View all articles

Feature: Real vs Fake – Rolex Daytona

Two years ago, we investigated just how far fake watches have come when we compared a real Rolex Submariner with a fake one. For anyone thinking that fake watches were the easy-to-spot domain of the seaside tat shop, we demonstrated that it’s harder to spot a fake than you might think. Two years on, and it’s got even harder.

In an age where rapid prototyping is something you can do as a hobby in your own home, it’s unsurprising that the replication of high-end watches has become more advanced. We’re way beyond glued-on hands and a movement that will last until the plane’s tyres hit the tarmac, and understanding why that is doesn’t take much doing.

The price you pay for a watch usually corresponds to just how much skilled human interaction has been involved in its production, with hand-finishing the bastion of the very best. Pretty much every watch, however, starts life in the same way: in the milling machine. Cases, movements, bracelets—they all begin as blanks that get shaped by machine to a rough approximation of the finished product.

Trouble is, that rough approximation has become less and less rough as technology improves, finer precision on offer from our soon-to-be robot overlords than ever before. Hand finishing still applies to get the very finest of tradition and perfection, but as far as the factories that make the fakes are concerned, it’s close enough.

This means that fake watches are a one-to-one replica of the real thing. Not close, not near—exact. To hold one in one hand with the genuine in the other is a disturbing experience; all it takes is a distraction and you might forget which is holding £10,000-worth and which is holding £1,000.

Yes, that’s right: the best fakes can cost thousands of pounds. With this fake Rolex Daytona 116500 LN, that’s because it uses real 904L steel for the case and bracelet, real ceramic for the bezel, has the same intricate locking mechanism in the clasp—and it even has a replica calibre 4130 inside as well.

This is most concerning because the movement check was the last bastion of the collector in determining what was real and what was not. What it amounts to is a watch that could quite easily fool not just your average Joe on the street, but also a seasoned enthusiast. Is there hope yet, or should we all run screaming for the hills? Let’s take a closer look.

Normally at this point we would move in closer to assess the quality of a watch; now we’re doing it to determine what’s real and what’s not. And you really do have to scrutinise every last detail in order to flush out the fake—so let’s do that.

It’s in the delicacy of the finishing that clues begin to sprout up. The mirror finish of the polished dial furniture lacks the lustre of the genuine, slightly dulled by the machine application over the finer hand-polished gloss of the Rolex. Edges are coarser, handled with less care, losing the catch of light they should have when the watch is angled just so.

It’s a similar story with the print, the precision of the plates used to isolate the ink lacking the final detailing needed to get the thin, crisp lettering the genuine watch wears on its dial. The colouring of the ‘Daytona’ script misses the mark by a shade or two, as does the dusting of grey paint in the ceramic bezel. The genuine watch glitters with the fine platinum dust it’s treated with; the fake is lifeless by comparison.

The precision of the fit is lacking in the fake as well, the bracelet end-links showing gaps. The intricate detailing between the knurls of the crown and pushers, they don’t reach the same level of even application found in the Rolex, either. There are tells, if but only if you really know what you’re looking for.

And that brings us to the calibre. Previously, a watch like this would have carried a replica ETA 7750, or a Chinese Seagull chronograph or something like that. Not anymore. This isn’t a movement made to look like a 4130—it is a replica 4130, right down to the last detail. There’s a balance bridge, a column wheel, the trademark purple reversing wheels—even the select use of gold screws has been matched.

Once again, the finish can’t hold up to the original, the fake lacking the finesse of the straight and circular graining and doing without most of the polished bevelling. For easier setup, the fake also has a regulated balance instead of the correct free-sprung.

But bear in mind, this comparison was all side by side—imagine experiencing a watch like this in isolation. It’s come to a point where any ordinary person with ordinary equipment can no longer trust their eyes to determine the truth; more than ever it comes down to shopping from a reputable location and trusting the expertise of the retailer to take the risk away completely.

So, if you want a Rolex Daytona that will fool pretty much anyone without a loupe and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the brand, you can, and it’ll cost you £1,000. In fact, I tested it for a weekend, wearing this fake watch to see if anyone noticed. No one did. I got some compliments, but here’s the thing—I was waiting for the inevitable question, ‘Is it real?’

And not only that, but every time I looked at the watch on my wrist, my stomach dropped, because it’s not real. It’s not a watch I can be proud of earning, that comes from the house that made the mechanical wristwatch what it is today. It just looks like one, and that gave me a sinking feeling every time I remembered it was there.

Here’s some news: while I’m saving for my dream watch, I caved and bought something else. I got the opportunity to buy a Grand Seiko, a quartz, for a very good price, and I couldn’t pass it up. You may have seen it in a previous video. It has one of the most exceptional dials I’ve ever seen, built to a quality that competes with brands way, way more expensive. Every time I see it, it makes me happy, and it cost the same as the fake.

That’s all thinking with the heart, but what about the head? Well, if you’re lucky enough to get an allocation on a Daytona, you’re already sitting on a profit. You could pay a premium for one and it still owe you nothing. And how about when you want to sell the fake? Well, good luck with that.

But the bottom line is that these watches are all about how they make us feel. They’re a reward, a motivation, a joy. You may be able to fake the watch, but can you really fake the way it makes you feel? That’s a question only you can answer.

Looking for a Rolex watch? Click here to shop now