Rolexes, like any other luxury item, are a hot commodity. That means lots of scammers and thieves are going to be very interested in creating and/or selling fake ones at the price of a genuine article.
Scams of this type are very common, especially through the Internet, where sales can be made without ever seeing the face of or knowing the real name of the seller. What was once only seen in vans and street stalls in New York City has now become a worldwide phenomenon.
Whether you want to buy a Rolex for yourself or a loved one, how can you tell you’re getting the real thing and not a well-made fake? Here are the top 12 ways you can spot a real from a fake.
1. Its Weight
Because Rolex watches at their cheapest run about $3,000, it’s made from the highest quality materials. This means that a genuine Rolex will have a significant weight and heft to it.
Cheaper construction materials in knockoffs mean a lighter watch. While a watch expert or experienced jeweler can tell for sure (they can weigh it and will know generally what a genuine watch’s weight will be), a good test is simply to feel how it weighs in your hand.
The fake will be significantly lighter, while the genuine article will have heft.
2. The Magnifier
All genuine Rolex watches feature a “cyclops” window above the date. This is a little magnifier that amplifies the number exactly 2.5 times for easy viewing.
A fake Rolex will either not magnify at all, with the cyclops simply being an additional hunk of glass, or it will magnify much less. You should not have to squint when looking at the date on a Rolex. If you do, don’t bother buying it.
3. The Secret Crown
Beginning in 2002, the Rolex company began adding a tiny, almost-invisible crown logo onto the watch’s face—specifically, micro-etched at the 6 o’clock position into the crystal that covers the watch face.
It looks like a hologram or an etching, but it’s not etched and it can’t be seen by the naked eye. It’s actually in the glass – little bubbles in the glass that form a crown. To see it, use a flashlight app on your phone. Place the phone light on the phone the 12 and the LEC (laser etched crown) will pop out.
Because of the process and equipment involved in adding this etching, as well as its minute size, fake Rolexes will not have it. This is hard to see with the naked eye, so either look very closely or have the jeweler or seller show it to you with magnification.
4. The Backing
Except for some very rare and discontinued pieces from the 1930s, no genuine Rolex watch has any markings, engravings, or writing on the underside of the watch. Often, scammers prey upon people not realizing this little detail, so they engrave all kinds of things there, including very convincing replicas of the Rolex logo.
But there is never anything on the backing of a genuine Rolex watch. This is one of the key differences between the real and the counterfeit.
Additionally, Rolex backings are never clear. The backing has to be removed to view the movement underneath. If you can see through the backing of your watch when you flip it over, it’s a fake.
5. The Metal
Genuine Rolex watches come in three different metals: Stainless steel, 18k gold, or platinum. They do not make gold plated or 14k gold watches. If your Rolex is one of these, it isn’t real, no matter how convincing other details may be.
This means the gold will not fade and there should not be a visible layer of metal beneath the surface. These are telltale signs of a knockoff that should be avoided at all costs.
6. The Dial
Genuine Rolexes are known for extremely precise, perfect dials. Most notably, look for any smearing, imprecision, smudging, uneven fonts, or any other imperfection in the dial lettering. Some counterfeits get all of the words right but don’t print them well, or create other blemishes due to their inferior creation process.
Additionally, look for a distinctive crown logo at the very top of the watch face. Depending on the model, this will either be:
- Directly above the word “Rolex” and below the window with the day of the week, without touching or overlapping the window
- Above the word “Rolex” and below the number 12 of the watch face
- Replacing the number 12 in a very few models.
While some fakes have duplicated the crown, not all get it right. It ought to have five spires with the middle one being the tallest, and it will not overlap with any of the other lettering or details on the face. Rolexes are nothing if not shrines to unbelievable precision.
For NYC-area owners interested in selling their used Rolexes to jewelry experts, go here to find out how your watch can be appraised (you can visit in-person if in the area), or safely shipped from sellers outside the region for immediate payment.
7. The Winding Crown
This is the little dial on the side of the watch that is used to adjust the hands and change the time. Fakes cannot duplicate the intricate and precise engraving that is on the dial.
Fakes will simply use a basic-looking crown that could go on any other watch. A genuine Rolex crown is finely, precisely engraved and features a raised, embossed crown logo that can be felt to the touch. Additionally, the winding crown will always be on the 3 o’clock side of the watch, directly beneath the number 3. If it’s anywhere else, it’s a fake.
8. The Ticking
Genuine Rolexes do not (usually) make a ticking noise. They are known for being quiet machines of Swiss precision. If you hear noise from your watch, it is almost certainly a fake.
9. The Serial and Model Numbers
Genuine Rolexes have the model or case number machine-etched into the metal between the lugs of the face at the 12 o’clock position. Genuine watches produced prior to 2005 will feature the serial number etched between the lugs at the 6 o’clock position, while those released after that year will have it etched on the inside bezel under the crystal, also at the 6 o’clock position.
The location of these numbers is key in identifying a fake watch. Pay especially close attention to the case number. Frequently, fakes will make one up completely, so that the number on the watch does not correspond to any actual watch in existence. Be sure to check the model number online or with a certified jeweler. A real Rolex will match the number listed for that model.
10. The Engravings
Remember the numbers are etched into the metal? Fake Rolexes don’t show the precision and clean lines of the genuine article. Most of the time, their numbers—and any other engravings, like logos—will look roughly etched or even sand-blasted into the metal.
Genuine Rolexes have their numbers precisely engraved, and of note is the fact that they will catch the light at certain angles, almost like a diamond-cut edge. Look for sharp, clean, defined lines and neat, precise lettering. Anything less is a fake.
11. The Second Hand
This is related to the point above about ticking. The second hand of a genuine Rolex moves evenly around the face. This is because the movement of a Rolex is designed to break each second into eight separate internal movements, creating an even, almost imperceptibly smooth pass of the hand each time.
This is virtually impossible to reproduce, although some rare fakes are close. Most fakes will have a jerky, “ticking” movement to the second hand because they lack the skill and precision to duplicate the intricate sweeping process featured in the genuine article. A sweeping second hand is virtually a guarantee of the real thing, while a jerking one is an unambiguous declaration of a fraud.
12. The Movement
This is the most important test of a genuine Rolex. It is also one of the more difficult to determine, since most people are not qualified to remove the backing of a Rolex watch. But if you are able to have a professional safely remove it, checking the innards is the full stop in differentiating fake from real.
A watch’s movement is its “engine.” It is the internal structure that allows the watch to work. Rolex movements are made with precision and detail and are impossible to reproduce in every detail.
The only way to know for sure that your watch is the real deal is to have its movement examined by a watch expert. A genuine article will always have “Rolex” engraved on it and have various other lettering and markings, as well as differently-colored pieces, that will identify it as real.
Also, be aware of quartz in your Rolex. That means it’s battery-operated, while genuine Rolex watches are entirely run by the internal movement. Genuine watches are entirely mechanically-run, so the use of quartz in a watch is a dead giveaway that it’s a fake. The bottom line is that a genuine Rolex movement is your top safeguard against a fake and you must be sure of its authenticity before you buy.
To learn more about the philosophy and design behind Rolex watches, see their official website here.
There will always be scammers and thieves out there. But like with most things, knowledge really is power. Being aware of some of the common ways people try to pass off fake Rolexes as the real thing, and knowing more importantly what the real thing looks like, will go a long way to making sure the large sum of money you’re spending is on a genuine, finely-crafted piece of art you can enjoy for many years to come.