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Feature: The ultimate how to guide on spotting a fake Rolex

If you’re brave enough, you might fancy yourself as someone who can spot a dud Rolex out in the wild. It’s far from easy, but it’s not impossible. I wouldn’t advise it, but if you’re dead set on taking that challenge, then here are twenty top tips to keep you safe. Stay frosty out there!

Compare it to a real watch

You know what makes having a fake watch so much easier to spot? Having a real one on hand. That’s not easy but it’s not impossible either, and it could be a lifesaver. Don’t put all that faith in your memory to spot the tiny tells when you can simply see them right in front of you, clear as day. This tip doubles down as well because if the seller won’t let you compare, then you know something’s up.

Inspect the movement

If you can get the case back off, there’s fewer better ways of making sure a watch is genuine. Many fakes use completely different movements, although there are some copies of the original Rolex movements too. It’s the hardest bit to get right, however, so even a passing knowledge of Rolex movements should make it clear. Of course removing the case back can impact any remaining warranty so be sure to check that first.

Compare it to pictures

If you can’t get the real thing to double check with, use the next best thing: pictures. But not the manufacturer pictures. Those are usually CGI at worst and heavily retouched at best. You need good, clean shots from the general public. And ideally macro shots too, because as we get into this, you’ll soon realise that it’s very much about the details.

Get familiar with the fake tells

Go at the challenge both ways and start to learn what the fake watch manufacturers are doing to their watches that makes them stand out. Now this is an ongoing process as they are constantly tweaking them, so bear in mind that a tell that might work one day might not work the next. But understanding where the weaknesses are in the fake watch manufacturing process can help dial in your eye on where to look.

The dial should be clean and dust free

Before we get into any actual manufacturing differences, this one can be straight off a very easy tell. You’ll need some good magnification for this and for the other tips going forward, but it’ll be worth it, because dust and hair on the dial is very rare in a real Rolex and pretty common in a fake. It won’t look like someone emptied a hoover bag in there, but if you see tiny particulates here and there, you may have cause for concern.

Is the print crisp and solid? Not too thick or too thin?

Perhaps unexpectedly, dial printing, done with rubber pads from paint-filled metal templates, is incredibly hard to do well. While the genuine should be fully opaque, very crisp and have a little three dimensionality to it, the fake will be less contrasty, a little wobblier around the edges and overall have less volume to it. There definitely shouldn’t be any smudges or bubbles, no matter how small.

Are the words properly spaced?

The gaps between lines, the spaces between letters—these can all end up just a little out, and with the amount Rolex likes to write on the dial sometimes, that can mean an overall sizeable shift. In relative terms, of course. Does the text seem like there’s just too much air, or is it perhaps too crowded? Rolex spent decades evolving its dial text so an experienced Rolex collector will have a feel for when something’s up.

Are the colours correct?

This one appears to be surprisingly hard to get right. Reds that are too orange or blues that are too red. Stuff like that. In fact, the colour appears to be so hard to match correctly that choosing a watch with colourful elements, however small, can be a great way to easily confirm that something is fake.

The hands and markers should be refined

Especially the mounting points. Sometimes the edges of Rolex hands can be a little untidy and sometimes the painting can be a little off on GMT hands, but otherwise, expect a Rolex hand or marker to be deeply polished and curved. A fake can often be less refined, perhaps a bit too sharp and not quite liquid enough. And where the hands mount, that’s often a good tell. The manufacturing process of the fakes can leave rough edges on the cannon pinion where the minute hand sits.

Luminous paint should be smooth

Kind of like fresh snow. Maybe a little bit of build-up around the edges, but otherwise free of lumps and bumps and other detritus. On the fake you may find it to be lumpy and uneven, a bit like it’s not had time to settle before it’s cured. Luminous paint has to be mixed to exactly the right consistency to avoid that, and the fake watch manufacturers often don’t get it quite right.

Is the date properly magnified?

The small magnifying window on Rolex date watches—except the Sea-Dweller—is surprisingly capable, delivering 2.5x magnification. That means the tiny date window below should fill up the view through this so-called cyclops, delivering a clear view of the date even for older eyes. If there seems to be a bit of a border and the date is languishing somewhere in the middle, it could be a fake.

Does the cyclops have tinted antireflective coating?

Rolex, unlike other manufactures, don’t go to town on their antireflective coating for the crystal, resulting in a surprisingly washed-out view at oblique angles. But with the cyclops layered on top of the crystal, Rolex decided the glare would be too much and so there’s a layer of antireflective coating on just the cyclops. It should deliver a more constrasty view but it shouldn’t have too much of a blue tint. Unlike other watch brands, Rolex’s coating is only lightly tinted.

Check the crispness of the bezel text

With the new ceramic bezels, there’s no hiding sloppy workmanship. Every edge should be clean but not cut-yourself sharp, especially on the lower inside edges. Now, because the bezel is exposed to the elements, there may still be some build-up on the real and the fake, but if there’s enough to obscure the difference between the two, then there’s a hygiene issue that’s going to be a bigger concern!

Feel for sharp edges on the case, crown, bezel and bracelet

It’s surprising how much can be learnt just by feel, and not using your eyes at all. Rolex strikes a balance between a crisp finish and a smooth feel, where fake manufacturers can lean too far one way or the other. A fake watch can either feel smooth but look sloppy and rounded, or look crisp but feel like it could break the skin. Any surface that ends in an edge, run your fingers over it and pay attention to the feel.

Look at the laser-etched crown

At six o’clock on the crystal there’s a little laser-etched crown made up of tiny bubbles. Those bubbles trace the outline so faintly it’s almost impossible to see with the naked eye. Fake watch manufacturers can actually replicate this, but not to the same level of finesse. The etching on a fake watch usually has bigger bubbles that make the crown easily visible without magnification. If there’s an “S” in the crown, that just means the crystal’s been replaced at service.

Check the serial number

Of course, it should match the paperwork, but what we’re concerned about here is if it matches the fakes. With it being so prominently featured on the lower half of the rehaut, fake watch manufacturers have sourced genuine serial numbers to inscribe on their watches. Check the serial number on a database like Enquirus to find out if you should be concerned.

Is the rehaut text crisp?

The logo etched at twelve o’clock on the rehaut and the repeating text all the way around should be very small but very crisp. But not too crisp! You’re looking for the tell-tale signs of burring, where the etching has left a raised lip on the edges. It will be almost impossible to see clearly, but what you’ll notice is a flash of light that suggests the edge isn’t completely clean and refined.

Wind the crown

Taking the case back off is a very unlikely circumstance to be in when judging a watch’s authenticity, but you can still do some detective work and get a good sense of the movement without even seeing it. All you have to do is unscrew the crown and wind the watch. A Rolex should feel smooth and buttery, with just the right amount of resistance and no graininess. A fake will most likely feel like stirring a cup of sand, both in the unscrewing of the crown and the winding of the movement.

Set the time and date

If you’re still not quite sure, go ahead and change the time. The setting of the crown to the different positions should be smooth and without fouling. Moving the hands should also be smooth. The date should change instantaneously with the quickset of course, but you can also advance the hands through midnight to make sure it’s instant there, too. If it starts to change a few hours before or after then there’s a problem.

Spin the rotor weight

Rolex have engineered their perpetual rotor to wind the movement without any real noticeable effect on the wearer. Some automatic watches have a rotor weight than can not only be heard, but felt too, wobbling away inside the case. If you can hear or feel the rotor in a Rolex, you may have a fake.

Those are my top tips for keeping safe from fakes, but remember, it’s no walk in the park. Sure, you might find a pretty clear tell and determine a watch is fake, but just because you don’t spot anything, doesn’t mean it’s not. The best thing to do is simply buy the seller and purchase a watch from a source you trust. That’s then one less big headache you have to deal with, and you can simply enjoy the new watch worry-free.

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