The most useful piece of advice I’ve ever gotten is that if something seems too good to be true then it probably is. The thrill of buying used, vintage, and antique is that you can sometimes snag something of great value for a bargain. But, in the case of luxury goods -both new and used- the market for fakes is so huge and well-established that the risk of getting a counterfeit is very real. When it comes to Rolex wristwatches they are some of the most faked timepieces out there, but there are some clues that can help even unseasoned buyers to understand what fake Rolex watches look like.

Rolex watches in display case
Via: Christian Wiediger/Unsplash

Rick Harrison of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas has been a knowledgable voice on the long-running show, Pawnstars. Harrison is well known for being able to spot fakes as he got his start in sales by hocking fake designer handbags. And, as a dealer of gold and silver he sees a lot of fake watches, and Rolex is one of the most faked of them all.

Rolex was founded by Londoner and watchmaker, Hans Wilsdorf, who wanted wristwatches to “catch on”. At the time Wilsdorf founded his first company in 1905 wristwatches were not very common because they weren’t all that reliable in general. Wilsdorf, originally from Germany, sought to change that and looked to Swiss watchmakers for a more precise and high quality movement.

Rolex with cyclops on crystal
Via: Laurenz Heymann/Unsplash

By 1908 Wilsdorf had settled on the name Rolex as he wanted his watches to be internationally known and so he fabricated a word that would be easy to say regardless of where one was from. He played with many combinations of letters until he found one that literally rolled off the tongue.

Since then Rolex watches have become the highest standard of time pieces in the world. For many people to own a Rolex is a treat and a sign you’ve “made it”. But, if you got your Rolex for a song then there’s a chance it’s not real.

18K gold Rolex with both day and date dials
Via: Sabrinna Ringquist/Unsplash

Harrison breaks down some key points to look for when determining if a Rolex is real or not.

  • The high quality of the production process means that defective, scratch and dent, or other faulty merchandise isn’t allowed to leave the factory. A real Rolex will have no inherent flaws. It is possible, but unlikely, to damage a Rolex, but even being submerged in water won’t ruin the real thing.
  • Day and date dials in combination on Rolex watches are only found in platinum and 18K gold – never in stainless steel. This is the most common incorrect fake trait.
  • The cyclops magnifier over the date dial should be at 2.5x magnification (fakes are often only a 1.5x magnification). This magnifier strength is used by Rolex to ensure that it’s easy to read, which means that if it’s hard to read you may have a problem.
  • How the movement looks isn’t the important thing. The hand movement on Rolex varies as the company made both the hands that move in “ticks” as well as “sweeping” hands that appear to move in a smooth motion. The latter is actually also ticking, just at a higher rate per second and less noticeable to the human eye.

See how Harrison spots the fakes and hear his advice on buying used Rolex watches in the video below.