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How to really tell if a Rolex is real: Fake Rolex versus Real Rolex

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    Spotting a fake watch can be easy, knowing it is real is definitely not!

    1. How to tell if a Rolex is real used to be easy

    Back in the days, how to tell if a Rolex is real was pretty easy (everything used to be to better in the old days, right?). You could spot / identify a fake Rolex relatively easy with limited knowledg, because these replicas were of poor quility and thus easy to recognize. The currently available blogs out there talking about how to tell if a Rolex is real are quite often still referring to these earlier easy-to-spot Rolex replicas, whilst this blog goes a lot deeper and examines the 'convincing' replicas out there and how to spot them.

    How to tell if a Rolex is real used to be completely covered by the following 6 steps.

    1. The second hands 'ticked' instead of sweeping in a real Rolex.
    2. Incorrect lettering (like “Rolox” or “Datjust”) while a real Rolex would corry the correct wording.
    3. Use of really poor material that corrodes, while a real Rolex steel would hold it's material color better.
    4. Use of a quartz movement or a movement that is way too small for the Rolex case.
    5. No illumination of the lumed parts in the dark, while a real Rolex would show lumed parts .
    6. Being really light in weight (please consider full steel bracelet versus rubber or leather strap), while a real Rolex was quite hefty.

    Unfortunately the fake watch industry has read about how to spot a fake Rolex and how to tell if a Rolex is real as well and improved their quality.

    2. Why fake Rolex watches are getting more convincing

    Painfull but true: it is because of you! The number of individuals interested in buying luxury watches and in specific Rolex, makes that the Rolex watch market is booming and the watches are in very high demand, with only limited supply. Apart from people who are really interested in buying a good fake Rolex (we assume you are not…), there is just a lot of money to earn with selling fake Rolex watches to unknown buyers. Although not investigated, we believe there are many unknown buyers in the world who have bought a fake Rolex watch in the past but they will only find this out at the moment they go to an authorized dealer for a service, for example. 

     

    3. What is an incorrect or “Frankenstein” Rolex?

    How to tell if a Rolex is real is quite complex. Apart from the fake Rolex watches, which have no real authentic Rolex parts at all, there is also the risk of buying an incorrect or what they call a "Frankenstein" Rolex watch which carries real Rolex parts but is incorrect.

    Frankenstein means one of the two following options:

    1. A watch with only authentic Rolex parts but where the parts originally do not belong together 
    2. A watch with authentic Rolex parts and non-authentic parts created by third parties (and thus not by Rolex) 

    To show you how complicated it can be, we have listed three examples:

    1. A Rolex Daytona with a Paul Newman Daytona Dial from 1967 in a case for a Rolex Daytona from 1972 (you would lose about €200,000!!) although it’s consisting of all authentic Rolex parts
    2. A Rolex Day-Date case, bracelet and movement with a Fake gemstone dial (you could lose about €40,000)
    3. A very convincing replica Rolex watch outfitted with an authentic bezel, lume pit and hands (could loose you easily about €5,000-€15,000)

    As you can imagine, it is extremely hard to tell if a Rolex is real or a Frankenstein Rolex watch without knowing the details and history of Rolex watches that have been, and currently are, sold on the market.

     

    4. Red flags when buying a real Rolex

    Being careful when buying a pre-owned watch is something highly recommended in general. We have reviewed a multitude of watches over the past months and have come across several fake or incorrect and fake Rolex watches.

    In order to understand how to tell if a Rolex is real, there are some red flags to be aware of. Our research shows there are some red flags you should be aware of:

    1. Price is too good to be true
      Usually means it just is… Everybody knows the market value of watches, it is pretty easy to find on Chrono24 and if you google the market value of a real Rolex there are tons of websites helping you get a fair price indication for a real Rolex.
      So any watches offered significantly below market price for a real Rolex should raise a big red flag.

    2. Low quality pictures
      Means quite often that there is something to hide. Most people can afford an iPhone which can make good quality pictures already, or borrow a camera from a friend. Don’t get fooled by a seller telling you he has a broken camera or “this is the best I can do”…
      In order to tell if a Rolex is real, detailed pictures can help you avoid the obvious screw ups.

    3. Avoiding questions or shady responses
      When a seller is avoiding questions, pushy or gives shady responses – don’t go with it. We know the market is hot for a real Rolex, but in general even sought after references are always available (albeit for a couple of dollars/euro’s more). Don’t be fooled by a seller pushing you to buy when you don’t have a good gut feeling about it.

     

    5. Cheap fake Rolex versus real Rolex

    There are cheap fake Rolex replicas on the market which retail between €100,- to €200,- and are more relatively easy to be distinguished from real Rolex watches. 

    Characteristics of cheap fake Rolex watches

    Cheap Rolex replica watches normally have the following charateristics in common:

    • Retail price:
      €100-€200 (or $110-$220)
    • Steel quality:
      Medium – poor quality and finishing
    • Movement quality:
      Poor overall
    • Accuracy:
      Poor (>1 minutes difference a day)
    • Primarily produced in:
      China (Asia)
    • Flaws visible on photos:
      Most of the times, yes

    Cheap fake Rolex: 5 steps in How to tell if a Rolex is real or a cheap fake

    We will first explain which quick checks you can execute in order to tell if a Rolex is real or a cheap fake Rolex. These tests apply to cheap Rolex examples and might still apply to the more expensive and accurate replicas, but please note that producers of the 'more convincing (and more expensive)' fake Rolex watches have managed to deal with these issues in the meantime - but we will cover the more convincing replicas in the next chapter.

    1. Real Rolex second hands are always* 'sweeping'

    Sweeping seconds hand

    You don’t see the seconds hands sweeping on this picture. But the hand pointed out by the arrow should smoothly sweep on general real Rolex watches. If the second hand is 'ticking' (60 ticks in a minute) then this could be an indication the watch is either fake or there are some serious problems with movement.

    *Please note there is a vintage watch (the Rolex Tru Beat) that does tick as is the case for Oysterquartz Rolex watches. The Rolex Tru Beat watch was originally created for doctors to check the pulse of a patient. You can check one out on AVW.

     

    2. A real Rolex will show clear lume light in the dark

     

    Lume light in the dark

    Lume light in daylight

    Real Rolex watches show a strong lume light in the dark. The above are examples of a real Rolex watch that was exposed for c.30 seconds to sunlight. Be aware that if a Rolex is fake, the light showed by the lume is minimal or not shown at all. Please note however that old vintage watches many times also lose their brightness of the lume, but for the younger models this is a great check.

     

    3. In a real Rolex, Rolex is carved in the rehaut**

     

    Rolex rehaut engraving

    A real Rolex has the crown on top and “Rolex” carved in the Rehaut all around. The rehaut is the inside of the bezel below the glass. Most cheap fake Rolex watches do not have this carved in the rehaut, so that is another way to spot them.

    ** There are certain (neo-) vintage pieces that do not contain “Rolex” on the rehaut, or anything at all. This is because Rolex just ran some productions without Rolex on the rehaut for some reason...

    4. Clear magnification in the cyclops of the datewindow on a real Rolex

     

    Fake versus real cyclops cheap fake Rolex

    Fake versus real cyclops on a Rolex Day-Date. Always look at the details. Rolex stands for quality and thus the watch must show it on every part. In case of the cyclops, the date should really be magnified by it. Cheap replica Rolex watches normally do not have this. You can try to spot this when you have the watch in you hand and try to look underneath the cyclops (by keeping the watch in your hand at an angle) to the date versus when you look at it through the cyclops: does it 'magnify' the date yes (good sign) or not (bad sign!)? (credit on the picture to brilliancejewels.com).

     

    5. Quality in finishing of a real Rolex watch versus cheap fake Rolex watch in general

    Fake versus real

    Above an example of a cheap fake Rolex movement. The finishing is far off from the original in material and colors on the replica Rolex watch. (credit on the picture to watchdoctor)

    Expensive fake Rolex

    Now the real fun stuff begins! Very convincing models of fake Rolex watches are sold on the market for about €600,- to €900,- and are quite hard to distinguish from a real Rolex, and nearly impossible based on pictures alone. These examples come real close to a real Rolex and it is hard to tell if a Rolex is real when faced with an accurate expensive fake.

    Characteristics expensive fake Rolex

    Certain characteristics of the more expensive fake Rolex watches:

    • Retail price:
      €600-€900 (or $650-$1000)
    • Steel quality:
      High quality material & finishing
    • Movement quality:
      Medium-Poor
    • Accuracy:
      Ok first 2 years, after > 2 years very poor
    • Mainly produced in:
      China (Asia)
    • Visible on photos:
      Most of the times not, observation by hand required

    Test: Can you tell which Rolex is real?

     

    Fake versus real Rolex

    Close up real versus fake

    Do you know which watch above is the real deal and which is fake? If not, you are not the only one out there. As said before, telling which Rolex is fake and real is getting harder as the replicas are getting more convincing.*

    Expensive fake Rolex: 6 steps in How to tell if a Rolex is real or an expensive fake?

    Now we will help try to help you guys out ad shed some light on what to look out for in a (pre-owned) Rolex you might wish to purchase. We will give you our top 6 checks to tell if a watch is a fake or real and we will show you this by example of a Rolex Submariner. 

    The checks that you can perform are the following:

    1. Serial number check
    2. Finishing of the case
    3. Finishing of the Lume pit
    4. Cyclops and numeral finishing
    5. Finishing of the bezel inlay
    6. Finishing of the movement 

    Now let's go through these checks but means of an example with an authentic and fake Rolex Submariner.

    1. Serial number check

    What does the serial number tell and how to check 

    Many people think you can actually tell the authenticity of a real Rolex watch based on validating the serial or reference number of a watch. Of course it gives you some comfort as fake / replica Rolex watches in many cases don’t carry a correct number, but it is not that based on a reference number alone you will gain 100% certainty over authenticity. It merely gives an indication and we are going to explain why and how to validate the serial number of your Rolex.

    • Where is it located: 
      6 o’clock rehaut or on the outside of the case between the lugs

    • What the look for:
      The 4-8 digit serial number (e.g.761Z1R123)

    • How to check this yourself:
      Read in our reference blog here

    • How to thoroughly check:
      Check reference number (year of issuance, country reference, model reference here) with your actual Rolex watch and with the actual box and paper details.

    Although it is a fairly common thing, the serial number is one thing that gets easily mistaken by even high quality replica Rolex watches. The serial number used on fake watches often refers to an incorrect period or an incorrect model. Although I’m sure this is something they will crack in the coming 1 to 2 years, it is something that can help tell if a Rolex is real or a fake.

    Why the Rolex serial number check does not tell if a Rolex is real 

    However, this check alone is unfortunately not waterproof. Basically it is a number which is engraved in the rehaut of the Rolex at the 6 o’clock hour mark or between the lugs on the outside of the case. If a fake watch maker is really thorough, he makes sure the serial number he uses is correct with the fake Rolex watch itself, the papers and box (including the ageing of the watch, box and papers). So, if a replica watch carries a genuine and correct serial number, the serial number doesn’t give away it is a fake… 

     

    Broad serial number

    Above a picture of where the serial number is located on newer Rolex watches. We covered a part of the reference number to make sure it cannot be copied. Always check the reference number online to verify if it is correct (year, model, place of issuance).

    Serial number vintage models

    Above we highlighted where to find the reference number on a Rolex Submariner 5513 (vintage models), where you can clearly see the reference number is located between the lugs. Always check the reference number online to verify if it is correct (year, model, place of issuance). Again, be aware that the serial number check alone is not waterproof! (credit photo: Tropical Watch)

     

    2. Finishing of the case

    The real Rolex watches are finished with the highest standards in the business. A cheaper fake watch will likely (and hopefully) never get at the same level as the real Rolex finishing is. However, be aware that watches can be polished and worn a lot in the past, which makes it more difficult to tell if a Rolex is real or fake based on the finishing of the case.

    • Where is it visible: 
      Mainly at the edges of the lugs and case

    • What the look for:
      Real Rolex watches have very sharp edges

    • How to quick check:
      Compare it with a real watch photo on the internet (or this blog)

    • How to thoroughly check:
      Grab a loupe and observe the edges. If they are not in a sharp angle and look a bit rough, it’s likely not the real deal.
     

    Fake finishing

    Real case finishing

    Replica finishing of the case is just less sharp than the Real Rolex. It takes a close look to see how sharp a watch is finished. Please note that vintage pieces may carry more scratches and have slighty lower quality in the finishing, which makes it more difficult to distinguish.*

    3. Finishing of the Lume pit

    This is again a very detailed look at the watch (emphasising the dificulty in how to tell if a Rolex is real). You can see in the detailed photos below that the lume pit finishing on a real Rolex is of higher quality and shows more craftmanship on a very detailed level that is not met by the fake Rolex watch.

    • Where is it visible: 
      The pit lume at the 12 o’clock hour mark

    • What the look for: 
      Real Rolex watches have more refined edges. Fakes have rougher lume pits.

    • How to quick check:
      Compare it with a real watch photo on the internet (or this blog), but please note you can only spot this if the quality of the photo is of high quality as well

    • How to thoroughly check:
      Grab a loupe and observe the edges of the lume pit and the lume pit insert itself. If the edges are not refined and look a bit rough, it’s likely not the real deal. The lume pit insert should look crisp and white.
     

    Lume pit Rolex

    Lume pit Rolex

    Lume pit Rolex close

    Lume pit Rolex close real

    Photos above compare the lume pit of a fake Rolex Submariner watch versus a Real Rolex Submariner watch. Always check the finishing of the edges and the crispness of the lume itself.*

     

    4. Cyclops and numeral finishing

    The cyclops used to be an easy trick in how to tell if a Rolex is real, whereby cheap fake Rolex watches show little to no magnification at all. When the fake Rolex watches got more convincing, so did the well-known cyclops. Nowadays you really have to look closely to see if it is the cyclops of a real Rolex or a fake Rolex - as most replica Rolex watches now also have a magnifying cyclops.

    • Where is it visible: 
      The cyclops glass and numeral on the wheels of the cyclops

    • What the look for:
      Crispness of the numeral displayed and the finishing of the cyclops glass.

    • How to quick check:
      Look how the crispness of the numerals. If it is the real deal, it should be “in your face” and with a high level of finishing.

    • How to thoroughly check:
      Grab a loupe and observe the cyclops for bubbles, glue residue or bad finishing.

      Cyclops close up Rolex

    Cyclops close up Rolex

    Cyclops numeral close up Rolex

    Cyclops numeral close up Rolex

    Although the magnification between the fake Rolex and real Rolex is super close, when looking in detail the clues are definitely there. When checking a Rolex for authentication, make sure to check the finishing of the cyclops and the finishing of the numerals. We experience that the quality of the numerals and cyclops gives most fake watches as this is still a tricky feature to properly replicate so it seems. 

     

    5. Finishing of the bezel inlay

    Although the ceramic bezel is relatively easily replicated, the contrasting bezel inlay which is made of platinum applied via a PVD-like process is not easy to replicate and can help in telling if a Rolex is real or fake.

    Basically the inlay numerals in the bezel are more bright within the same daylight in a real Rolex. A fake rolex next to a real Rolex will tell it quite easily, but a fake Rolex on itself can be hard to distinguish based on this fact alone. 

    Where is it visible:

    The detailed inlay of the bezel (numbers and edges)

    • What the look for:
      Crispness of the platinum inlay and reflection of sunlight

    • How to quick check:
      Look how the inlay reflects in the sunlight. If it is platinum, it is highly visible and finishing of the inlay is crisp.

    • How to thoroughly check:
      Grab a loupe and observe the inlay of the bezel. If the inlay is not refined and doesn’t look bright in (sun)light, it’s likely not the real deal.
     

    Fake versus real bezel inlay

    Fake bezel inlay

    Again it takes a trained eye (preferably of a watchmaker) and detailed look to know for sure it is the real deal. But looking at the crispness of the inlay and the reflection of the light, you can see the numbers on the bezel of a fake Rolex are less crisp and shining compared to the real Rolex.* 

     

    6. Finishing of the movement

    In your quest in how to tell in a Rolex is real, the quality and finishing movement inside the Rolex is one of the weak spots of replica watches. Which makes sense, as Rolex has spent many years to be able to built and hone their methods to create extremely high quality watches.

    However, it requires you to open the Rolex. If you cannot open the Rolex you want to buy yourself, then you have to go to an authorized dealer or someone who can help you.

    Since we hear that even Rolex machines are replicated these days, we are likely to expect better replicated movements in the near future. 

    • Where is it visible:
      In the case (the movement itself)

    • What the look for:
      Color finishing and finishing of the overall movement parts

    • How to quick check:
      Compare it with a real Rolex photo on the internet

    • How to thoroughly check:
      Grab a loupe and observe the edges of the movement parts. If the parts are not refined and look a bit rough or not crisp, it’s likely not the real deal. How to best tell if the Rolex is real, is by checking it with a real movement next to it or have an experienced watchmaker have a look at it.

                              

     

    Fake versus real

    Fake movement up close

    Side by side you can see the fake Rolex movement finishing is not as high in quality as the real one. A closer look gives away that the paint / coloring on the movements is in far lower quality and the colors itself are not comparable to the ones of real Rolex.*

     

    Fake movement indications

    Fake Rolex details

    Real movement details

    Above you can see the balance spring is not in the correct setup. Rolex uses a free sprung balance wheel which is hard (and expensive) to replicate. Overall the finishing of the colors and movement parts is off, even compared to the case finishing.*

     

    The verdict in how to tell if a Rolex is real

    It remains hard to tell if a Rolex is real or fake Rolex. It is slightly easier in this showcase (having a real next to a fake), but what if you only have the fake? In addition there is a story published that the reputable party Horology House (credit for the photos) even sold a fake.

    Again emphasising that fake watches are becoming increasingly more convincing, and you should be sure of the authenticity when buying one. Ideally by having it authenticated by an expert thoroughly by hand.

    More about Relleb and the founders

    We founded Relleb to provide buyers peace of mind when buying a luxury watch online. We hated to see beloved colleagues and friends being scammed on the internet and we experiences first hand how diffefult it can be to only buy a watch online and also authenticate a watch by yourself. 

    We stand for the ultimate customer experience when buying a watch:

    • Customer focused process and facilitating customs import duty policies and risks
    • Authentication by hand by an experienced watchmaker
    • Quality certainty over movement, timekeeping and condition
    • Authentication report and photos/videos documenting the authentication of the watch
    • Insured shipment with a priority carrier to your doorstep
    • Free returns and refund if a watch is fake or incorrect

    Video: How our watch authentication process works

    Video: Why we founded Relleb

    *credit photos: Horology House

     

    Written by

    Kenny Vaes, watch enthusiast, co-owner of Relleb

    Last updated June 27, 2022

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