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How to authenticate a Rolex? The watchmakers guide.

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    Why does it matter?

    Fakes are getting more convincing. Even to the point where they fool Rolex watchmakers. On top of that we know they are sold daily online on marketplaces. Buyers eventually find out years later when they hand in their watch for a service. When we saw this happening first hand to our close friends and colleagues, we decided to do something about and founded Relleb.

    To educate other watch enthusiasts on the risks of buying online. And explain why it is important to have you watch authenticated. We issue high quality blogs on how to authenticate watches. We hope you will enjoy this one. 

    How to know if a Rolex is real?

    In order to know if a Rolex is real we have to follow some steps. In this case we will assume a full set including box and papers:

    1. Check the box and papers
    2. Check the Rolex serial number
    3. Check the Rolex movement
    4. Observe the case and bracelet
    5. Water resistance and timekeeping tests

    Some tips beforehand:

    • Look at the ageing of all parts of the watch
    • Observe markings and engravings up close
    • Rolex watches are known for their quality
    • When the price is too good to be true, it certainly will be and please stay the "F" away

    We will now show how to authenticate a Rolex in detail. We provide our Rolex authentication service to every online buyer.

    Check the box and papers

    Checking the box and papers means making sure those correspond with the watch at hand. We look at the serial number and the ageing of the papers. In addition we also check if the Rolex logo's are appropriately visible under UV light.

    The right box

    Rolex boxes have changed over the years. Both in size and color. We see tons of watches sold with an incorrect box. To know if a box is incorrect. You have to look at the year of origination of your watch (see serial number check below) and see if it corresponds with the box.

    Rolex boxes
    The outside boxes of a 2021 Rolex watch

    Checking papers and cards

    Vintage Rolex papers can easily be bought on eBay or other marketplaces. They are empty so you can fill in the papers and sell it together with a watch. Making it a "set" and adding hundreds of dollars to the cost price. You can see if papers are original by comparing the ageing of the watch with the papers. Looking at the ageing of the ink on the papers. And ultimately also if the puncturing of the papers with the serial number is clear and crisp.

    Checking a Rolex card under a UV light will show the Rolex logo light up from the card itself. The best way to check if the materials, font and quality is to compare it with real ones. And don't forget to match the serial number on the papers with the serial number on the watch.

    Rolex card under UV light
    Rolex card under UV light showing the logo

    Check the serial number

    The Rolex serial number can be found in the rehaut or between the lugs. Always at 6 o'clock position engraved in the case or rehaut. With the serial number you can check in which year the watch was produced. In addition it will tell you if it is a real serial number that was issued by Rolex. But beware, this number can easily be copied on counterfeit watches so it does not give you a 100% certainty.

    The following is important:

    Serial number engraved in the rehaut
    Serial number engraved in the rehaut

    We have dedicated a full blog explaining the Rolex Serial number check. It also explains why it is not providing a 100% certainty as sometimes assumed. 

    Checking the movement

    Ticking sound

    The ticking sound of a Rolex has a specific ring to it. It is smooth and sounds crispy. When you have a watch you want to check. Put the case back to your ear to hear the sound of the movement. If you don't hear anything or it sounds "rough", there is a chance you have a fake. 

    The outside case back 

    The case back is always nicely finished with brush on the outside. This brushing is specific for Rolex watches and corresponds to the brushing on the bracelet and case of the watch. If it feels fragile or not finished with a high quality, this can be considered a red flag for a fake watch.

    Rolex case back 
    Rolex case back with the Rolex brushing finish

    The inside case back 

    The inside of the case is engraved by Rolex. Observe the quality of the markings and engravings closely and make sure the engraving itself corresponds. In addition, there can be some marks in the case back. These marks are applied by watchmakers when they service a watch. By this you can check when the watch was last serviced.

    Rolex inside caseback 
    The inside of a case back. The engraving above "2100" is applied by a watchmaker when it was serviced. 

    The movement itself

    Closely observe the movement and make sure the quality if high! Rolex only issued high quality watches. So if the paint or gears are in really bad quality, it can indicate a watch is fake or at least has some fake parts. There are some checks you can specifically look at:

    • Check the balance spring for blue paint (specific for Rolex watches)
    • Observe the red paint on the gears and check if doesn't show any bubbles 
    • Observe the gears and make sure they intersect smoothly
    • Observe the engraving and make sure the correct "Quartz" number" is included on the movement
    • Check if the Rolex logo applied on the wheel is crisp

    Quartz movements have also been produced. This is always indicated on the dial by the word "Oysterquartz". These watches do tick and don't have a automatic movement.

    Rolex movement up closeThe inside of a real Rolex movement 3235 and Rolex logo on the wheel

    New 2020 Rolex Submariner 126610LN movement serial number behind balance spring
    The movement serial number and at the right the blue paint on the spring.

    The case and bracelet

    For the case and bracelet there are tons of checks to perform. We highlight the most convenient and helpful ones.

    The model number

    The model number is engraved at 12 o'clock in the watch case between the lugs. This quality of this engraving is high and should be comparable to the photo here below. You can also check if the model number corresponds with the Rolex model numbers.

    Model number engraved on the case of a Rolex
    Model number engraved on the case

    The Rolex logo etched in the glass

    In each authentic Rolex glass there is a logo etched at 6 o clock. This is a really small logo and only visible through a loupe. Since this is laser etched with a special machine, it is always a clear and crisp logo with deep edging. 

    The laser etched Rolex logo in the sapphire glass
    The laser etched logo in the sapphire glass. Due to the angle you see no straight lines, but the depth of the etched dots is critical to authenticate the glass. 

    The magnifying glass

    The magnifying glass above the date window always shows the date at least 2 times bigger. It really jumps of the watch. If this is not the case either the glass is not original or the watch is a counterfeit.

    The date window

    The dates are always shown in the date window. Look at the edges of the date window and also observe the numbers in the window itself closely. If the numbers are poor quality or bad readable, good chance you have a fake in you hands.

    Text on the dial

    The text on the dial must be crisp. Rolex is known for printing high quality text on the dials. The best thing is to observe the text on the dial through a loupe and see of the thickness of the text and crispness is good and consistently applied all over the dial.

    Also for double signed dials, such as Tiffany & Co or Crest dial watches, the text applied is of really high quality. When we authenticate such a dial, we always look at the thickness of the text applied and the material used.

    Crest dial printing
    Crest dial text printing on the dial. Thickness and finishing of the text is a key check. (credit: Angelini watches)

    Swiss made on the bottom of the dial

    At the bottom of the dial you will see "Swiss Made" clearly written on the dial. These are really small letters and hard to fake. Observe through a loupe if this text is crisp and clear.

    Swiss made at the bottom
    Swiss made at the bottom of the dial. Look at the crisp text applied on the dial.

    Light of the lume

    The light shown by the SuperLuminova on Rolex watches is super strong. Even when exposed to sunlight for just a couple of seconds, will bring bright shining plots and hands. If a watch is supplied with Tritium (watches before c.2007), the light exposed by the lume can be a little less these days. 

    The finishing on lume plots

    The lume plots in many cases are applied at the hour markers. Whenever you look at a real watch you will see that printed lume plots are applied with a certain thickness and always straight and smooth lines. Newer models have applied lume plots with white gold around the plots. The position of the plots and finishing should be very straight and clear. If lume is spilled over the edge, you can be sure it is a fake dial. And these are flooding the market nowadays...

    Swiss made at the bottom and the lume plots clearly finished with a very high quality
    Swiss made at the bottom and the lume plots clearly finished with a very high quality

    The finishing on the hands

    Hands on Rolex watches are as well finished with the highest quality standards. Some watches have been re-lumed, repainted or replaced by incorrect hands or material. This is shown when you observe the hands through a loupe. If the lume or paint of the hands is not correctly applied you will see bubbles or the edges are not straight. If you see this, you can be sure the hands are not correct or plain fakes.

    The sweeping hands

    These watches don't tick every seconds. Rolex watches have sweeping hands. They move smoothly over the dial. If there is a clear seconds hand ticking every second, you are sure to have a fake. There is a vintage Rolex, the Tru Beat, which has a ticking seconds hand. But that is really the only real one. 

    Bracelet finishing

    The bracelet finishing of real Rolex watches is done with a specific type of brush. The bracelets have changed over the years, but the screws and finishing applied were always of the highest quality. The Rolex Oster bracelet is always brushed this way. Although the center links may be polished. Just like on a jubilee bracelet. The side of the bracelet is always polished for recent models.

    Bracelet clasp

    The clasp always carries the full brand logo and specific clasp codes and numbers. The clasp itself is polished and when you look on the inside of the clasp, you see a matte sand finishing. Only a real clasp is finished in this way. 

    Rolex clasp inside
    The inside of the clasp bearing the original Rolex logo and "Geneva Swiss Made"

    Step 5: Water resistance and timekeeping

    Tool watches used to be on the wrist of professionals for daily tasks. Such as divers, soldiers, researches, explorers, pilots, you name it. So quality of the watch could be a matter of life and death. Rolex tool watches are reliable timepieces because their built to last. Water resistance and timekeeping are a key indicator.

    Although water resistance and timekeeping can deteriorate with age, it is a key indicator for real Rolex watches. Fakes are built with less quality material and are therefore less resistant to water pressure and less accurate in timekeeping.


    Best thing is to verify timekeeping with a Timegrapher machine. this machine detects the beats per second and daily deviation in 1/10 of a second. Another method is to check timekeeping on a full day with your watch. Fully wind the watch and at 00:00 set the time on the watch (even the seconds!). After 24 hours according to your telephone, see where the watch is at. It shouldn't be off more than 2 seconds for a new Rolex watch.

    Water resistance

    Testing water resistance is best done with specialist machines. But if you want to be sue yourself, test it with clear water in a glass or bowl and see if any bubbles come out of the watch. For vintage watches, we advise not to expose it to any water at all...

    Rolex watch bought with Relleb authentications service
    This watch was bought with our Relleb online buying protection service

    Can you authenticate a Rolex watch on your own?

    If your are a Rolex watch maker or Rolex expert and have the tools to open the watch and dismantle the bracelet, yes! If you are not, you will not be able to perform certain steps such as:

    • Open the case back to observe the movement
    • Dismantle the bracelet to observe the case and bracelet
    • You need the experience to conclude if the materials used are correct
    • Determine if the correct Rolex finishing is applied correctly
    • Determine if the cards gloss and stickers applied are correct
    • Check the lubrication quality and clean/add lubrication accordingly
    • Verify the correct complications and build up of the movement
    • Assess quality of the pins used is correct
    • Etcetera

    So our advice would always be to find a Rolex authentication service and have it checked by an experienced Rolex watchmaker.

    How much does it cost to get a Rolex authenticated?

    Authenticating your watch at an authorized dealer will most likely cost you more than 600 bucks. Our experience is that authorized dealers demand to take a service when you bring in your Rolex to have it checked out.   

    When you buy a watch online with our Rolex authentication service, the costs will start at €150 (or $180).  You can find the exact pricing for our authentication service.

    Why should you go for an authentication service?

    Because true watchmakers with working experience and knowledge about vintage models are best positioned to say if a Rolex is real or not. They know what to look for and how it compares to the real deal. They have the knowledge on materials, configurations and even brushing applied in certain periods. On top of that, when they doubt something they will likely have the network to speak to other experts. You can make use of our Rolex authentication service when buying a watch online. Whether it is on Chrono24 or any other place. We got you covered. 


    Watchmaker guides for specific Rolex models

    At Relleb we authenticate watches for customers. We even started a marketplace for watch enthusiasts to safely sell and buy watches online. To share with other watch enthusiast how we authenticate watches ourselves, we have written blogs about our authentication process. You can read our blog about how we authenticated The Rolex Daytona 116520 or The Rolex Submariner Hulk.

    Written by

    Kenny Vaes, watch enthusiast, co-owner of Relleb

    Last updated April 11, 2023

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