Collecting luxury watches is an expensive hobby.
With some brands costing upward of $1 million, it can be tempting to try to find the best deals out there.
But collectors have to be very careful — counterfeit watches are not only flooding the market, but they keep getting more and more convincing.
“The prices of counterfeit watches seem to be getting more expensive all the time,” Timothy Gordon, a generalist appraiser and a consulting expert for the global online marketplace Lofty, told Business Insider. “As with anything fine, if there’s money involved, the counterfeiters are certainly on the trail.”
Gordon has been in the appraisal business for 25 years and even runs his own company, Timothy Gordon Appraisers. Below are his top tips for spotting and avoiding counterfeit luxury watches.
Do Your Research
Before you even think about buying a luxury watch, you need to do ample research on the brand and the models you’re interested in buying.
“When you’re looking at potential counterfeit watches, you have to inform yourself as to what a real one is like,” Gordon told Business Insider. “You need to know what it feels like, looks like, how much it weighs, and what it sounds like.”
You can easily search top brands and models online to get a feel for the watch, but another great resource is the records from top auction houses, whose bread and butter is spotting fake watches.
“When you look at the records of Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Heritage Auctions, or Bonhams, those people have been in the business for decades and decades,” Gordon said. “Go into their auction result databases because you’re going to find past watch models that you can familiarize yourself with alongside photos and pricing. That will give you an accurate idea of what to expect from the real thing.”
Gordon advises buyers to be ready to match and identify these five factors:
- Material. The material, finishing, and color of counterfeit watches will sometimes be slightly off. Gold watches should also be hallmarked (you can always ask to get the watch tested to be safe).
- Weight. Counterfeit watches are usually made with cheaper materials and are lighter than the original.
- Type faces and engravings. Engravings on fine watches are generally sharper and more distinct. Type faces can differ in size and shape, too, and the really bad counterfeit watches will have spelling errors.
- Movement. The most important thing to look out for is the watch’s movement. No matter how good a counterfeit watch looks, it’s not going to have better movement than the real thing. Consult with a watch expert and have him or her examine the watch and its internal mechanisms.
- Sound. Another factor that can tell you how good the movement is can be the sound of the watch. Most really fine watches have extremely smooth mechanisms, which means there won’t be the ticking sound you expect with cheaper watches. If the watch ticks loudly, don’t buy it.
Know The Seller
Obviously if someone leads you into a dark ally and tries to sell you a Rolex, chances are that watch is a fake.
But it can be harder to spot a shady deal from seemingly trustworthy sellers. Not only do you have to research the watch itself, but it’s imperative that you research your dealer, too.
“Look for an established dealer with a good reputation,” Gordon said. “Buying a watch from a reputable business that’s more expensive is always better than buying a cheaper version from an untrustworthy merchant.”
At the end of the day, it’s the seller’s guarantee that matters.
Paperwork Is Important
Not every vintage watch will come with a certificate of authenticity, but you’ll feel a whole lot better if it does.
“When watches don’t have paperwork, that could be because in the past buyers of watches have separated the paperwork from the timepiece,” Gordon said. “But I always like to see watches with certificates, matching serial numbers, and boxes.”
Not only does the paperwork provide a tangible history of the piece, but it can quantify the value of the watch and make it worth much more in the long run, too.
Learn The History Of The Watch’s Ownership
Speaking of the watch’s history, if your seller doesn’t know the vintage watch’s provenance (history of ownership), that’s a bad sign.
“Check into the history of the watch’s ownership,” Gordon said. “If it’s coming from a private dealer or collector, is it an estate piece? Ask who had it before, or where it was located. Some dealers will want to be confidential, but every authentic vintage watch has a past.”
Final Red Flags
Low Prices: “Let’s say that you’re being offered a watch, and the price is way below what those auctioneers are getting,” Gordon told us. “Ask yourself, ‘Why is it so low?’ If a beautiful Cartier sold at an auction house for $100,000 and you’re being told $50,000, question why you’re getting such a good deal.”
Quick Deals: Don’t ever feel rushed into making a luxury watch purchase. If a seller seems in a hurry, that’s a bad sign. “You don’t want to go buy a watch from a Saturday night liquidation sale without doing your due diligence,” Gordon said. “Slow down and don’t just pull the trigger without doing any research.”
And as always, when it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
“Sure, there’s a one and a million chance that you might walk into an antique mall and find a super valuable watch just sitting in there, but buyer beware,” Gordon said.