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Feature: Real $100,000 Patek Philippe vs $1,000 Fake

It’s just been discontinued, it’s rarer than snake’s feet and it costs over $100,000. It’s the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711, so of course it’s been faked—and you’ll struggle to tell the difference. Here’s why.

Why It’s So Hard To Tell The Difference

A watch looks very different here than it does in real life. I don’t mean what you see here is a lie, I mean here you get to explore watches in painstaking, torturous detail. It’s a level of scrutiny the human eye just isn’t cut out for. The degree of perfection we get to enjoy in a typical Swiss watch—let alone the really high end—is a testament to why the nation of Switzerland has earned a reputation for being the best at it.

But Switzerland isn’t the only place making watches. Switzerland isn’t the only place making “Swiss” watches. There are companies out there making watches that don’t just look a bit like the $100,000 Nautilus—they look almost identical. So, if you’re looking for an original and don’t want to find yourself $99,000 out of pocket, that’s a big worry.

We can and will show you what stands this fake apart from the real watch, but in truth it’s kind of pointless. Unless you’ve already got a real 5711 to compare it to, it’s going to be tricky—and I can’t imagine the kinds of people who might be trying to rip you off are going to let you bring your macro lens in to check! So, first, what can you do to avoid a situation where you could get scammed?

How To Avoid Getting Scammed

If you’ve ever learnt to ride a motorcycle, you’ll remember your instructor telling you “It’s better to be safe than right”—or rather, being stubborn because you’re in the right and ending up squished for it isn’t worth the bother. You won’t die from getting ripped off, but you certainly won’t be doing very well, and so avoiding the situation altogether is really the best solution.

Since the 5711 has been discontinued, buying new from an official retailer isn’t an option anymore, so you’ll be inclined to find one elsewhere. How much you trust that elsewhere is obviously important, and somewhere you have recourse should the worst happen will give you peace-of-mind. Buying privately or on an auction site—you’re on your own.

This is an incredibly desirable watch, so if indeed you find one priced very temptingly, unless the owner has had a sudden bout of charitability, it’s not going to be what you hope it is. There’s a slim probability you could walk away with a bargain, but for prices approaching $100,000, it’s certainly better to be safe than right.

What Are The Biggest Differences?

If you want to take matters into your own hands and take on the best the fakers can offer, then you’ll probably be wanting to know what the biggest differences are between the real and fake Nautilus. Well, unfortunately that’s not a singular fact set in stone, because there are multiple companies producing watches like this, and each have their flaws.

It’s just a matter of time and technology. Right now, the movement seen in the back of the 5711—the calibre 324 SC—is the weakest link, which is unsurprising given Patek Philippe’s reputation for quality mechanicals, but nevertheless it is still a close match. Side by side and close up, the rough finishing may be significantly poorer—but under pressure, could you trust yourself to make that call?

What many people don’t realise is that the companies producing these fakes are continuously improving them, led by feedback from buyers and from their own research. There’s nothing here we can point out today that they won’t already be aware of. If anything, they could probably teach us a thing or two about the stuff we’ve missed.

How Close Is The Rest Of It?

The part of the watch you’ll see most—the front—is where the energy has really gone into making the fake look genuine. The iterative process of improving it and the technology available to do so has advanced the ability to produce a very accurate replica at an incredible rate in recent years, and that means the differences really are very small indeed.

Most noticeable—by which I mean barely noticeable—is the colour difference in the dial, the slight variation in shimmer between one and the other. Again, this differs between factories and generations—the next one might be even closer.

The differences in the movement also mean that the fake is thicker with the crown standing further proud than the genuine—but we’re talking millimetres and even less here, enough to pass even a rigorous inspection by someone without a photographic memory of the original.

Beyond that, you’re looking at a clone so similar, it would take a pair of callipers to extract the difference. Replication using modern technology has become such a simple process that it’s almost straightforward. This is true of a whole number of rare and valuable things, and it begs the question: why would you bother buying the real one?

So Why Buy A Real One?

When a genuine Patek Philippe Nautilus costs $100,000 and the fake just a single percent of that, the proposition might become tempting. And you might think to yourself that it’s not like you’d be buying the original anyway, so there’s no harm done. But the problem isn’t one of the individual, it’s one of the whole. The impact of many people investing in the companies that produce these watches gives them more power to grow. You may think that a company as big and untouchable as Patek Philippe wouldn’t notice, and maybe they wouldn’t, but nevertheless it gives the fakers the ability to go after the companies that most certainly would, much smaller brands that we know and love. Either that means something to you, or it doesn’t. It’s not really one of those things that can be explained.

That’s why you wouldn’t buy a fake—so why, if you have the means, would you buy the original? Because aside from being an immediately recognisable status symbol, the Patek Philippe Nautilus is also an icon from one of watchmaking’s most influential brands. Owning a part of that legacy is as tangible as the steel in the watch itself, a feeling only shared by people who have enjoyed ownership of the real deal.

And not only that, but as we’ve shown with our uniquely invasive perspective, a Patek Philippe is all about that last single percent that only a handful of watchmakers can touch. Like the milliseconds of performance between a 911 and a GT3, a Patek Philippe offers a benchmark of quality that can only be appreciated by the people who know it best. Mirrored polishing as flat as an icy lake, brushing and bevelling performed by hand with impossible delicacy, perfection in the detail in even the most unexpected places—either it means something to you, or it doesn’t.

To be frank, the difference here isn’t one of $1,000 versus $100,000, it’s the difference between this $1,000 fake and a real $1,000 Swiss watch. The price of the Nautilus may be sky-high, but that doesn’t make $1,000 pocket change, and really it’s better spent on something you can be proud to own. A real Swiss watch, be it $1,000 or a $100,000, will have better quality, a better story, and ultimately, a better feeling.

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