailer means you shouldn’t have to worry about fakes or fake parts at all, of course. But should you decide to buy from a private seller, or, heaven forbid, a man on the street in a grubby raincoat, hopefully the above has equipped you with the knowledge to avoid making a very expensive mistake.

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