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Fake watches on Catawiki: what you need to know

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    Introduction

    In our blog series of “Fake watches on …” we analyze the current online marketplaces and (auction-) platforms available, and share our view on the safety of purchasing luxury watches via respective platforms. Authenticity and quality of the luxury watches sold on any platform are two of the most important factors for a buyer, so how safe do buyers actually are? Below you will find our review on the auction platform Catawiki and you will find that there is reason to be careful and what to look out for when buying a luxury watch here. We have also written a review of Chrono24 and a review of eBay.

     

    What is Catawiki?

    Catawiki is an online auction platform where buyers and sellers (actioneers) can connect and buy and sell their goods. The platform was founded in the Netherlands, and is nowadays a well-established platform where people from all over the world connect. Originally, Catawiki was founded as an online community for collectors, where collectors could list their collection and share information and knowledge with other collectors. As of 2011 Catawiki started hosting weekly online auctions, nowadays approximately 65.000 objects are sold on a weekly basis according to their website. Catawiki’s business model is driven by charging a commission for each sale made through the platform. 

    Fun fact, the part “Cata” in Catawiki stands for Catalogue, and Wiki represent a website that allows anyone to add, delete or revise content – together forming the name of the platform Catawiki.

    One of the values added to the whole auctioning process by Catawiki are the experts that Catawiki involves in the process, whereby they give their expert opinions on the objects listed for sale. This is primarily done for the high value objects, such as luxury watches, that we are covering in this blog. You will find more on the experts of Catawiki further down this blog, but first: how does it work?

    How does Catawiki work?

    General

    As mentioned, Catawiki is an auction-platform for collectables, whereby collectables are added to the platform by third party sellers. The platform is very easy to use – and as a buyer you can easily create an account and start bidding on the various lots. As a seller, you have to register as a seller and can then start listing items on the platform. There are a few “ground-rules”, such us that sellers are not allowed to bid on their own lots to drive up the price, which are set in the fair business practices, but more on that later in this blog.

    If you as a buyer have the highest bid on a lot, you ‘win’ it and then have to buy for the watch (for example) that you have bid on. Catawiki earns a commission both from the buyer as well as from the seller. Interestingly, from a marketing perspective, Catawiki will apply ‘push advertising’ meaning that they will present promotional materials (for example Rolex watches that have been put up for auction) as most people will search online for ‘Rolex for sale’ and are less likely to search for ‘Rolex auction’. However with the reputation and awareness amongst collectors of Catawiki growing it becomes easier to attract bidders to the lots on the platform. Catawiki has a clever algorithm to assess which types of lots to perform marketing for (as it for example does not make sense to market a Rolex Daytona if you do not have offer on the platform, for example).

    Supply & Demand equilibrium

    As Catawiki in essence does not hold inventory themselves, they are reliant upon the sellers for the supply of the lots on the website. On the other hand, the success of the website is strongly dependent on having enough potential buyers active on the website – bidding on the lots. Creating this equilibrium (between supply & demand) is important for auction platforms to be successful.

    So how does it work?

    As we mentioned, using Catawiki is easy. You create an account, and you can start bidding on the various lots. If you have the winning bid, the commissions are determined (more about the pricing further down this blog) and you will have to follow through with the payment. The money is held by Catawiki until the seller has sent the object, in this case a watch, to you. You will receive the watch at home and then the transaction is complete after you have signed for the delivery.

    Selling objects through the Catawiki platform is also possible, as Catawiki’s mission is making online auctions possible for everybody around the world. 

    All luxury watches and other lots that are being auctioned by sellers are assessed by experts in the different fields of products, before these are put up for auction on the platform. This makes the check done by these experts potentially very important for bidders, as it will give an additional level of comfort in case this review is done by an experienced expert.

    All watches are assessed by experts, indicating a price range of the object but you are not sure about authenticity...

    But what does the experts look at? How thorough is this review? How knowledgeable are these experts? And exactly? 

    More on this below!

    The experts of Catawiki

    The purpose of involving experts is quite clear frankly: to protect buyers from objects listed on the platform that are of inferior quality, stolen, or partially of fully unauthentic and thus fake. Catawiki is very transparent in their list of experts on their website – and you can even filter on the category that we are particularly interested in – Watches. There are (at moment of writing this on December 2020) 9 luxury watch experts that Catawiki makes use of to assess the luxury watches listed on the platform.

    As far as we can tell, the experts are employed by Catawiki and have various backgrounds, and respective backgrounds can be found on Catawiki itself on their expert page. 

    For certainty over authenticity a watch should be observed by hand. But this is not offered by Catawiki.

    Even though we at Relleb are of the opinion that for certainty over authenticity a watch should be observed by hand. Although this is not offered by Catawiki, some very apparent fakes or incorrect watches can be spotted through pictures. Consequently, if the experts of Catawiki are properly experienced they should at least be able to keep out the fake watches you can spot by photos… right? 

    Please check out the picture here below, of an advertorial of Catawiki that can be found on esquire (link here; for our English readers, this is a Dutch article) and see if you can spot it.. 

    Rolex with fake Mickey Mouse dial

    Source: Esquire advertorial on Catawiki.

    Interestingly, the Rolex watch on the far right with Mickey Mouse has never been produced in this specific configuration by Rolex! This watch is not authentic, and is used in an advertorial by Catawiki that should evidence why buying watches at (their) auction platform is safe... This leaves you only wondering how knowledgeable the experts are. Let us dig a bit deeper.

    But also when looking at the lots that are available on the website, it is not very difficult to spot multiple watches that are not correct, or include configurations that have never been produced by Rolex, such as this specific Rolex Day-Date with a fake Crest dial.

    Rolex watch with fake crest dial

    Credits to AVW for pointing this one out

    The Rolex Daydate here above has a fake Crest dial, but is nonetheless valued by a Catawiki ‘expert’ at €22k-€25k! Crest dials are often faked, for the simple reason that most Crest dials have a mark-up in terms of price to similar models without a Crest dial. Crest dials produced by Rolex normally have a limited number out there, making them more exclusive. This is also the reason why criminals have an incentive to replicate Crest dials and put them on otherwise original Rolexes. So it will seem legit because the bracelet, case, movement etcetera are all authentic – except for the dial that now has a fake Crest dial on it.

    Bidders might be tricked into thinking this is a fully original watch with an original configuration, which is not the case.

    But the list continues, what about this one:

    Rolex 1680 incorrect configuration

    Credits to AVW for pointing this one out

    This specific Rolex configuration has never been produced, either. This Rolex is a combination of two watches, whereby the dial, hands, and bezel from a Rolex ref. 1680/8 and the case from a Rolex ref. 1680/0. This is what we refer to as a ‘Frankenstein’. Catawiki offers ‘customised’ watches on their platform as well. A seller should at least indicate this in the description of the watch listed on Catawiki. So let’s see if this configuration is at least properly mentioned in the description:

    Rolex 1680 with incorrect configuration

    Credits to AVW for pointing this one out

    As you can read, the  configuration itself has not been explained in the description at all. Bidders might be tricked into thinking this is a fully original watch with an original configuration, which is not the case. And did we already say that this watch was also ‘inspected’ by a Catawiki and valued at €10.5-€11.5k?...

    We have encountered a fake double signed Cartier dial (not offered on Catawiki, yet), whereby the seller said “we will then just sell it through Catawiki as a re-dial”. I didn’t believe what I heard…

    Experts resources too limited for thorough assessment

    In the Catawiki advertorial on esquire.com back in May 2020 that we referenced to earlier in this blog, we read that on average approximately 2.000-3.000 watches are sold on a weekly basis by Catawiki. And when we consult the Catawiki website today, we see that Catawiki has 9 experts in the luxury watches segment. Now let’s do a quick math exercise… If we take 2.500 as the average number of watches sold weekly, and we assume that these experts can spend their full week on their work (no sick leave, no holidays taken into account). Then they would have on average they only have 9 minutes to authenticate a watch. And this assumes that they all work 1 FTE and are 100% efficient all day long. Realistically, it will probably even less than the 9 minutes.

    And these 2.500 are only the watches that are put up for auction! In the advertorial the Catawiki representative indicates that many watches that are offered by sellers do not make it to the platform as these are not correct (looking at the Rolex ref 1680/3 discussed above you can only wonder how incorrect these ones must be...). So in practice this means that more than 2.500 watches are checked by the experts. The average time spent on each watch might probably even be less than 5 minutes per watch… And we can tell from experience, it is already impossible to authenticate a watch fully through pictures alone if you have all the time in the world – so let alone if you would only have 5 minutes.

    Our experience

    At Relleb we can help buyers authenticating their watch and assessing the quality. Please make sure you copy the listing itself, as this could help you build a case when the watch is fake (“custom”) or in bad quality. To be honest, we have seen watches that were in really bad shape. We have even encountered a fake double signed Cartier dial, whereby the seller said “we will then just sell it through Catawiki as a re-dial”. I didn’t believe what I heard, and our mission is to prevent these transactions to occur in the future.

    Quality over quantity does not seem to be the standard here, and the ‘expert assessment’ might give a false sense of security to bidders on the Catawiki platform.

    The “Fair Business Practice” policy at Catawiki

    In addition to the Catawiki experts, in order to guarantee safe and reliable auctions, Catawiki has a number of guiding principles which are applied to ensure that buyers on the Catawiki platform are protected as much as possible. Here below we examine these specific guideline principles:

    Practice 1. Notary verification

    The auctions at Catawiki are supervised by a notary office in Amsterdam. We consider this an important element and condition for an auction platform to provide some form of assurance of the process of the auctioning itself. However, respective notary will not perform a quality or authenticity assessment or whatsoever on the objects sold itself in detail. Please also note, Catawiki will never see the watch “in the steel”, so they will never check if even what was listed will be sent to the buyer…

    Practice 2. Sellers are not permitted to bid on their own items

    The sellers on Catawiki are not allowed to bid on their own items. Which makes sense, because this could be considered a form of price-manipulation, especially if the potential other buyers are not aware that it is the seller itself that is driving up the price. We consider this a fair guiding principle to ensure that “supply & demand” is what determines the eventual price without inference of people who are not independent to this economical process.

    Practice 3. The highest bidder wins

    This guiding is actually a fairly straightforward one – the highest bidder wins. For all of Catawiki's auctions, if a bid is placed in the last minute, the bidding window is automatically increased by 90 seconds. 

    Practice 4. Employees not allowed to sell at auction

    On the Catawiki website we also read that “No employees, directly involved in the evaluation and curation of lots, nor their family members, are allowed to sell lots on Catawiki”. This further builds on the principles that an auction platform can only be considered reliable when the auctioning platform is independent from both the buyers and sellers on the platform.

    Practice 5. Seller IDs are required

    If users wish to sell objects on Catawiki, they may be asked for a scan or photograph of a valid proof of identification by Catawiki. 

    Our take on these principles

    Although we feel that these guiding principles definitely contribute to an overall safer auctioning environment at Catawiki, our take on this is that it does not result in more certainty over the quality and authenticity of the watches sold on Catawiki itself.

    Also, we feel that Catawiki could make the world of online luxury watch selling safer by refusing to offer certain items that could be used by fraudsters in their criminal activities. For example the original boxes / guarantees of a vintage Rolex Datejust that might be used by people who will use it into tricking future buyers that they hold an complete original set (and will charge a premium on their sale). Because why would a watch enthusiast buy this for himself if his purpose is to keep the watch for own use/joy?

     Box & papers Rolex sold separately

    Source: Catawiki.nl

    Or what do you think of this Blank Warrant Card for a Cartier with stamp sold on Catawiki:

     Blank Warranty card Cartier sold separately

    Source: Catawiki.nl

    Even when writing this blog, in December 2020, we note that there are lots offered on Catawiki where original box & papers sets are sold separately online. This leaves you only hoping that these are not purchased by people with bad intentions such as pairing these original box & papers up with a fake watch and selling it as a full original set.

    We feel that Catawiki could and perhaps should take an active role here in at least not facilitating in these practices by refusing to sell these types of items on their website (especially lots such a blank warranty cards).

    Catawiki pricing 

    As we mentioned in this blog, the business model of Catawiki is to build on facilitating in matching up sellers and buyers, whereby Catawiki will charge a commission on both the seller as well as on the buyer when the watch is sold at the end of an auction. 

    Catawiki earns almost 20% commission on a watch sold on the platform.

    Buyer and seller commissions

    The commission charged on sellers is 12.5% (this can vary depending on the object that will be put up for auction), excluding VAT (approximately 15% including VAT). Additionally, the buyer with the winning bid will pay a 9% commission on top of the price you bid. For example, when you bid €10.000,- on a watch, then you as a buyer will pay €900.- in buyers commission (total price: €10.900,-). The seller will transfer 12.5% (or €1.250,-) to Catawiki. In total, Catawiki earns €2.150 or almost 20% commission on the watch sold on the platform. 

    Reserve price

    Most watches are offered on Catawiki with a reserve price. But what is this reserve price? A reserve price is the price that the seller demands (basically a ‘minimum price’) for the watch offered on the auction platform. For example, if the reserve price is €5k, and the highest bid is €4.5k, then the watch will not be sold – as the reserve price has not been hit when the time of the auction ends. 

    The reserve price is always lower than the experts estimate we read on the Catawiki website, but as we detailed above some question marks can be raised by the experts’ price ranges… In essence, you as a buyer will have to do your due diligence on what you deem a fair price, and should not assume blindly that the experts’ price range is a fair indication of the true market value of the watch.

     

    Our verdict

    We hereby emphasize that although this blog is as much as possible based on facts and matters that we could obverse on the Catawiki platform itself, this blog includes our view on the Catawiki auction platform and is specifically tailored to how safe we consider this platform for online luxury watch buying and selling. We acknowledge that the platform might be very suitable for auctioning certain types of collectibles – but we consider that there are unfortunately ample of risks for buyers when looking to buy a luxury watch here. If you want to learn more about how to verify the authenticity of watches checkout our blog

    Involving an expert is a first step, but Catawiki is not the place yet to buy a watch with certainty over authenticity and quality.

    If you have any additional feedback or thoughts on the matter please feel free to reach out and let us know what you think!

    The purpose of this Catawiki review is not to bash Catawiki, nor do we have any intentions to bring this party down in favor of our own service. But we simply consider it to be unacceptable that a false sense of security is given by Catawiki to their buyers in some cases. Catawiki could be more transparent about the process, and the fact that authenticity of a watch can only be verified when an experienced watchmaker has the opportunity (and sufficient time) to thoroughly inspect the watch, both from the outside as well as from the inside. In addition we would always offer to provide them with our authentication by hand service for transactions.

    If you are nonetheless considering purchasing a watch from Catawiki, Chrono24 or eBay make sure to get in touch with us – so we can help you to be 100% sure that the watch you purchase is 100% authentic.

    Be well and be safe.

    Written by

    Marcel, watch enthusiast, co-owner of Relleb

    Last updated June 26, 2022

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