How To Tell If A Watch Is Real — The Definitive Guide To Luxury Watch Authentication
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• Is there a definitive way to tell if a watch is real or fake?
• How can I know for sure the luxury watch I am buying is the real deal?
• How can you tell if a Rolex is fake?
• What do Omega, Breitling, Cartier, and any other watch brand’s serial numbers mean?
• Can you confirm or check the watch's authenticity by serial number and how to decipher it?
• How can I authenticate a watch beyond a shadow of a doubt?
These are all questions that you might ask yourself if you are in the market for a pre-owned luxury watch. And rightly so! Whether you are a seasoned veteran watch collector or looking to buy your first luxury watch, you should always make sure the watch you are buying is not a replica. Watch authentication is a key step when making any significant watch purchase online or even from a physical retailer. But what is the best way to do so? Well, there are a number of ways, and with sufficient knowledge and a deep understanding of watchmaking, you can get close to being able to tell the difference between a fake and a real Rolex watch, a real Breitling watch, a real Omega watch, a real Grand Seiko watch, or genuine examples of any other popular watch brand out there.
However, one thing is spotting a cheap fake, but confirming with 100% certainty that a watch is authentic and correct is far more complex. However, in today’s market, the unfortunate reality is that not only there are fake watches out there. But some of the most convincing fakes and counterfeits ever made are being produced today. And whereas cheap fakes have superficial signs that identify them as such, some of the more expensive counterfeit copies of well-known luxury watch brands are not so easy to spot. This is a key reason why it is always best to leave watch authentication to professionals — watchmakers with decades of experience, and who have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of real watches.
But before we get into the meat of the watch authentication subject, first it’s worth understanding the principles of authentication. Why it is necessary, and how it came to exist — the importance of authentication has developed parallel to the course of human history and has its origins in the invention of the principle of trade (more specifically in the invention of currency). Commodities, such as food or clothing were traded in exchange for other valuable objects, namely gold and silver. However, these tokens could easily be counterfeited, and therefore checks must be put in place by the traders to authenticate the currency used in trade. For example, the first rudimentary check for the authenticity of gold was to bite the coin or token. Gold is actually quite a soft metal, and biting down on it with enough force would leave a small mark on it, proving its authenticity. This is a gesture that exists even today — you often see Olympic medalists bite their medals as if to check the authenticity of the supposed material used.
Later on, in the course of history, other systems such as small, intricate hallmarks were used to mark real precious metals. These hallmarks can even be found on watches that use said precious metals for their case materials. However, talented counterfeiters mastered the art of faking these hallmarks, on precious metals and watches alike. However, a watchmaker’s expert eye can spot a legitimate hallmark from a fake one — one of the make ways to authenticate a watch. Today, there are paper certificates, as well as digital certificates of ownership, using serial numbers and other unique identification factors. But when purchasing a used watch, often these documents are no longer available, and a serial number is easy enough to fake. It takes special tools and resources, and years of experience to master the art of authentication. This is a universal truth that applies to art, money, precious metals, jewelry, and most certainly watches.
Working with a team of highly skilled, experienced watchmakers is without a doubt the only certain way to authenticate luxury watches (other than relying on the brands themselves). This is something that we pride ourselves on here at Relleb. We give all customers the peace of mind that any watch they purchase, which has been submitted to our stringent authentication service, is indeed authentic. We have assembled a team of watchmakers that enable us to do so. In addition to that, we decided to lift the veil on some of the previously highlighted questions, to help you arm yourself with the knowledge to avoid buying a fake, counterfeit, or incorrect watch (also known as a Franken-watch, something which will be explained later on). In this ultimate watch authentication guide, we will answer some of those questions and share with you the knowledge that our watchmakers have gathered over decades of experience.
Do keep in mind, each watch brand is different, so though this resource will help guide you to make the best decisions possible when it comes to buying real luxury watches and avoiding fakes, it does not replace the actual work of a trained watchmaker. This is why ultimately; we recommend that you rely on our professional watch authentication service to ensure that any watch purchased is authentic. That said, we also want to educate you and share our insights with you.
The Importance Of Watch Authentication
Most people familiar with purchasing luxury watches, whether vintage, preowned, or new, will understand the importance of watch authentication. Being able to make sure that your money is not going to waste, and that your precious new timepiece is authentic is key. However, often watches have been repaired with parts from other watches. In the worst case, even using fake or aftermarket parts. Whether a dial, handset, case, bezel, bracelet, or parts of the movement it’s recommended to ensure you are only buying genuine watches.
This can be tricky, especially when buying watches online. Ensuring that you are buying authentic vintage watches is especially difficult. Sellers ship internationally, and often when buying a watch, it’s not possible to see it in person, let alone take a loupe to it to get a closer look. On top of that, most buyers simply don’t have the in-depth knowledge of a watchmaker. This means, that even in the best-case scenario, you can’t be fully certain when it comes to determining whether a watch is authentic or not. These watches have been around for decades. This means there have been countless opportunities for the watch to have been mishandled by a non-authorized service center, or a less-than-qualified watchmaker. Today the problem goes even further, as a lot of authorized service centers don’t provide a watch authentication service for the brands they work with. This is because a lack of authentication for used watches means consumers are pushed to buy new ones from brand boutiques or authorized dealers. Not only that, but often for the authorized service centers it’s not worth the risk of making a mistake in the authentication process, and end up having to take responsibility themselves.
Now, whether your dream watch is waiting for you on Chrono24 or eBay, Relleb is here to help you make sure that the watch you are buying is real.
DIY Watch Authentication
Now, it’s clear that relying on the expertise of watchmakers is the way to go, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a couple of tips that anyone can apply to help you spot a fake or incorrect watch. Some of these methods require having the watch in your hand. But for others, having high-resolution images of the watch will be enough to form an initial impression. And even for the experts, nothing beats having the watch in hand. From the basic to the complex, these techniques will help raise any red flags that might indicate whether a watch is real or not. Some of these points might seem rather basic, but for those who are perhaps looking to buy their first watch and ensure that it’s real, they will help clearly separate the fakes and franken-watches from those that are authentic.
Something worth keeping in mind is the fact that we will be focusing only on the watches themselves. A lot of people think that when buying a luxury watch, a sign of authenticity is that it comes in what is often referred to as a “full set”. This is when both the box, and papers are included with the watch. The papers in question would include all the original documentation of the watch (instructions, guarantee booklet, certificate of authenticity, etc.) and often include a purchase receipt. However, these are things that can be faked, or purchased in the second-hand market. There are many watch boxes and sets of paperwork out there, which can be paired with a fake watch to create the impression of a real full set. Service papers and receipts can also be easily faked. Some counterfeiters even make the effort to purchase equipment to print and stamp their own paperwork. Serial numbers are easy enough to fake, and any other documentation can often be long gone when it comes to vintage pieces. Watches are then sold under the pretext that their authenticity is proven by the presence of some documentation, and when you simply don’t know better, this can be rather convincing. For these reasons, we always insist that it’s always best to focus on the watch, which is the focus of what is being purchased, and where all the value lies.
Does the second hand tick or sweep?
Most luxury watches will use mechanical movement inside. This means that they rely on a highly complex series of cogs and gears, to display the time, as well as to allow complications — such as a date, chronograph, or moon phase — to function. Powered by a spring, which is wound either by hand or (in the case of automatic watches) a spinning weight inside the watch, the heart of the watch beats at a specific frequency. This, in turn, results in precise timekeeping. There are some exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, real mechanical watches can be recognized by their sweeping second hand. This means that instead of the hand jumping once per second, it moves in a quick succession of steps, giving the appearance of a smooth sweep. So, a quick way of telling a watch is not authentic is when the second hand should sweep, but ticks instead.
For example, when it comes to Rolex, only the watches known as the Oysterquartz should tick. If you’re asking yourself the question: “How can I be sure the Rolex watch I am buying is real?” One dead giveaway that the watch isn’t real is that the second hand ticks. This is the same for most Omega, Breitling, TAG Heuer, and Cartier watches. In fact, if you see “automatic” or “self-winding” on the dial, or anywhere on the watch, its second hand should sweep. So, if you’re looking at a real TAG Heuer watch or an authentic Breitling watch with “automatic” on the dial, you shouldn’t see any ticking. Simple, right? Well, it’s not always as straightforward as it might seem. In the case of watches with only two hands, where the second hand is omitted, it can be a little trickier to see. This is why it’s always best to ask the seller for pictures of the inside of the watch — something that legitimate sellers won’t hesitate to provide.
As we mentioned before, there are some exceptions. Luxury quartz watches also exist. In fact, those made by brands such as Breitling (like the Aerospace or Emergency), Grand Seiko, Cartier, or even Rolex’s famous Oysterquartz won’t feature the famous sweep. Another exception, which applies mostly to “Haute Horology” timepieces, is the dead-beat second complication. This mechanical wonder means that despite the watch being mechanical, the second hand will tick once per second. However, this is rather uncommon, and most watches that feature this complication will advertise it either in their name or on the dial.
A matter of quality!
Before we speak about quality as an indicator of authenticity when it comes to watches, we should begin by saying that this is a rather tricky subject. Many publications out there advise people to simply make a judgment based on the quality to determine whether a watch is real or not. And if you can’t tell already, that is (in part) complete and utter nonsense. Only someone very familiar with luxury watches will have an eye well-trained enough to make a call like this. Most of us would easily be fooled by a high-quality replica. Counterfeiters are known to go as far as to build replicas of the machines used by Rolex’s watchmakers to make their fakes as convincing as possible. And since we’re talking about buying watches from Chrono24, or eBay, platforms which already do their best to filter out the fakes, that is the only kind you might run across.
When the factors that betray a fake watch are literally microscopic, simply looking at the watch, or a high-resolution image will not help. This is where the hands (and eyes) of a watchmaker must be employed. That said, when the giveaways are subtle, yet plain to see if you look close enough, you can indeed spot even a high-quality fake with a little bit of knowledge. Some watch brands even add small clues in their design which make telling apart the fakes a lot easier. Keep in mind, luxury watches are made by highly skilled artisans, with access to the finest tools. This means that brands like Rolex, Omega, Cartier, Breitling, and many more, have the ability to leave tell-tale clues in such a way that those creating fakes and counterfeits simply cannot imitate. These brands also can work with materials in a way that is hard to imitate. But this is something we will get into later when looking at individual brands.
For now, here are some of the watch authentication methods, that can help you, at a glance, tell if a watch is real or fake, and the points to consider when looking at a luxury watch, whether online or in person.
Fit and finish
The first is the fit and finish of the bracelet and bezel. Almost all authentic Rolex watches leave the factory on a metal bracelet. There are some exceptions, of course, but even in those cases, and in the case of watches that come on a leather strap, there are a number of clues that can help you tell a genuine watch from a fake. Even the way that the strap or bracelet fits to the case can help determine this. Luxury watch brands work with extremely close tolerances that the counterfeiters simply cannot match. This, in turn, means that often watches that are not real, have ill-fitting bracelets. Visual giveaways help, but often one must feel the rough edges from the more rudimentary machining to truly tell if a watch is fake. When it comes to leather, the straps are often signed with the brand’s logo on the inside. The letters are deeply and clearly embossed, something which is not always the case in counterfeits.
The quality of the clasp can also be a clear indicator of a watch being a replica. Pieces that don’t line up, or that cause friction when opening or closing are simply not present on real luxury watches. Again, an expert may be able to pick out these differences from detailed pictures alone, but nothing beats inspecting the watch in person. Holding it in your hand, inspecting it with a loupe, and truly feeling for the signs of it being authentic. These tolerances in machining and manufacture apply to other elements, such as the crowns and bezels on watches. Turning the bezel can help determine if a watch is genuine in a number of ways. The clicking mechanism, which usually involved a spring and a ratcheting system underneath the bezel is one that is not easy to manufacture. Even in authentic watches, there is a huge disparity in the quality and feel of a ratcheting bezel from one brand to another. But one thing always applies to the fakes: the system never quite feels right. The clicking is too rough, or too light. And the bezel alignment is often not quite right. Meaning that the timing markings on the bezel of a fake Rolex Submariner, or an Omega Seamaster Professional might not perfectly align with the markers on the dial.
When it comes to the bezel, two other important aspects are the knurling on the edges and the insert. The bezel insert, which is the piece of material that sits inside the bezel and which displays marking for various types of timekeeping, can also sometimes be a key element in authenticating a watch. These inserts are often made of anodized aluminum, ceramic, or even sapphire (in some Blancpain watches), which is a piece that is not easily manufactured, and therefore not easily faked. And even genuine bezel inserts can be used in combination with less valuable watches to create a franken-watch version of a more desirable watch (i.e. using a green Rolex bezel on a standard black Submariner to create a “Franken” version of the popular Kermit model). In real luxury watches, the markings and numbers are sharp and clearly printed, etched, or engraved. Copies will often have lower-quality printing or laser engraving, with rough edges, differences in color, and slightly desaturated or faded (in the case of ceramic). Getting these things perfect is one of the many reasons why luxury Swiss and Japanese watches cost what they do. Fake watches are cheap, and therefore cut corners when it comes to the costly elements, leading to less-than-perfect results. However, convincing fakes will have this covered, with the most expensive fakes really reaching impressive and dangerous levels of accuracy in their manufacturing that easily fool the untrained eye and even the eyes of seasoned watch collectors.
One last point related to fit and finish, and something which is less often thought of when it comes to telling apart counterfeits from authentic luxury watches is the weight. It seems simple enough, but simply checking the weight of a watch can tell you whether it’s the real deal or not. This is due to the quality of materials used, and the weight of the movement inside. Often incorrect or fake movements are much lighter than those in genuine watches. It's also worth noting that the specific weights of real luxury watches are well-known and recorded, which makes comparison easy enough to undertake. This is one step that our watchmakers always take when checking a watch.
Movement and Performance
Something which we briefly mentioned before is the fact that most luxury watches are powered by mechanical movements. An important part of our multi-point inspection process here at Relleb is to check for the performance of the movement itself. Details regarding the movement can also aid watchmakers in authenticating a specific watch. This is due to non-publicly disclosed information regarding movements used in certain watches. These details were only made available to watchmakers who serviced watches from specific brands. Nowadays brands have become more secretive, and don’t share these details with independent watchmakers. But when it comes to vintage models, experienced watchmakers such as those in the Relleb team have access to the information which allows for the authentication of luxury brand watches.
Another aspect that is checked and that helps ensure both the condition and authenticity of a luxury watch is the movement’s performance. Our watchmakers check several parameters of how a watch’s movement is running, this is then compared to the original specs from the manufacturer. Ultimately if a movement isn’t performing as one would expect it to, it can be a sign that there is something wrong with the watch, whether it’s a dodgy service or a movement that has been incorrectly handled or modified, or an outright fake. These highly technical parameters can only be checked by certified watchmakers, such as those that we rely on for our watch authentication service.
Franken-Watches — Authentic But Incorrect
Throughout the article, we’ve mentioned the term “franken-watch”. But what does this mean exactly, and why does this make the process of luxury watch authentication far more difficult? It’s quite simple really. A Franken watch is a watch that has been put together using genuine parts from other watches. Often the purpose is to increase the value of the modified watch. Other times it may have been the work of a well-meaning watchmaker simply trying to replace a damaged part with what they had available at the time. Either way, franken-watches present a big challenge, especially when it comes to identifying authentic vintage watches. The parts are real, but they don’t belong in a specific watch. Whether it’s a bezel, a set of hands, a dial, a bracelet link, or even tiny movement parts if they are not original to the watch. An example of this would be Rolex Submariner parts used in a Sea-Dweller or Day-Date parts used in a Datejust, or even just spare Rolex parts used in a watch where they never belonged. Due to the similar nature of the watches and the interchangeability of parts, this could have realistically happened. And though it may have been a handy solution at some point in the watch’s past, it can seriously impact its value. The Relleb team of watchmakers can determine how a watch should have left the factory, in part thanks to their expertise, and in part thanks to records tied to a watch’s serial number. This allows them to determine the state of a watch, vintage or otherwise and helps them in the process of luxury watch authentication.
The key point is that whether it comes down to a dial, handset, case, bezel, bracelet, or parts of the movement, it’s recommended to ensure you are only buying 100% genuine watches. Even one of these parts not being original can adversely affect the potential resale value of a luxury watch. These watches are often sold at full value or slightly under, so what might seem like a good deal, could turn out to be a huge loss for the buyer, especially if buying blind. This is why we cannot recommend relying on our luxury watch authentication service for all significant purchases.
Something else worth mentioning is the grey areas when it comes to luxury watch authentication. This involved mostly models which are of questionable origin. A perfect example of this is the Rolex GMT-Master 1675 “Blueberry”. A blue-bezel version of the famous GMT-Master, whose origins are obscure at best. Legend has it that a Rolex worker set aside these blue bezel inserts, genuine Rolex-made parts, and sold them or even put them into several watches. Rolex denies that it ever made these watches, but rumors that claim otherwise float around regardless. In the case of such a grey area, our team here at Relleb would be completely transparent. Letting the potential buyer know the risks involved and asses the condition and originality to the best of our ability (and in a case like this what is possible).
One key element when it comes to watchmaking, especially when it comes to luxury watches, is the materials used. Luxury watches come in a wide range of materials. From the trusty 316L stainless steel to incredible alloys made of gold or carbon used by brands like Urwerk. In the middle, we find other metals and materials, like titanium, gold, silver, platinum, tantalum, bronze, carbon, ceramic, and more. These materials are often expensive, in the case of precious metals, and can be hard to work with or machine, in the case of titanium. Said metals are also easy to identify, as they are controlled by the industry. Swiss watchmaking has worked with precious metals for decades, if not centuries, at this point. And to ensure authenticity, several hallmarks, and specific stamps are used, either on the inside or outside of watches. Hallmarks can tell you not just the type of gold or silver used, but also the case manufacturer that created it, and the region it comes from.
These incredibly small yet detailed hallmarks have been used for hundreds of years in the world of jewelry (and any other craft involving precious metals), and so it has also long been applied to watchmaking. One quick way of telling if a watch is a replica is to simply check the hallmarks on the back, the lugs, or the inside of the case back. If they are incorrect, or bigger and less detailed than they should be, you can tell that the watch you are looking at is not genuine, and more than likely, the metal it claims to be made of is also not the real deal. Watchmakers can also apply a chemical test to a specific type of metal. This is more popular for jewelry but can certainly be applied to watches. So, what kind of symbols can apply to the metals used in real luxury watches? We’ve put together a brief guide to materials and what the unique properties of the material are that allow us to tell if a watch is fake, or real.
Stainless steel is the most common metal used for watches. But that doesn’t mean we should simply ignore it. In fact, some of the world’s most desirable watches out there are made of material. So, getting familiar with its different varieties is certainly worth doing. After all, one way to tell if a Rolex Submariner is real, or if a Rolex Daytona is real, or if any Rolex steel sports model is authentic, is to understand the special steel they are made of. Whereas most brands use 316L stainless steel, Rolex uses its own proprietary version of 904L steel, known as Oystersteel. But before we jump to that, let’s understand good old humble 316L steel. Also known as marine, or surgical steel, this specific alloy (like all steel) contains specific levels of carbon, chromium, iron, nickel, manganese, silicon, phosphorous, and other metals. It’s used for many applications, especially in those where its extreme rust-resistant properties are useful. Such as kitchen utensils, surgical devices and tools, and watches. Other, less rust-resistant metals could not handle being in constant contact with human skin without rusting and deteriorating over time.
But what makes Oystersteel and 904L steel so special? Well, it’s all about the mix of metals, which includes a small amount of copper (1-2%) a higher amount of nickel (23-28%), and more chromium (19-23%). This means, that less Iron is used in the mix, making the metal even more resistant to corrosion, and less susceptible to rust. Therefore, 904L steel is often used in the aerospace and chemical industries, where 316L just won’t cut it. The proprietary Oystersteel alloy, as well as other 904L steel alloys, are slightly whiter metals than 316L steel due to the different concentrations of nickel and chromium. They also take a better polish. This means that a trained watchmaker’s eye can certainly spot 904L steel, a material not used by 99% of counterfeiters out there. Why? It’s simple — 904L steel is 2-3 times as expensive as 316L steel. Some sources will have you believe that machining 904L steel is more difficult, or that it requires different, specialized tools. However, this is simply not the case, though it certainly does make for a good marketing tool, adding to the exclusivity of Rolex wristwatches. That said, Rolex may have been the first brand to use 904L steel for its watches, but it was certainly not the last. Many brands now use it in their own watches. Yet the dodgy manufacturers out there producing fake and counterfeit watches will happily stamp 316L steel with the hallmark and indication of 904L steel, or Oystersteel in the case of Rolex watches. Something which you or I might not be able to spot, but which a watchmaker undertaking the authentication of a watch, would check and spot right away. Because not all the glitters are 904L steel.
Titanium is another interesting alloy, which is used by many watch brands due to its unique properties. Unlike other metals, titanium is not so easy to fake, as there are three giveaways that counterfeiters can’t account for, and one huge inconvenience which means they rarely dare to replicate watches made of this material. The three key features of titanium are the fact that it has a noticeably darker, warmer color than steel. It also feels different to the touch, as its poor thermal conductive properties mean that it not only doesn’t cool down as much as steel (which is 80% more thermally conductive), but it also doesn’t warm up as quickly when touched. This means that it won’t leech head from your skin as quickly, and therefore not feel as cold. It’s hard to explain exactly how that feels, but if you ever have the chance to handle a titanium watch, you’ll certainly feel it. The last feature of titanium, and the reason why it is so popular in the watchmaking world (as well as in the aerospace industry), is its lightweight.
Titanium is just as hard as steel, yet 45% lighter. Compared to aluminum, it’s twice as hard, yet only about 60% heavier. And this is certainly the first thing you will feel when handling a titanium watch. Whether it’s a Breitling, a Bulgari, a Grand Seiko, a Tudor, IWC, or Longines, the watch will be incredibly light. This is made even more impressive in quartz watches such as the Breitling Aerospace, which weighs only about 80 grams on the bracelet. More impressive though, are Bulgari’s incredible Octofinissimo offerings. With watches weighing only 60-something grams. Difficult to fake? Absolutely. Hard to the machine? Very much so. This is the final hurdle and a big reason why titanium watches are often not faked. Because of its properties, it is extremely difficult to machine. And when it comes to polishing, something which Grand Seiko has mastered, it’s even more so.
We’ve only covered two materials so far, yet we have already heard talk of Oystersteel. This is not where the story ends when it comes to brands creating their own proprietary metals. In a way, this serves the double purpose of creating exclusivity and making these brands’ watches more difficult to create counterfeit copies of. Whereas standard metals (steel, gold, titanium, platinum, etc.) can be purchased from suppliers, only certain brands have gone as far as to create their own special alloys. You’ve heard of McDonald’s secret sauce, KFC’s Coronel Sander’s secret recipe, or the top-secret Coca-Cola formula. These are industry secrets that are kept under wraps to avoid imitation. And in the same way that off-brand cola doesn’t taste anything like classic Coke, the materials used in replica watches, will just not cut it. When it comes to these brands’ secret alloy formulas, you’ll find a lot of information on brands’ websites on these metals and what makes them so unique. Here we’ll offer only an overview of some of the most notable alloys used by the world’s most renowned watch brands. Both to ensure exclusivity, and to make sure that a real Rolex, a genuine Omega, an authentic Panerai, a legitimate Hublot, a bona fide Lange, and an unfeigned Urwerk shine like no fake ever could. Starting, of course, with Rolex — the first brand to create a proprietary alloy.
In 2005 Rolex debuted the first proprietary alloy in the watch industry with its Everose gold. This unique rose-gold alloy uses 18kt gold, copper, and platinum to ensure a pink shade of gold that never fades or changes in color. Something which normal rose gold can do, as its copper content, oxidizes slowly over time, and it shifts from a deep rose tone to more of a standard yellow. But Rolex didn’t stop there. Having an in-house foundry, as well as owning a number of gold mines puts the brand at an advantage when it comes to developing alloys. It continued to innovate, with Oystersteel following shortly after.
Its latest efforts have focused on creating a new material, named Cerachrom, to be used for its watches’ bezels. The material uses some of the world’s most resistant ceramics, with special scratch resistance as well as imperviousness to UV rays, making sure its color doesn’t fade. Rolex also created Rolesium, its unique platinum alloy, used in the Yacht-Master line. Finally, Rolex created what it calls Rolesor. Though not a specific material, it’s a special designation for when two different metals meet in a single Rolex watch. Namely in the brand’s two-tone models.
Of course, the current existence of these materials makes it extremely difficult to produce fake Rolex watches that a watchmaker or specialist couldn’t identify. But what was it like back in the day? Rolex has been producing watches since the turn of the century (and I’m not talking about Y2K). This does mean that vintage Rolex watches still used non-proprietary materials. That said, the aforementioned hallmarks, and other hidden details, still make them easy enough to authenticate. Plus, the fact that these watches have been around for so long, just means that expert watchmakers are all that much more familiar with them. Do you want to know if that vintage Rolex Daytona is real? Do you want to know how to tell if a vintage Submariner is real? Your best bet for peace of mind is to rely on a certified authentication service. Such as the one we offer here at Relleb.
The Biel-based brand Omega is one that is not afraid of innovation. When others turned down the Co-Axial escapement concept, it was Omega that was open to it and has since incorporated it into many of its most popular models with fantastic results. But it doesn’t stop at movement technology. Materials have also been a focus for Omega in recent years, with the creation of a handful of proprietary alloys. From Liquidmetal in the brand’s bezels — a material which is made of metals (namely titanium, zirconium, and copper) bonded to ceramic, resulting in a material three times harder than steel. When it comes to case materials, Omega has four different proprietary alloys: bronze gold, Sedna gold, Moonshine gold, and Canopus gold.
Bronze gold aims to offer a look similar to bronze, but with the advantages of an alloy that can be worn directly in contact with the skin without corroding. This is achieved thanks to the gold and palladium content. In fact, Omega’s Bronze gold alloy contains 37,5% gold, which means it is hallmarked as 9-karat gold. An added benefit and something which makes it easier to tell a real Omega watch from a fake.
Sedna gold is Omega’s rose gold alloy. Named after Sedna, an orbiting planetoid found in our solar system, which mirrors the intense red hue. It also contains palladium in the gold and copper mix, to ensure that the reddish tone will not fade over time. It’s an 18kt gold alloy and is also hallmarked as such.
Moonshine gold is another 18kt gold alloy from Omega, and varies from regular 18 karats yellow gold in that it has a slightly paler shade, is also protected by the palladium content, and is achieved by its silver and copper content. The difference can be appreciated best in doing a side-by-side comparison as it is rather subtle, but once you spot it’s a very distinctive and inimitable color.
Last, but certainly not least, we have Canopus gold. Omega’s white gold, and the last of its 18kt gold alloys, was introduced in 2015. It’s a 100% noble alloy, using platinum, rhodium, and palladium to achieve its incredibly bright white sheen. This explains why it has been named after Canopus, a star 71 times bigger and 10,000 times brighter than our life-giving sun.
Omega also uses its own formula when it comes to ceramic, which it uses for some of its watch cases. It has also created Ceragold. Which is a unique material which seamlessly blends 18kt gold and ceramic, and is used for bezels and other decorative elements. Finally, Omega has historically been a pioneer in using non-ferromagnetic materials in its movements for enhanced resistance to magnetic fields. This is why its silicon balance springs are complemented by parts made of Nivagauss, a proprietary material with extreme magnetic resistance. Can counterfeiters keep up? Not at all. They will paint and label parts to look like the real thing, but it’s simply impossible for them to create these materials and use them in the same ways Omega does. Therefore, materials do indeed play a crucial role in answering the question: how can I tell if an Omega watch is real? Especially when it comes to the most modern offerings.
Other material highlights
We don’t mean to give all the credit to Rolex and Omega when it comes to leading the charge when it comes to materials. It is worth highlighting them, however, as they are two of the most counterfeited brands out there, and two of the most in-demand brands today. Before we move on from proprietary alloys to the final two materials — carbon and ceramic — it is worth mentioning other brands and their inimitable metals. Again, these uniquely formulated materials make it so that those looking to create a fake version of the watch will not be able to do so. Perhaps the basic aesthetic elements can be created using other metals and materials. But the true look of these metals is as specific, unchanging, and impossible to copy as the Coca-Cola recipe: many tries, yet none really succeed.
Let’s begin with Hublot. The brand is known for its unique watches, avant-garde designs, and use of unusual materials. It’s interesting then that the unique alloys the brand is most well-known for are both based on gold. I’m referring to both King Gold and Magic Gold. Watches like the Hublot Big Bang Integral are available in King Gold, an alloy that includes a king’s portion of platinum, at a staggering 5%. Though other elements included in the alloy are a trade secret, this edition of the most precious of metals gives the gold a paler, and less reddish look. Magic gold, however, is a completely different story. Having taken two years of development and only produced in Hublot’s foundry in Nyon, this alloy combines 24-karat gold with specially formulated and prepared boron carbide. These materials are fused together in a process using gas pressure, to create 18k gold which, in combination with what is in essence one of the hardest materials known to man, is virtually scratch-proof.
Other special alloys include Panerai’s Goldtech, which combines rose gold with platinum to ensure long-lasting color and corrosion resistance. This is one of the few 18k gold alloys where the brand has disclosed the exact formula: 75% gold, 24% copper, and 0.4% platinum. Next, we have the German giant, A. Lange & Söhne, and its remarkable Honeygold. A metal used only in a limited number of special edition watches since 2010. This is said to be due to the added difficulty in machining. The material is far paler than normal gold, as well as more scratch-resistant thanks to a unique heat treatment. The formula itself remains undisclosed.
Finally, there are a few other metals that are unique to brands and whose legitimacy also proves that of the watch itself. Real Montblanc watches are available in its proprietary Lime Gold, which as the name indicates, has a greener hue than regular gold. Authentic Roger Dubuis watches sometimes feature Eon Gold, which is used for its movements, cases, and bezels. The special formula makes it 45% harder than conventional rose gold, with additional resistance to tarnishing. Real Ulysse Nardin watches, namely, the Marine Chronometer Manufacture, will use Diamonsil in their escapement. Chanel, Maurice Lacroix, Harry Winston, Rado, and even Seiko each have patented materials. All these formulas are kept tightly under wraps, meaning that only real watches will use them. The ultimate antitheft when it comes to intellectual property? It certainly makes it impossible for counterfeiters to get anywhere close to the real watches these brands produce and helps expert authenticators tell real from fake.
Finally, to sum up, this section on materials, it is clear to see that brands never stop innovating when it comes to materials. Something that is helpful when trying to tell real watches apart from the many fakes out there. As always, nothing beats the knowledge and understanding of a watchmaker, who can identify the typical markings and characteristics of said materials confirming the authenticity of specific watches. A lot of the time, this comes down to markings on the cases, which we will cover in the following section.
Stamps and Lettering
Previously, we discussed how materials help identify legitimate watches. When speaking about precious metals especially, we mentioned hallmarks. These small markings, stamped onto watches’ cases and case backs can be used to identify the type of metal used for crafting the watch, as well as its origin. Swiss hallmarks have very distinctive shapes, each indicative of specific metal and its purity. Established in 1881, these symbols are very specific and can indicate even whether the watch case was imported to Switzerland or made within its borders. Basic hallmarks include those for gold: the morningstar (for 10kt gold), the squirrel (indicating 14kt gold), and the profile of Helvetia (for 18kt gold). Counterfeiters will try to fake these hallmarks with varying levels of success. However, as these are officially controlled, it is almost impossible for them to recreate them 100% accurately. Therefore, poorly stamped hallmarks can help identify fake watches. And real hallmarks, often indicate that a watch is indeed legitimate.
There are also some well-known “hidden” symbols used by brands to protect their watches from being faked. These include the Omega logo, which is engraved into the inside of the brand’s acrylic crystals. It can be found in the very center, above the hands, and is extremely small. However, if you see that the logo is there, you know that what you are looking at is an authentic Omega watch. Or at least an authentic Omega crystal, which will normally only be found fitted to real Omega wristwatches. Rolex is also no stranger to the use of subtle clues like this. The most famous of them is the Rolex-branded rehaut, also known as the flange. This is the metal ring that can be found around the dial’s outer edge, separating it from the crystal. On authentic Rolex watches, the brand’s name can be found here, as well as the crown logo and even the serial number in some models. Rolex also hides serial numbers and other engravings at the 6 o’clock end of the watch’s case, below the bracelet’s end-link, between the lugs. In authentic vintage Rolex watches, you’ll find the serial number here, as well as a note of the material used. The final hidden symbol is on the crystal itself, in the form of a tiny crown logo, which is laser etched onto the crystals used on genuine Rolex watches. Again, difficult to see, but if you know what you’re looking for, it can be a clear indication of authenticity. And despite many sites out there offering a Rolex serial number check, only experienced watchmakers can get access to records allowing them to check the authenticity of these serial numbers beyond a doubt.
The final example comes from a brand that has grown in popularity these past few years. It’s a brand that has also been around for a very long time, has also been extremely popular in the 80s and 90s. I’m talking, of course, about Cartier. The brand, with its roots in jewelry, is no stranger to hallmarks. In fact, all real Cartier watches made of precious metal will be marked in detail. The famous Tank Must models, which had a case made of sterling silver plated in gold include plenty of details on the back to indicate this. Fakes can easily be spotted thanks to just how poorly drawn the hallmarks are. On top of this, Cartier puts a clue on the dial. This can be seen, in all Cartier models with roman numerals, where the Cartier brand name is hidden within one of the numerals. In the case of some watches, it can be found on the roman numeral seven, and in others in the ten. This secret signature is usually an indicator of an authentic Cartier watch. Very few fakes out there have it, and this can help experts tell a real Cartier watch apart from a replica.
On top of these subtle details, it is also worth noting that a lot of brands use incredibly precise methods when printing dials, bezels, and date wheels. Looking at a fake side by side with a real watch will reveal subtle differences, which will reveal that counterfeiters are not equipped to reproduce the high-quality elements used in real luxury watches. True experts (such as those in our team of watchmakers) can, with great magnification, look at how bracelet logos, and case back engravings are etched, and tell if the bracelet or case are authentic or not. Even vintage watches, where serial numbers and other text were stamped by hand, are well documented. Experts often double-check watches sold at auction, where fakes have often been spotted and called out by the watch community. Even restored, re-painted, and even re-dialed watches can be spotted thanks to the observations of eagle-eyed watchmakers. Much like the work of forensic scientists, the work of those who look to authenticate watches often relies on details not visible to the untrained, or naked, eye. And it is these subtle details that our team of expert watchmakers can spot, to ensure that any watch you seek to purchase, is indeed authentic.
Sapphire Glass and Cyclops Magnification
One final point to touch upon before moving on to the Q&A section involves watch crystals. We briefly touched upon how Omega and Rolex leave clues within their crystals in the form of laser-etched or engraved logos. But is there a way to tell if the crystal being used is real? The short answer is “yes”. Especially when it comes to sapphire crystal — a feature found on most modern luxury watches — there are a couple of simple tests that can be done to prove its authenticity. This, in turn, can help authenticate the watch itself. If the crystal is fake, more often than not, the watch is fake, or at least of dubious origin. The first test is the fog test. Sapphire crystals, because of their toughness and molecular structure, will fog like normal mineral glass but will de-fog extremely quickly, unlike mineral glass. This means, that if you fog up the crystal with your breath, a real sapphire will very quickly de-fog, whereas mineral crystal or glass will remain fogged up for longer.
The second test is the water drop test. Here, a single drop of water is placed on the clean watch crystal before moving the watch slowly, to make the drop run across the surface. If the drop remains very round, with sharp and defined edges, the crystal is sapphire. However, if the drop smears and its edges begin to spread, the glass used on the watch is mineral. Crystals can also be tested with electronic hardness testers, where a probe is placed onto the surface and pressed into it with light force. The point will detect the hardness of the surface, and an electronic readout can show whether the crystal is sapphire or not. Tools like these are often found in watchmakers’ arsenal, alongside others that allow them to test watches thoroughly.
The final aspect is one that applied mostly to Rolex watches but can also help you when it comes to other brands that also use a date magnifier. Despite their best efforts, counterfeiters have never quite achieved the exact same level of magnification that Rolex has with its famous cyclops. It is believed that Rolex founder, Hans Wilsdorf, invented the cyclops himself. He did so to address the fact that his wife struggled to read the date on his famous Datejust watch. Seeing the magnifying effect of a drop of water on the crystal, he decided to recreate the drop and its magnifying effect using the crystal itself. Adding this specially shaped piece of sapphire creates a loupe-like effect, that makes it extremely easy to read the date on the Rolex watches that feature it. However, the real cyclops’ magnification is above and beyond that which the fakes achieve. In fact, authentic Rolex watches will feature a cyclops that magnifies the date by 2.5 times. Pretty impressive for a little piece of sapphire crystal, and very useful indeed, both in reading the date, as well as for authenticating genuine Rolex watches.
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In this FAQ section, we asked our watchmakers some of the most commonly asked questions regarding watch authentication.
1. When authenticating a watch of a certain brand, what are the main visual giveaways that indicate a watch is not genuine at the surface level?
✅ The main indicator and the one factor that clearly stands out is when the level of quality of the finished parts is not up to standard. This can be apparent even at a glance. With some of the better fakes, it can require a closer look, but overall, it’s fairly apparent that counterfeiters are not well-equipped enough to reproduce the quality you would expect from luxury brands. Especially when looking at the movement, the quality of finishing and machining of parts stands out right away. An authentic Rolex watch will always look sharp and clean, whereas a fake watch will never look as good.
2. When authenticating a watch of a certain brand, what are the main visual giveaways that indicate a watch is not genuine inside the watch and in the movement? What resource helps you ensure the authenticity of specific models? When it comes to case/dial/hand/bracelet combinations, what is the best way of ensuring they all belong together in a genuine watch?
✅ It’s mainly a matter of experience. Though special tools and knowledge help to analyze that certain parts are not correct or have been serviced, nothing can replace experience. An experienced watchmaker will have seen thousands of watches in his or her lifetime. This means that as soon as something is off, they can tell right away.
3. Are there specific brands whose watches are especially difficult to authenticate?
✅ Yes, Panerai! It’s a popular brand whose watches can be quite tricky to authenticate, mainly due to poor record-keeping. Certain fashion/jewelry brands were also known to have used inferior parts that are also used by counterfeiters. This makes it hard to tell if a piece is correct or a replacement.
4. Why should individuals who look to purchase a watch always rely on a proper service (working with certified watchmakers)?
✅ If the customer does not have the skill and knowledge to analyze a watch it should be left to the professional who can advise that certain customer and give a high degree of certainty or assurance. You wouldn’t service your own car, and neither should you authenticate (or service) your own watches.
5. What are the questions buyers should ask sellers? What are key details that can be gathered/photographed if the physical watch cannot be present? Or does the physical watch always need to be present for proper authentication?
✅ It is always best to have the watch in your hands, but if not, the key question should always be if the watch was serviced with an official dealer or at the brand service center, and if there are corresponding receipts to prove this. Third-party servicing can be ok sometimes, but nothing quite replaces the brand’s authorized or even dedicated service. Brands will often even certify the service process and keep track of when a specific watch was serviced, and the work done to it. This allows future owners to know what exactly was done to a watch. Something which is not done by independent watchmakers.
In most cases, photos provided in listings are not up to a decent standard and this can really be a problem. It is also an issue for most professional watchmakers that try to analyze the watch. So sharp macro photos are key in authenticating a watch.
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