The Ultimate Guide to Spotting a Fake Watch – How to Avoid Counterfeit Watches

The Ultimate Guide to Spotting a Fake Watch - How to Avoid Counterfeit Watches
The Ultimate Guide to Spotting a Fake Watch - How to Avoid Counterfeit Watches

For a watch lover, enthusiast, watch collector, watch gig, call it as you wish, it would be very disappointing to have a fake watch on their hands. You can’t brag about it, can’t post those wrist check videos on Instagram, can’t show it to your friends. In short, it is meaningless wearing it knowing the value, the level of craftsmanship, brand heritage, and the accuracy & sustainability of the watch are not there. It’s all inexistent, fake, surreal. They are even worse than homage watches

But there are times when a fake watch lands on your hands. It is not uncommon these days with all of those counterfeit watches flooding in the marketplace. In fact, trade in fake goods stands at 3.3% of global trade with fake watches occupying a good piece of the pie. So, how to avoid fake watches and spot one when you see them?

Do a favor to yourself and avoid a fake watch in the first place

It is unlikely that authorized watch retailers will play with their reputation and sell you a fake watch. As it is impossible to get a fake watch from the brand directly. That’s a no-brainer! Now, whether be in brick-and-mortar retail shops of the brand or from their official website, buying a watch at these places contains 0 risks of being scammed. However, many watch lovers would go the extra mile and search for it elsewhere when the availability of very sought-after timepieces like Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet, Franck Muller, and many more, is ridiculously low. 

Now reasonably, one would ask: Why don’t they just manufacture more watches? The explanation involves the “supply and demand theory”. Many reputable watch brands decide to keep their watches as exclusive as possible to eventually maintain a sense of uniqueness and “difficult-to-find” designation. This creates a gap in the market that keeps the prices of these timepieces insanely high and does not turn them into just a fad. “In luxury goods, when you break the illusion of prestige, the dream, the prices, it takes away the confidence. It means slow death for luxury goods,” Jean-Claude Biver, head of LVMH’s watch division, told Reuters at 2017 Baselworld watch fair, describing the grey market as the “industry’s cancer”.

Should you buy a watch from the grey market?

It is due to the reason above that many watch enthusiasts head to the grey market to find their grail watch, often at a lower price. It is named the grey market as it sits in between the white (authorized market) and the black (fake market). Now don’t get me wrong! Not every watch sold by unauthorized watch dealers is fake. I take the chance to go a step further and say that I often buy watches from my preferred dealers. 

But that involves a relationship of trust built throughout the years and the technical know-how that allows me to spot a fake from a genuine watch. And the whole experience is quite exciting. From being presented with their newest feeds to examining if the watch is authentic, to negotiating the price with the dealer – the process of purchasing a watch just gets even better! However, it is not recommended for the complete novices to the watch world. 

Expert Tips on How to Spot a Fake Watch

Incorrect details in the watch dial, logo, and typefaces

In the worst case, those really cheap replicas will have spelling errors in the dial, (Bolex, Relax, or God knows what.) If the name is incorrect the watch is fake. You don’t have a super-limited edition in your hand. Also, take a look at the font. Many fake replicas fail to reproduce the right font in the date, and other parts of the watch. If possible, compare the watch with a genuine model from the internet. 

Weight is kinda sus

A fake watch uses cheaper materials and fewer parts, thus, making it less heavy. If possible, you can compare the weight with the same genuine model if you have it. If not, you should proceed to look at the other telltale signs and make a decision. 

The date is not accurate

Take a close look at the date window. If it is not positioned in the center, this is a red light to run fast. Also, if the date changes slowly, more than 15-30 minutes, the watch you’re holding may be a fake. 

Test the Crystal 

From entry-luxury and above, every watch brand uses sapphire crystal for their watch glass. It is a more premium material and has better resistance to scratches than mineral crystal. Now, a trained eye would look for a violet color reflection that comes from sapphire, and a green tint from mineral crystal. If possible, go through the ultimate test. Scratching the glass. Any metal you have at the moment would do (screwdriver, car keys). For more about mineral vs sapphire crystal click here. 

Check the sound

Another factor to consider when spotting if a watch is fake or genuine is the ticking sound. 

Most truly fine watches have incredibly smooth mechanisms, which implies there will not be the ticking sound you expect with less expensive watches. On the off chance that the watch ticks noisily, don’t get it.

Peeling Paint 

This is a straightforward detail that cannot pass unnoticed. Peeling paint in a watch comes as a result of a poor watchmaking process. This is usually caused due to a poor anodization process or the surface might have not been completely cleaned at that time. Either way, that causes the paint on the bezel, dial, or other parts of the watch to peel. 

Misaligned Watch Hands 

Most luxury timepieces are of the utmost refinement and aesthetic quality. Crafted to the highest standards, every detail is in perfect alignment. On a Rolex watch, for example, a misaligned hand, not pointing at the center of the hour marker, can raise some red flags about the authenticity of the watch. 

Uneven Watch Lume

Another good indicator of a fake watch is uneven lume. (Although even reputable brands can sometimes make this mistake, with counterfeit watches the uneven lume application can be easily spotted). You might not even need a loupe to check as it is fairly easy to spot errors in applied lume on a watch’s markers and hands. 

Uneven Brush Finishing

Good polishing and brushed finish in a watch is a time-consuming process that also requires the expertise and the technical know-how of an artisan. To achieve a fine brushed finish on stainless steel it is required a straight, even brush without swirls or curves, with sharp edges that match. Again, you might need a loupe to spot if the watch you’re holding in your hand is fake or not but unparalleled polishing or uneven brush surface is most definitely an indicator of that watch’s authenticity. 

Irregular Placement of Markers 

Even the luxury watchmakers can sometimes sacrifice excellence in the name of efficiency but the irregular placement of hour markers is not the case. If you spot this error, simply don’t buy the watch. Even an entry-level luxury watch would not pass this type of incorrectness through their quality-assurance process. 

Reverse Thinking – Spotting a Genuine Luxury Watch

There is actually an objective way of determining whether or not a watch is worked well. Being able to examine a good genuine watch is the opposite of spotting a fake watch. In this case, instead of looking for imperfections, you will be searching for common characteristics that serve as telltale signs for almost every modern watch in the mid-luxury to luxury range. 


Most luxury watches come in a stainless steel case often 316L grade (surgical quality stainless steel, robust and corrosion-resistant). In addition, as you move toward higher prices, expect to find titanium, ceramic, and of course gold. The latter is found in cases, bracelets, entirely made of 18-carat gold. Not gold plated! You don’t want that on your wrist. 

Afterward, we have crystals. For a watch in the luxury realm, sapphire crystal is the most commonly used glass as it is highly resistant to scratches. Experienced manufacturers put a little more effort in and deliver the crystal with an anti-reflective coating. And when looking at sapphire crystals, the doming effect (which comes at a higher price) helps the watch bore the water pressure and make the glass itself more durable. 

Case & Dial Finishing

Seen as the opportunity to show their watchmaking capabilities, luxury watch brands find the case and watch dial finishing as their strongest advantage against replicas. While a fake Submariner is almost entirely manufactured by machines, the genuine legendary diver watch is taken care of by experts in watchmaking. 

Experienced craftsmen and women are advised to not cut corners at this stage. Therefore, in the price range from $4.000 and beyond, there can be no imperfections. Any flaws that should not be there means you are dealing with a fake watch. What to watch out for? Uneven lume, peeling paint, smudges in hands, uneven brush finishing, poor polished hands, and irregular placement of markers just to name a few. 


An automatic model with a quartz movement. That’s a no-brainer. The watch is fake. However, counterfeit watches have now managed to fake vast produced mechanical ETA and Sellita movements. The latter are incorporated by many prestigious watch brands from Tissot to Rolex. Therefore, below you will see how to spot a fake watch movement with ease. 

Most important and always the key indicator of the authenticity of a watch is what ticks underneath. The movement is of course the most loaded section as there are several aspects you want to look for when determining if a watch is fake or not. And if you haven’t been opening dozens of cases daily for the past, at least, three years, you have a challenge ahead. However, even an inexperienced watch lover can spot a fake watch from the movement by consulting with the superhighway of information – Google. If you have doubts about the authenticity of a watch, gently open the case back and explore its movement. What to look for?

Look for finishing techniques found in luxury watch movements:

Anglage (French for bevelling or chamfering, is the process that creates a 45-degree angle on the edge of a timepiece). 

Black polish or mirror polish is a characteristic of luxury range watches. It involves the time-consuming process that makes those perfectly smooth surfaces on the steel parts. Depending on the light, the parts you will be examining have a mirror white, black, or metallic grey look. 

Geneva Stripes, a traditional decoration technique that consists of wave-like parallel patterns in bridges, plates, and rotors. The pattern can be circular or linear but is always perfectly aligned. 

Engraving is most commonly used to present various important information like hallmarks for example. Different engravings on the movement include the brand name itself or creating a visually appealing design by true works of art.

Perlage, also known as stippling or circular graining, includes covering the plates or bridges of the movement by using a rotating peg to create an overlapping small circles pattern. 

Fake Designer Watch Brands – A Whole New Level of Counterfeit Watches

Back in June 2013, a crowdfunding project in IndieGogo that was looking for a mere $2.000 and achieved to gain more than $300.000. Eventually, MVMT was born. A cheap fashion watch that by August 2018 was worth $71 million. They managed to target the Millenials and sell millions of watches with the help of ads and social media influencers. 

Now the entrepreneurial spirit and the marketing efforts I do understand! What bothers me is the price tag. The watches are being sold for hundreds of dollars and their lifespan is one max. two years. The scheme is simple. Take a line of white label watches that have already been introduced by Chinese manufacturers in Alibaba, put your brand’s name on it, do your marketing magic, and sell shit for gold. 

Same as MVMT, hundreds of new “watch brands” have erupted in the market and are selling to uninformed buyers. Filippo Loreti, Daniel Wellington, Vincero, just to name a few. However, the best watch you can have is the one you have on your wrist. If you enjoy it, nothing else matters.

In Final Words

So, while a dealer may be enthusiastic to assure you that the stars have aligned, and this is the deal of a lifetime – it’s always best to proceed with attention. Feel free to surf through our blog articles where we have shared with joy the ABC of watchmaking and reviewed only the brands that stand for innovation, accuracy, and exceptional designs.