Rolex watches are, by and large, the most popular luxury watch brand in the world. Accordingly, this also makes them the most widely counterfeited.
If you’re in the market for a Rolex, it’s right to be concerned with the authenticity of the watch you’re buying. For this reason, we’ve put together this guide. It will help you get familiarized with the red flags that discern a real Rolex watch from a fake one.
Along with the guidelines, we’ve also included a series of images throughout the page that compare an authentic Explorer II 16570 “Polar” with a fake GMT-Master II. As you read, you’ll be able to apply the content from the text onto the “live” example. By the end, you’ll have graduated from this introductory course on spotting fake Rolex watches.
Spotting A Fake Rolex Watch
We’ve broken down this guide for differentiating a fake Rolex from an authentic one into the four categories above. Individually, each category can help you build a case for a Rolex being authentic or not. Unfortunately, counterfeiters are always adapting, particularly with how much they stand to make.
For this reason, it can be very difficult to definitively assert whether a Rolex is authentic or not. It’s always valuable to enlist the opinion of an experienced watchmaker, or even the brand itself. Nevertheless, the below points will help you detect 90-95% of fake Rolex watches out there.
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How To Tell If A Rolex Is Real
While it should be determined on a case-by-case basis whether a Rolex is real or not, the following points will help you make confident determinations at a distance. And although not all-inclusive, by the time you’re done reading this page, you’ll be well-equipped to differentiate an authentic Rolex from a dud.
The Accuracy Of The Model & Functions
While some counterfeiters make a great effort in imitating the look of authentic Rolex watch models, these are often the exception rather than the rule. Countless fakes out there are an amalgamation of elements from different models. The question to ask here is “Does that model, with those functions, that dial, and that bezel color actually exist?”
For example, you may find a Datejust watch with a day feature, or a Submariner model with a GMT hand. Perhaps the most recognizable of these infringements is exposing the movement’s balance through the dial. This kind of “open dial” architecture seems to be very popular among fakes, and one which makes it very easy to single them out.
Next, and slightly related to the previous point, consider the functions of the watch. Does the potentially fake Daytona have a working chronograph function? Subdials may be present on the dial, but these may not actually function if the chronograph pushers are actuated. This is another clear tell of a fake Rolex.
The Movement & Crown
Following the same thread of functions, investigate the movement. Is it actually an automatic watch, or a quartz movement? Fake Rolex watches are often powered by quartz movements given their cheap prices. Be warned, though, as automatic movements in fake Rolex models are commonplace as well. Therefore, this single consideration should never be the deciding factor in determining whether a Rolex is authentic or counterfeit.
Lastly, test out all of the functions of the watch, particularly any pusher and specifically the watch’s crown. The crown should be a screw-down crown. Once unscrewed, it should wind the watch at position 0. Pulled out to position 1, it should change the date if the real model has a quick date function. If it’s a GMT watch, position 1 will move the hour hand independently. Position 2, the last crown position, will generally serve to set the time and will move both the hour and minute hands simultaneously.
Judging the movement itself is probably the point at which you want to enlist a watchmaker. They will be able to open the watch case and determine if the movement is real. Unfortunately, in the modern day, the best Rolex fakes also employ counterfeit movements made to look like the real thing. They wont be an exact replica, but an inexperienced pair of eyes may not know the difference. Ultimately, even this single point of contention can’t be used to separate the real ones from the counterfeits.
The Looks & Details Of The Watch
After having determined that the Rolex watch is an actual model that was or is currently in production, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty.
Begin by carefully analyzing the dial. Are the indices perfectly applied? Are there any imperfections in the dial printings, particularly the model name, the brand name, or the minute markings?
Indeed, very old Rolex models could make it to market with defects, but these are incredibly scarce and probably already in the hands of collectors. As a result, any kind of misprint or lack of attention to detail will be indicative of inauthenticity. With modern Rolex models, every single aspect of the watch is perfect; there are no mistakes. This is the mark of contemporary Rolex manufacturing that often serves to rule out any fakes.
What about the lume? Depending on the age of the watch, the luminous on the dial should be Tritium (Not luminescent anymore), Super-LumiNova (Green), or the newer Chromalight (Blue). It should also hold a charge for some time after it is illuminated. Counterfeiters will usually not go as far as to get the luminous close to the original, if there’s any lume present at all.
The Crystal & Overall Looks
Next, check out the crystal. Is it actually sapphire like in a real Rolex? If it is, it will feel cool to the touch. A cheaper mineral or plastic crystal, on the other hand, will not. Although it may sound strange, for this we recommend holding the crystal up to your cheek, as it is much more temperature-sensitive than your hands.
Take note of the look of the dial as a whole. If you’re vary familiar with Rolex watches, you’ll often be able to intuitively tell that the dimensions are wrong. The indices may be too big, throwing off the dial symmetry. The same can be said for the hands, which are often not as precisely crafted in a fake Rolex as in a real one.
Finally, turn the watch over. Counterfeiters love to use glass case backs on their watches. Like the “open heart” dial mentioned earlier, this is yet another clear tell. Rolex sports models never used sapphire case backs, and only very few dress models were produced with one, so if the Rolex in your hands has a see-through caseback, it’s almost assured to be a fake.
The Feel Of The Watch In The Hand
This point is probably one of the hardest to assess, as one needs experience with authentic Rolex watches to confidently determine if the watch is fake just by feel and weight. As a general rule, the fake will weigh less than the original.
This is often due to the difference in materials. Rolex’s metals are some of the best in the industry. The material used by counterfeiters is, indubitably, sub-par. Counterfeiters will also use hollow components, as in the bracelet or case, to reduce costs. In a modern Rolex watch, the components are solid, and only evacuated as much as necessary to fit other elements inside of it.
The “click” of a rotating bezel can also be a signal. Rotating the bezel on a Submariner, for example, is a noteworthy experience. The clicks are very precise, and the bezel does not shimmy or wiggle between clicks. Likewise, with the bezel of a GMT-Master II, the clicks are much less pronounced, but nonetheless very smooth and satisfactory.
The Story Behind The Watch
The last category on which to weigh the authenticity of a Rolex speaks more to the individual from whom you may be buying the watch rather than the timepiece itself.
If you’re in the market for a Rolex, you already know that you will be spending a significant amount of money. Consequently, you have the right (and duty) to ask questions about the watch and the other person’s reasons for parting ways with it.
Some questions you may want to ask to help you build rapport include:
- Why are they selling watch?
- Does the Rolex have the original box & papers?
- Where did that person originally buy the watch – was it a retailer or another individual?
- What is the service history, if any, of the timepiece?
The answers to these questions will help you get a sense of the watch’s history, as well as of the seller. If they’re unwilling to answer them, or give evasive and incongruent answers, then promptly walk away.
For instance, if the person claims that the watch was obtained from “a friend” and has no box or papers, this should raise a flag. If the sale price is much lower than similar models listed online and the seller is pushing for a quick transaction, this is also a big warning.
This brings us to the last point – the price. If you’re buying a Rolex for an obscenely low amount, you’re probably not getting a deal but rather scammed. Rolex watches trade hands with such high volume online that it’s truly rare to come across a great deal. Sellers generally base their prices on what they see a similar model selling for, so the prices tend to remain level.
Instead of searching for the largest discount on the Rolex you want, seek out the seller who will provide the most value to you before, during, and after the transaction. Warranties on pre-owned watches are standard with the bigger dealers, as are return policies, which can be incredibly reassuring when making such a significant purchase.
Closing Thoughts & Up Next
The watch buying hobby, as with any other hobby, is one intended to provide joy and fulfilment. If you unwittingly fall victim to counterfeit watch sellers, it can ruin not only the individual experience but maybe the hobby as a whole.
So, make sure to protect yourself and your money. Don’t go for deals that seem too good to be true, as they usually are. For instance, Amazon stocks a number of Rolex watches but it’s imperative to check their authenticity before purchasing. Nevertheless, you do also benefit from Amazon’s buyer protection.
Instead, devote time to finding the right watch from the right seller, and you’ll be compensated with the decades of satisfaction that a real Rolex watch can bring. We’ve had excellent experiences with Bob’s Watches who are well-known for retailing certified Rolex watches.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about our guidelines, or any personal experiences, in the comments below! And if you’re interested in learning more about Rolex, or the extensive world of luxury watches in general, make sure to check out some of our other popular watch guides below:
- Rolex On A Budget: What Are The Most Affordable Rolex Watches Today?
- The Most Iconic Rolex Styles You Should Know
- Rolex Brand Guide: History, FAQs, & Current Models
- Bespoke Unit Luxury Wristwatch Review Repository
- Read Up On All Of Our Watch Guides @ The BU Watches Homepage
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