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Watch Magazine

Sometimes it’s a nudge in a pub and you’re offered a "knock-off" watch, otherwise it’s displayed on velvet in the better part of town. Either could be fake. Tom Bolt, vintage specialist, probes the shark-infested waters.

We all know about the meandering salesmen on sun-drenched beaches offloading fake watches for a tenner, but what about the pukka variety, those really mean to fool?

There are obvious giveaways, like the now not so secret signature on the Cartier at the 7 o’clock position on the dial, or the fact that the second hand of quality Swiss watch shouldn’t tick, but glide seamlessly. This, however, isn’t always true and is the only reason that some of the designer brand fakes are amongst the hardest to detect, as even the originals run quartz movements.

It would be impossible to take into account all aspects of counterfeit watches in the space permitted, which is why I have decided to concentrate on one, rather familiar, company, Rolex.

Approximately 70% of the quality fake market, if one can use such a phrase, is attributed to the crown. Not our beloved monarchy of course, but the famous insignia of Rolex. ( I could just see old Charlie boy on a street corner knocking out dud kettles while ‘good lookin’ keeps an eye out for the filth!).

The reason for the huge production of counterfeit Rolex’s is, firstly, the every-increasing demand for the pukka stuff and, secondly, down to Rolex being the most prolific high-end Swiss watch manufacturer in history. The backlash to this, however, was that record keeping was a nightmare.
It’s all very well, and it must be said a tribute, to companies such as Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin to be able to tell you when a piece was manufactured, sold, with what dial, and to whom, but when you’ve produced over one million Oysters alone by 1995, you try and keep records from dial to winder. No computers in them days.

To make matters worse, due to the high import taxes of gold during the sixties, Rolex used to sell movements to companies such as Dennison, allowing them to not only case the movements, but sometimes to even sign the case on their behalf!

The advantage of all these weird, but not so wonderful, facts to the faker are that the rules to which they have to adhere are malleable, to say the least.

As if the originality of cases and movements weren’t enough to contend with, we now have to look at the dials as well. Up to 70% of the value in a vintage Rolex can rest upon whether the face is original or repainted (due to excessive sunlight or damp etc.) About a year ago, I looked at a watch and was suspicious of the dial. When I removed it from the case, the stench was incredible. Nicotine! They had used smoke to give it the patina of age. Not exactly rocket science, but is seems the weirdest of methods are amongst the most effective.

Finally, be it Cartier, Rolex or Breitling, the strongest incentive for the faker always has been, and always will be, the price difference between steel and gold. A stainless steel Rolex Datejust retails for £1,900, while the gold version is £9,700. £700 buys enough gold to make a case and bracelet, and an original movement can be taken from a pre-owned steel watch for around 3900.

Numbers, signatures and hallmarks, be it the head of Geneva (fig.1) for 18K or the squirrel for 14K, are just stamps at the end of the day, and have sadly now been pretty much perfected, to all but the most experienced of eyes.

The good news is that the head of Geneva has, after many years, been changed to the head of a day, which, touch wood, has yet to be faked due to its complexity.

Whilst pictures and prints are helpful, they’re not nearly enough to go on, so when buying pre-owned get yourself an experienced dealer you can trust.

Where to go:For modern watches, there’s Second Time Around in London or Watches of Distinction in Leamington (which makes for quite a nice day out too). For vintage, there’s Somlo Antiques in Piccadilly, who carry an outrageous stock of classical watches. The Watch Gallery aren’t bad either.

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