Perhaps you have found yourself at that point in life when you want to step your style up a notch and add some class with a high-quality, designer watch. First of all, well done. It's a milestone we should all be so lucky to encounter.

Second, you don't have to spend a fortune to get a decent watch, but if you want something more than just decent, if you're aiming for a true luxury item, then it'is crucial for you to know how to spot a fake before dropping your hard-earned cash on a fugazi.


First of all, when it comes to an item like a fine, designer watch, the old adage “too good to be true” is perfectly fitting. The price of a watch is often a good indicator of its authenticity, or lack thereof. If a watch is priced really low for the brand you're considering, it's most likely a fake. There are circumstances in which a seller might be able to offer a slight discount, but for the most part, you just aren't going to find deeply discounted designer watches. Even used watches can gain value as vintage collectors' items.


When you're examining a watch, look at the face. Check to see if the numbers are printed or engraved clearly. A fine watch will have expertly crafted details: there won't be crooked numbers or odd spaces; fonts will be crisp and clean. Then, check any other engraving you can see. Fakes will often have misspellings that are easy to miss if you're not looking closely. It's helpful to know how each brand engraves, dates and serializes their products so you can look for flaws in those details. A high-quality watch will have high-quality engraving every time.


This might be difficult to judge until you've actually had your hands on a true high-end timepiece, but you ca often detect a fake by the materials used to make it. This means you need to pick up and feel any watch you are thinking about buying. A luxury watch will feel heavy because the precious metals used to make it are dense, not hollowed or plated. A metal band should not have rough edges. Everything should seem finished and polished, but not impossibly shiny. Look for real leather if the band isn't metal, making sure it isn't layered or composite. If you think you've found a luxury watch you'd like to purchase, consider having it examined by an appraiser to confirm the materials used to construct it.


The seller and his location can also indicate a possible fake, for sometimes (though not always) obvious reasons. You aren't going to get a real Rolex, BVLGARI, Cartier or TAG Heuer on the street, in an alley or at a swap meet, so if you see someone selling luxury watches someplace like that, you can just keep walking. You also have to be careful with online sellers on auction sites like eBay, because it's very easy for them to be dishonest about their products. If you're serious about a designer or vintage watch, research sellers you find or visit a trusted jeweler or auction house. And make sure you get documentation with your purchase.

fake watches
Fake watches on display in Baghdad, Iraq, circa 2004. (Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images)


A designer watch will have flawless movement. The mechanisms inside are one of the main differences between a luxury watch and its inferior cousins. Spend some time watching the hands move to make sure it's smooth. Also, in some instances you can examine the thickness of the case to determine if you're looking at designer movement. High-quality movement parts tend to be smaller and can fit into thinner casings than cheaper ones. Have the seller open the watch for you so you can examine the movement from the inside, where it's easier to judge its quality.


One of the most obvious ways to spot a fake watch (aside from glaring spelling or typeface errors) is by its sound. A real designer watch does not make a loud ticking sound. The movement mechanisms in these watches are so fine and smooth that you shouldn't hear it working that much, if at all. If you pick up a nice-looking watch and hear a lot of tick-tock-tick-tock, you most likely have a fake in your hand.


Finally, do your research. A designer watch is a major purchase, and you shouldn't just rush into it and hope for the best. Check out the higher-end brands and learn what types they offer and the different versions of each. Get familiar with their unique design elements. Learn what typeface they always use. Find details that make them different, like that a Rolex will always have a bit of magnifying glass over the date-display window so it's easier to read. If you're looking for vintage, you have to be even more diligent in your research. In the end, it will be worth it to have a fine timepiece that will look sharp and increase in value as long as you take care of it.

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