They may say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but fake jewelry and timepieces are more criminal than complimentary. High-end luxury brands are often the first target for counterfeiters, who take advantage of the designers’ reputation for quality to sell fake pieces to unsuspecting shoppers.
Fake timepieces can be found in local markets, pawn shops, online and even jewelry boutiques that seem legitimate, so it’s important to safeguard yourself against making a money-wasting mistake.
Rolex is among the world’s most famous and revered watch brands, crafting impeccable timepieces long associated with luxury. Rolex watches are often purchased as a milestone piece for special occasions, anniversaries, birthdays, and more, potentially holding an incredible amount of meaning and significance for the wearer.
Unfortunately, the high desirability of Rolex watches fuels a consistent wave of fakes and counterfeits. The good news is that if you know the common signs of a fake Rolex – as well as the trademarks of a real one – you hold the key to protecting yourself from cheap knockoffs. A high-quality replica Rolex can be extremely difficult to distinguish from the real deal, but using the following information will help you separate the imposters from the true Rolex timepieces.
Be a Smart Shopper
Even the most discerning Rolex lover can fall victim to well-made replicas in the secondary market. The simplest way to avoid purchasing a reproduction or fake is to shop only with reputable and well-respected dealers. There are a number of trusted dealers who can help you find your perfect Rolex and doing your homework before choosing one is always a smart step.
Don’t be afraid to ask the company about their process for protecting clients against replica pieces, as well as whether or not their selection of pre-owned Rolex watches is inspected for authenticity. When purchasing a pre-owned Rolex, it’s ideal to buy one with original papers, authenticity cards, original packaging, and where possible, service documents. Additionally, clarify with the seller if any modifications were done to the watch. Remember, if a Rolex watch has been modified in any way, Rolex will no longer service it.
Beware of online platforms and auction sites that do not assume responsibility for the authenticity of goods bought and sold on their websites. These websites typically place the responsibility on the sellers, leaving you with few actionable steps in the event that you run into a counterfeiter. Even worse, it can be extremely difficult to get a refund after you’ve accidentally purchased a replica and many shoppers find that they simply have to cut their losses and take the expensive lesson.
Know The Type of Rolex You’re Looking For
If you’re a longtime Rolex enthusiast, odds are that you’re very familiar with the brand’s models, past and present. However, if you’re fairly new to the world of Rolex watches, you may want to take the time to learn about the selection of models that are available. You can do some simple online research to get a closer look at certain models that you are interested in and familiarize yourself with the distinguishing features like bezel color options, precious metals, and more.
Simply knowing what you are looking for can help you rule out the more obvious replica Rolex watches right away. For instance, Rolex Day-Date watches are exclusively crafted in precious metals, so if you come across a stainless steel one, then you know immediately it’s a fake. Or, GMT-Master watches have always had a date window, if you see one without a date, then it’s not real.
Checklist: How To Tell If a Rolex Is Real
For many watch lovers, deciphering how to tell if a Rolex is real can be tricky business. If you have your eye on a particular watch, there are a number of elements you can check to sniff out a phony. The look, feel, and even the sound of a watch can give important clues to a Rolex’s authenticity. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
The Quality and Finishing of a Real Rolex
Rolex has earned its stellar reputation because of the company’s incredible eye for detail and a commitment to perfection. Modern Rolex watches are impeccably constructed to the highest of standards. Flaws such as crooked printing, spelling errors, uneven placement of components, poor finishing, and so on, are obvious signs of a fake watch.
However, there’s an important caveat—vintage Rolex watches were not always built according to the same strict standards as modern pieces. Due to their age, some vintage Rolex watches have discolored dials, faded bezel, rattling bracelets, and the like. In fact, some vintage Rolex watches with known imperfections (such as tropical dials and spider dials) can command a premium.
The Rolex Caseback
In 1926, Rolex debuted the now-famous Oyster case, which was the world’s first truly waterproof wristwatch. The Oyster case’s water resistance was achieved thanks in large part to the construction of its caseback. To keep the water our, the caseback of the Rolex Oyster case is solid, screwed-down, and fluted. Unlike other high-end watch companies, Rolex does not make clear exhibition casebacks with a view of the watch movement inside the case.
Furthermore, Rolex does not typically engrave the casebacks of their watches with logos, labels, digits, or designs. There are however exceptions to this such as modern Sea-Dweller, Deepsea, and Milgauss watches as well as some vintage Rolex watches with special markings for the military and other instances.
The Rolex Winding Crown
Another significant component to the water resistance of the Rolex Oyster case its winding crown—the mechanism positioned at 3 o’clock to adjust the time and other functions of the watch. Oyster cases have screw-down winding crowns to create an airtight seal to prevent water from seeping in.
Early Rolex models included winding crowns fitted with metal gaskets to screw into a tube in the watch case. In the early 1950s, Rolex introduced the Twinlock winding crown fitted with two rubber O-ring gaskets and finally, in the 1970s, Rolex unveiled the Triplock winding crown, fitted with three O-ring gaskets, for their professional dive watches.
Rolex screw-down winding crowns feature the company’s famous coronet (crown logo) on it and depending on the material of the watch and whether it has a Twinlock or Triplock winding crown, have dots or dashes under the coronet.
If the winding crown that you’re looking at is a simple pull-out one rather than a screw-down one and does not have the coronet, it’s most likely a replica.
Rolex Metal Types and Quality
Today, Rolex is very particular about what types of metals they use to build their modern watches. As a matter of fact, the company has their own foundry where they prepare their own gold.
Modern Rolex watches are crafted from high-grade 904L stainless steel, 18k gold, or 950 platinum. Furthermore, since 2005, all rose gold Rolex watches are fashioned from their proprietary rose gold alloy dubbed Everose.
However, like most things Rolex, there are a few things to consider. Prior to 1985, Rolex used industry standard 316L stainless steel for their watches. Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, Rolex did, in fact, use 14k gold and gold-capping on their watches in the early years. It is common to find 14k gold and gold-capped vintage Rolex watches in the secondary market.
Rolex Date Magnification
In 1953, Rolex introduced a date magnification lens on the Datejust, which they called the Cyclops. A signature trait of the Cyclops lens is that it protrudes above the crystal it sits on rather than placed underneath the crystal.
Today, most Rolex watches with date windows have a Cyclops lens directly above it to magnify the number by about 2.5 times. Replica Rolex watches can have lenses with weaker magnification capabilities and sometimes the lens is misaligned with the date window.
However, yet again, there are exceptions to the Cyclops on a Rolex date watch. Up until 2017, the Sea-Dweller did not include a Cyclops lens on the crystal despite the presence of a date aperture on the dial. This changed in 2017 with the introduction of the new Sea-Dweller, which now include the Cyclops lens. Furthermore, Deepsea watches have never included the magnification lens above its date windows.
The Rolex Movement and The Ticking of the Seconds Hand
Yet another misconception about Rolex watches out there is is that they do not “tick” loudly and ones that do are fakes. This is not necessarily true. First, we have to understand the type of movement powering the Rolex watch at hand to determine how the watch should sound like and how the seconds hand on the dial should behave.
A hallmark trait of a battery-operated quartz watch is that the seconds hand “jumps” to its next position once every second, accompanied by an audible “tick” sound. And yes, Rolex has indeed made quartz watches in the past (for example, the Oysterquartz, the Ref. 1500, and some Cellini models). Therefore, quartz Rolex watches will have a loud ticking sound and a seconds hand that moves one position per second.
On the other hand, most Rolex watches run on mechanical movements, which make a quieter sound and have a seconds hand that appears to sweep in a continuous motion around the dial rather than jerky jumps.
So, if you come across a Rolex watch that claims to be a mechanical one but has a loud ticking sound and a jumping seconds hand, then it’s not real. However, if you have a known Rolex quartz watch that operates this way, then it could very likely be the real deal.
The Rolex Model and Serial Numbers
Knowing the model (aka reference) number and serial number of a Rolex can answer some questions about its authenticity. The model/reference number of a Rolex watch indicates what type of Rolex it is (for example, Submariner, Day-Date, Datejust, GMT-Master etc) and what material it’s made from (steel, gold, two-tone, platinum, etc). Conversely, a serial number is unique to the watch (again, there’s an exception here because Rolex restarted their serial numbers in the 1950s so there are a few duplicate serial numbers out there) and can reveal when a particular watch was produced.
The Rolex model/reference number is engraved on the watch case in between the lugs at the 12 o’clock position. Therefore, the bracelet will have to be removed to see the digits.
Alternatively, the serial number is engraved on the opposite side at the 6 o’clock position. So the bracelet will have to be removed from that side of the case to see it. However, starting in late 2006/early 2007 Rolex also began laser engraving the serial number on the rehaut (the space between the crystal and the dial). And finally, in 2008, Rolex no longer engraved the case with the serial number and only included it on the rehaut.
Interestingly, the Oysterquartz models have their reference numbers engraved on the caseback.
If you know a Rolex watch’s model and serial number, you can cross-reference it with available charts online to see if the numbers match up in terms of what model it is and its approximate production period.
Rolex Micro-etched Crystal
To enhance measures against counterfeiting, Rolex began etching their watch crystals in the early 2000s with a minuscule crown at the 6 o’clock position. This marking is impossible to see with the naked eye (if you do see it straight away it’s a fake). You also cannot feel it by running your fingers across the crystal because it is etched beneath the crystal. Proper lighting and a jewelry loupe are needed to see the etching.
Also, in the mid-2000s, Rolex began engraving the rehaut with ROLEX ROLEX ROLEX.
Beware of the Red Flags
If the watch you’re considering fails even one of these checkpoints, you may want to walk away and avoid risking your time and money. A reputable dealer or jeweler should be happy to answer any questions you may have about a watch’s features and they must be able to prove the watch’s authenticity. Be wary of any company that is reluctant to do so and if you come across any red flags, it’s best to look elsewhere. Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Browse Authentic Rolex Timepieces at Gray & Sons
At Gray & Sons, you can shop for your next Rolex with absolute confidence. We closely inspect each and every timepiece to verify its authenticity and quality beyond any doubt, taking the burden off of our customers’ shoulders.
Our in-house team of Swiss-trained watchmakers have decades of experience, working diligently to inspect every item with an expert eye and incredibly high standards.
If you purchase your next Rolex from Gray & Sons, you’ll also have the added benefit of a two-year guarantee against defects, as well as our 10-day, no questions asked buyback privilege on pre-owned timepieces.
It’s important to us that you absolutely love your Rolex, which is why we are committed to providing impeccable customer service and a top-notch selection of Rolex watches. We have been a proud part of the Florida business community since 1980, establishing countless relationships with longtime clients and watch aficionados.
For a premium selection of authentic Rolex timepieces, we invite you to visit our Miami store or contact us for more information. Our friendly team will be more than happy to help you browse our Rolex collection, answer all your questions, and help you find the perfect Rolex you’ve always wanted.