The Trouble In Authenticating A Watch
We often get asked if we can authenticate watches from brands we both carry and do not carry. In the vast majority of cases, it is quite easy to tell if a watch is authentic or not: most imitation watches are poorly done and not anywhere close to the standards of the brand it is trying to imitate. However, there are times when authenticating a watch can be more difficult.
Most replica or imitation watches are very easy to identify as such. However, there is a new term that is surfacing for replica's that are very close in detail to the "real thing." These are called Super Replicas. These are imitation watches that are so close to the real thing that it fools the vast majority of people. Even people who have been buying and selling watches for a long time might get fooled. In fact, often times these watches are good watches that keep good time. Unfortunately, many people are easily fooled, including retailers who carry the brands that are being imitated.
Frankenwatches are watches that have been assembled in a way to make the watch appear more legitimate, or more expensive than they actually are. Often time frankenwatches will have OEM parts - parts originally made by the brand - to make them more convincing. We have seen many of these watches come through the store. The Rolex brand seems to be popular for these types of watches. Often times people will put aftermarket diamond bezels on a piece that would otherwise not have one and sell the piece as an authentic Rolex. Or perhaps they will manufacture a bracelet in 14K gold rather than the 18K gold that Rolex uses to convince the would-be buyer that it is a solid gold Rolex. We have even seen people take Rolex movements from their entry-level pieces and put them into cases of their more higher-end pieces and sell them as such. There is really no end to the imagination of people who are out to deceive.
Every year we inevitably get someone bringing in one of these watches after one of these so called "Federal" auctions pass through. These auctions are private enterprises out to make money and not run by the government, although they certainly make you think they are. They often sell pieces with appraisals that are highly inflated, then "discount" the item drastically to make you believe you are getting an amazing deal. I would strongly suggest caution when buying from people like this. Do your research on the company before buying. And as always, buyer beware.
You might like these frankenwatches; sometimes brands don't make watches exactly how you want them to. To each his/her own. But one thing to keep in mind with these types of watches - other than the fact that any and all warranties will be voided if you change anything on the watch - is that the brands will not service them unless they put them back to how they were originally intended. For example, we recently took a Breitling watch in for servicing. The piece had an aftermarket diamond bezel attached to it. Unfortunately for the client, Breitling would only service the watch if the client was willing to pay for the correct bezel to be installed. This obviously made the repair much more expensive. And if you're wondering, yes they returned the aftermarket bezel to the client.
Brands We Don't Carry
There are lots of luxury watch brands that we do not carry. Lots more that we wish we could carry but for a variety of reasons we do not. We get to see lots of brands come through our door, from Patek Philippe, to A. Lange & Sohne, Bell & Ross, Panerai, and more. And because we are store is associated with luxury watch brands like Rolex, OMEGA, IWC Schaffhausen, and others, people sometimes assume we are able to authenticate a watch brand that we do not carry. Unfortunately, this is not the case. We can certainly take a very educated guess to see if the watch is real or an imitation, but this does not mean we can 100% say with certainty that we are correct. And we will definitely need to open the watch to 'look under the hood' to see. Recently we had a Hublot come in for authentication. On the outside it looked pretty good. Very good actually, although there were some clues that made me second guess its authenticity. When we opened it up, it was clearly a Chinese made movement inside. Also the fact that it said "automatic" on the dial and had a battery movement on the inside was a bit of a giveaway.
Brands We Do Carry
We are very proud to carry some of the best and most recognizable luxury watch brands in the world. However, just because we carry these brands doesn't mean we are able to necessarily authenticate them on the spot, in the store. These brands have been around for a long time, most claim a founding date somewhere in the 1800's. They have been producing watches for a very long time.
Recently we had a client bring a watch to us for authentication. It was an IWC Schaffhausen timepiece from the early 1990's. The watch was purchased through an auction company and came with a folder of "documentation" and a very beat up box. Because we are IWC Schaffhausen retailers, he naturally believed that we could authenticate the watch while he waited. Unfortunately, our knowledge base of IWC does not go back to the early 90's - we just got the brand in November of 2017. We informed him that to properly authenticate the watch we would need to send it to IWC for verification since there are many good imitations on the market today. This was not acceptable since the people that sold him the watch needed something right away or they would not refund his money. Given the time constraints, we were not able to help him.
A Tell Or Two
Many imitations are very obvious imitations. If you have any knowledge of luxury watch brands, most imitations will be obvious to you simply due to their build quality. But there are other tell's as well.
One of the first questions that I ask people when they ask me if their watch is authentic or not is how they came by the watch. Believe it or not, a lot of the time their answer is that someone, usually a friend, just gave it to them. This is usually a guarantee that the watch is not authentic - nobody just gives away valuable items.
Just recently we had a Franck Muller watch come to us. The owner believed it to be authentic, and indeed it was very well made. The watch was a party gift - everyone at the party got one. Well, had it been authentic it would have been an extremely expensive party gift, multiplied by the number of people at the party. Even though we do not sell Franck Muller watches, we opened it up to discover a Chinese made movement inside, thus confirming it as not authentic.
Another sign is whether or not the watch came with the original box and warranty papers. Stolen watches will never have this - thieves rarely take the boxes when stealing. Your watch might be authentic, but it also might be stolen. Some of the larger luxury watch brands out there keep track of all the stolen pieces since their retailers report the models and serial numbers of the pieces that get stolen. Should the brand receive one of these watches into their service department and discover it to be a stolen piece, you may not get your watch back!
Imitation watches also do not come with original boxes and warranty papers, hence why if you have received one, or purchased one, this tends to be a good sign that it might not be authentic.
The old adage is true: if the deal is too good to be true, it probably isn't true. Be careful and buyer beware.