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Feature: The Most Accurate Fake Luxury Watches In The World

Never before have luxury watches been so much in the public eye. Rapidly escalating prices, demand greater than ever, supply dwindling by the day—and of course this means the fake watch industry is booming. Now, you may have absolutely no interest in that, and consider yourself pretty well clued up when it comes to identifying and avoiding a fake watch—but I’m here to tell you it’s not as simple as that. Here are ten things you need to know about fake watches if you don’t want to get stung.

There Are More Fakes Than Real (40m vs 20m Swiss, $1b profit)

The Swiss watch industry is an absolute giant, making up a third of the entire global market. That’s pretty impressive for a sector that prides itself on the rarity and exclusivity of its product. Overall, Switzerland is producing some 20m watches per year, and it’ll be no surprise that, by market share, Rolex caps that, producing around a million watches annually.

It stands to reason then that Rolex is also the most faked watch brand in the world, followed closely by genuine market runners-up Cartier and Omega, but what’s surprising is just how big the scale of that fakery is. Per every Swiss watch made, the fake watch industry is putting out two, totalling 40m fake watches made every year—double the Swiss production. That’s enough to pull in a whopping $1b in profit.

Fifth Most Faked Thing In The World

Those are huge numbers in relation to the watch industry, but generally luxury watches aren’t worn by the majority of people, so you would expect that in terms of fakes, it sits pretty low down in the overall priority of things. As it happens, despite the relatively high cost of luxury watches compared to other fashion items, it still sits in the top five of the most faked things in the world, making up 7% of all the products produced by fakers. It sits just behind fake electricals, leather goods, clothing and, at the top, footwear, which makes up almost a quarter of the faked goods made globally.

Fake Watches Are Very Accurate

More often than not, the only interaction people have with fake watches are with the ones that don’t look particularly convincing. It’s true that these extremely low-quality products make up the bulk of the fake watch production, but there is an element of bias going on. Only the fake watches that are noticeably bad register as being fake, and that can lead to a false sense of security when it comes to understanding the wider problem.

The reality is that the evolution of technology means a fake watch can indeed be very accurate, almost imperceptible. Of course, this naturally gives rise to the notion of cost difference, which we’ll get onto in a moment. But as far as the outside of the fake watch goes, considerable time and effort is spent on making it as close to the original as possible, and as time goes by, that becomes closer and closer to identical.

The Fakes Have Been Faking Machinery

A question you might be wondering about is how the fake watch industry is capable of improving the accuracy of its production. High quality machinery used by the Swiss watch industry is incredibly expensive, prohibitively enough that many Swiss brands themselves cannot afford them.

Well, this is where the fake industry really doubles down on its modus operandi, because the machinery it uses is fake as well. The manufacturers of these expensive machines spend a lot of time and money developing them, producing mechanisms and tools that are protected by patents so their investment isn’t wasted—but to the fakers, those patents mean nothing. So, they duplicate the machinery itself, a process they have become better and better at.

They Don’t Just Fake Rolex

It’s an obvious thought that Rolex would be the most faked watch brand since it is generally the most popular Swiss watchmaker anyway, and that goes some way as to answering the question of why fake watches are so much cheaper. When Rolex spends $100m every year on marketing to make itself the most popular watch brand, that’s a whole lot of extra cash that doesn’t need spending by the fake industry, instead simply riding the coattails of all that work and expense.

That logic doesn’t just apply to Rolex. The increasing flexibility of the equipment used to replicate genuine watches means that any marketing effort made on an original brand can be parasitically benefitted from. You’ll see fakes of less well-known Swiss brands like Ulysse Nardin and Corum, and even watchmakers that hail from outside of Switzerland, like Seiko and Sinn. Even the humble Casio F-91W isn’t immune to fakery.

They Don’t Just Fake New

That misplaced confidence in the safety of lesser-known brands also applies to older watches. The vintage watch market is a beast in and of itself, operating independently of the brands themselves—but still it’s a target for fakers. Classic models like the Double Red Sea-Dweller and Paul Newman Daytona are replicated in vast quantities, with considerable effort given to even the smallest details. Again, that doesn’t just apply to Rolex. There are fake watches being made of vintage Omega, Tag Heuer, Breitling—you name it. Even discontinued models that sit halfway between new and vintage!

Fakes Aren’t Just Sold To Unsuspecting Buyers

So, if the poor-quality fakes are purchased for not very much by people who know what they’re buying, who’s purchasing the more accurate fakes? Whilst many will be sold misleadingly to unsuspecting victims thinking they’re getting a good deal, many are bought by people who know exactly what they’re getting, people who are seeking to buy the most accurate fake they can find.

And it might surprise you how much these people are paying! Cheap labour and minimal overheads may make fake watches a lot cheaper than Swiss originals, but the most accurate fakes are still far from cheap, costing many hundreds and sometimes even thousands of dollars. And all that money is simply spent on the outside. The most complex part that requires the most skilled labour to make, the movement, is still a long way off the originals. That’s why the most accurate fakes are often considered to be the ones with closed case backs.

Operate With Realtime Community Feedback

Fake watch manufacturers are known for using an original example to scan and replicate, but even then, there are small details that just aren’t quite right. Surprisingly, there’s an entire community dedicated to making these fake watches closer to the original. Shades of colour, thickness of print, size of markers—if they’re out, even by a small amount, the community will report it.

That means there’s not just one version of a fake watch, there are many, and they are changing all the time, often reissued with a list of identified improvements made to closer match the genuine. These improvements happen quickly too, sometimes even mere months apart. Compound this with the fact that there are multiple different factories competing to produce the most accurate edition and you have a surprisingly efficient iterative model.

You Can’t Learn To Spot A Fake

Pull all this together and what does it mean for someone hoping not to get stung? Well, to be honest, it means that you can’t rely upon yourself to reliably determine if a watch is fake or not. Oftentimes, a real example of the watch needs to be present and, for watches with a closed case back, as most Rolexes are, you need to take the case back off to see the movement.

There’s a bravado in the ability to know the difference between a real watch and a fake one by the weight and feel, but that’s a misplaced confidence in a scenario that’s often without consequence for the person claiming to tell the difference. The reality is that in a situation where you are pressed to make that call at the risk of many thousands of dollars, it is very, very easy to come a cropper. I wouldn’t take the chance and I don’t suggest you do either! Stick to reputable retailers instead.

The Industry Has No Idea What To Do About It

So, what’s happening about all this? Truth is, the industry is at a bit of a loss as to what to do. It can’t stop the production, it can’t stop the purchase or the shipment, it can try to stop the import—although many fake watches arrive in the country disguised within other products—but ultimately it’s a bit stuck.

A bit like the film industry tried to level the blame on the customer, the same has happened here, with ordinary families labelled as criminals for purchasing fake watches, but I don’t think that’s a particularly affective tactic—if anything, it’s antagonistic. And with rising prices of Swiss watches, it’s easy to see why more and more people are willing to take the risk in buying a fake.

My advice? Well, I can’t tell you what to think or how to feel, but I can tell you how I do. For me, a fake watch is a hollow victory. It feels empty and pointless. I, like most people, get pleasure from being perceived to be successful, but achieving that through deceit, however small, leaves a knot in the pit in my stomach. With the $500 or so I could spend on a fake I’d rather buy a cheaper Swiss watch, a Hamilton perhaps, or an upcoming indie brand like Studio Underd0g. I’d even rather spend it on a Chinese watch brand that’s original and interesting. Ultimately it’s more rewarding, and perhaps might even be a small piece in the puzzle to unlocking change in the industry that’s better for all of us.

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