If you’ve ever been down Temple Street in Hong Kong, or navigated the bedlam of Bangkok’s famous Chatuchak Weekend market, you’ll think it's easy to spot a fake. From misspelt brand names to watches with laughably light cases and bracelets, the replicas are such poor imitations, you’re left with a confidence that you easily discern fake from real even when confronted with images online.
However, while this is one end of the scale there is another far more professional end of the spectrum with people producing fakes that look so convincingly real it would take a loupe to reveal the forgery.
Jose Pereztrioka has been on a one-man crusade to educate the public when it comes to being “fake aware”. Under the Insta handle @perezcope, as well as debunking myths Panerai tells about itself and creating exhaustive histories of Rolex Sea-Dweller models, he also shows how to spot fakes, even going so far as to call out auction houses for perpetuating this shady market.
“One needs to be absolutely certain before exposing a high-end vintage watch as fake or made-up. My conclusions are always backed by evidence. Due to the extensive research conducted, I am in a position of understanding tiniest details that many others probably would miss. Call it horological forensics.”
Pereztroika’s forensic abilities are so well honed that in 2018 he posted absolutely incontestable evidence that a Rolex Daytona ref.6239 sold at Philips Hong Kong in 2015 had a modified dial. The word 'Cosmograph' had been erased to make it look like it had a Solo dial. A Rolex Daytona Cosmograph could be bought now from Watches of Switzerland for £9,550; by contrast a Solo recently sold at auction for CHF245,000 (approx. £186,633).
However, most of us looking to buy online don’t have the extensive knowledge that comes from Pereztroika’s obsessive attention to detail. So how can we mere mortals protect ourselves for forking out for fakes in a world when even an auction house can be fooled?
“The best way to avoid buying fakes would be to buy the watch from an official retailer,” says Delphine Sarbach, legal counsel for online enforcement at the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, the Swiss watch industry’s leading trade association that, as well as providing its members with economic, legal and commercial support, seeks to educate consumers about the sector as a whole.
That’s very much the most basic way of avoiding spending on something suspect, but it’s a bit like saying the best way to not get hit by a car is to stay indoors. It’s also not helpful if you’re looking to buy vintage, which a lot of retailers just don’t deal in.
Typical things to look out for is pricing – if it looks like absolute steal chances are you’re being had; the quality of images is a good indicator because, generally speaking, people selling genuine items will want to show it in the best light and with lots of secondary images showing authentic details, if you want to shift something dubious then you’re only going to post one shoddy image in the hope no one will ask questions.
“Another well-known indicator is counterfeiters’ writing styles,” says Sarbach. “Look for consistent typing errors and typical keywords that are repeated.” A poor-quality website is a giveaway, however, if the people making the fakes are clever enough to make a watch look authentic then they are going to employ a half decent web developer too.
The other problem with fakes in this industry is that it isn’t a black and white issue. Watches can be modified over time – bezels replaced, dials changed, hands swapped; the intention might not have been to deceive, but it does mean that you could find yourself paying out substantial cash for a vintage piece only to discover that it isn’t 100% authentic.
“The vintage watch world is a minefield and the best prophylactic is education,” says Pereztroika. "It’s simple, the more you know the better. There are also a number of scholars willing to help. The best thing to do is to always get different opinions. Another thing to consider is the choice of seller as to err is human and responsible dealers will always make things right in case of mistakes on their side.”
Caveat emptor it is then.
Three sites you can trust for amazing vintage finds.
Started in 2009 in a family home in Bishops Stortford, Xupes was originally just a site for watches, art and antiques. In the intervening 10 years, it has exploded to include art, design and even handbags.
A family-run auction house where you can rock up in person for a flutter or say at home and go virtual with one of their monthly timed auctions where you can bid on a lovely 1958 Omega for just £360.
Based off Bond Street in the Royal Arcade, this where to come for some seriously high-end shopping such as a Lange 1” Piece Unique” which is yours for just £69,500.