According to Forbes, Rolex is one of the top 100 most recognized and most powerful brands in the world. Rolex is so famous that it’s virtually synonymous with the luxury watch category, as well as a symbol of success itself. It is no wonder, Rolex is being copied in so many ways.
Over the years, predominantly Chinese watch manufacturers have answered the demand for high-quality fake watches. Many Rolex replicas are, even to trained eyes, nearly exact copies of their genuine counterparts. It is no longer possible to spot every fake Rolex by simply looking at it. The only way to know for sure is to take the watch into an authorized dealer, qualified watchmaker or high-end watch shop and have them remove the case back and see the movement inside. However, there are some signs of fake Rolex watches that can be caught by the naked eye.
These 4 simple indicators can help you spot a fake Rolex:
- The look of a Rolex: in a genuine Rolex, the case back is usually plain metal and has no engravings, and the date really jumps out. If the watch has a glass crystal or engraved case back, or the date is too small and hard to read, it is likely to be fake.
- The feel of a Rolex: a legitimate Rolex feels “solid” by touch, due to the heavy weight of the metal. In addition, the winding crown has finely-crafted engravings and grooves.
- The sound of a Rolex: if you hear a loud ticking from the watch, it’s probably a replica. If the second hand’s tick jumps clearly, it’s definitely a fake piece. If it sweeps smoothly, it might still be a replica, so you will need further evaluations.
- The numbers on a Rolex: an authentic Rolex will have specific engraved information that a counterfeit piece will lack. The serial number of the case and the printed lettering on the dial are very important indicators.
If you’re planning to upgrade your watch collection, it’s very important for you to know the key indicators to detect a fake Rolex. When you sell a watch through Worthy, your item is appraised by professional watch experts.
Given the increasing sophistication of fake Rolex watches, our experts tell us: How can we detect red flags at a glance when examining a timepiece? What do experts check inside the watch? Keep reading our extended guide for further details and learn what it takes to spot a fake Rolex.
Real vs. Fake Rolex – Tips and Indicators:
The Look of a Rolex
Case back – The easiest way to spot a fake Rolex is to look at the watch’s case back, which is almost always plain metal. So if the watch you’re examining has a glass exhibition case back which allows the watch mechanism to be seen, it’s a fake Rolex watch, or one of the very rare 1030 see through watches made by Rolex.
Engravings – Genuine Rolex models case backs are smooth. They are completely free of engravings, so if you see one, you should be suspicious. Bear in mind that Rolex only made two watches with an engraved case back: the Sea Dweller which has “Rolex Oyster Original Gas Escape Valve” in an arc around the outside of the case back and the Milgauss model which has a similar design.
Metal quality – Rolex does NOT make 14k gold or gold-plated watches or bracelets. A real Rolex is either stainless steel, 18k gold, or platinum. If you see a Rolex with faded gold or metal showing below the gold, it is a fake.
Magnification – On real Rolex watches with a date, Rolex adds a magnification glass window above the date called “Cyclops”. The Cyclops lens on the face of the true Rolex will magnify the date by 2.5x the normal size, this makes the date really jump out at you as the date should take up the entire glass bubble. Most counterfeit timepieces will appear 1.5x or lower, making the date look small and more difficult to see. Additionally, The Cyclops’ date window in a real version is dead centered above the number, it’s not always like that in a replica. So if the date through the Cyclops or from the side looks the same size or is difficult to see, it may well be a fake. It is important to note that there are some fake Rolexes that have a bigger font printed wheel to imitate this magnification look.
GMT hand – On a genuine Rolex, the green GMT hand is sandwiched between the hour and the minute hand. The GMT hand on a fake Rolex often sits close to the dial and is NOT sandwiched between the hour/minute hands, as you can see below on a genuine EXPLORER II and GMT II. This is not a simple oversight by the counterfeiters, but caused by specific constraints on the counterfeit movement they use.
Blurry Photos – Photos that look like they were taken from a satellite or a reconnaissance drone are usually the first sign of something amiss. Even the most amateur photographer with a phone camera should be able to take decent dial, case and movement shots. If a seller refuses to provide several clear shots – walk!
The Feel of a Rolex
Heft – A way to spot a fake Rolex watch is by the heft of the watch. Genuine Rolex watches, especially modern ones, have a “solid” feel. This solid feel generally comes from the heavy weight of the genuine metal throughout the watch. Rolex Oyster cases are made from a solid piece of 904L, steel, or precious metal. You can feel this extra weight from the center of the movement. Fake Rolex watches are generally lighter than real ones.
Winding Crown – Check the winding crown on the side of the watch at the ‘3’. A fake Rolex will typically have a basic looking crown to move the minute and hour hands while a true Rolex will have engravings and grooves that are a finely-crafted and can be felt by the touch.
Details – Most of the signs of a fake Rolex are small details that show a lack of rigorous quality control. Everything about a Rolex is well-constructed: the quality of the finish is refined, the dials are perfect, the lume is perfect, the markings are perfect, and the case and bracelet should feel rounded with no sharp edges.
The Sound of a Rolex
Ticking test 1 – The second hand on a real Rolex sweeps almost smoothly. To the naked eye it should seem very smooth, while a fake’s tick jumps more clearly. The reason is that on a genuine Rolex movement each second is broken down into eight steps giving an almost smooth and continuous sweep feel (that’s 28,800 per hour). You need a high quality movement to reach that. Even when a replica uses a Swiss-made movement, the second hand’s ticking is usually visibly jumping instead of sweeping. So, if it “jumps” it’s a fake, but if it sweeps smoothly, you may need to look a step further and investigate the actual movement inside the watch.
Ticking test 2 – Unlike most watches, Rolex watches do not make the ticking noise. Therefore if you hear loud ticking from the watch it is probably a fake Rolex.
The Numbers on a Rolex
Model and Serial Number – Rolex watches have a sealed back case. Very few sellers can easily open the case to show the movement, so we have to look carefully at the outside of the case. Rolex etches a model (case) number between the lugs at 12 o’clock and the serial number between the lugs at 6 o’clock. After 2005, Rolex started to engrave the serial number on the inside bezel under the crystal at 6 o’clock. A fake Rolex often has an incorrect model case number that can be detected with a simple Google search. Looking up the model case number will let us see if it corresponds to the same model or a different one.
Lettering on the Dial – On a genuine Rolex, the printed lettering on the dial should be precise with very clean edges (easily seen under high magnification).
Sharp Engravings – The serial and case reference numbers, located between the lugs are engraved with great detail and are sharp. On a fake Rolex, these numbers often look like they have been sand-blasted or roughly etched into the case. As you can see in the example below, the engraving between the lugs of a genuine Rolex features very fine lines, which catch the light in a manner similar to a diamond-cut edge. However, many counterfeits will feature a sandy acid-etched appearance, as seen in the example below. Furthermore, the spacing on these numbers is often too close together. It is worth mentioning that counterfeiters frequently use the SAME numbers on their watches.
Hologram – Until 2007, genuine Rolex models were shipped new from the factory with a Hologram-encoded three-dimensional sticker on the case back. This sticker features the trademarked Rolex crown positioned above the watch’s case reference number. The hologram can be easily identified by viewing it from different angles, thus causing the background pattern to change. Most counterfeit stickers are not holograms, but rather simply a repetitious Rolex pattern that does not change in appearance when viewed from different angles.
However, Rolex discontinued its use of holograms as counterfeiters became much better at reproducing it. So now use of a hologram for a post-2007 watch is a sign that it is a fake Rolex, not genuine. For example, if you see a Blue/Black “Batman” bezel only launched in 2015, you know it is counterfeit, despite the genuine-looking hologram.
If you have the chance to compare a real Rolex with a fake one, you will be able to see the differences by checking all these points, but it is often hard to tell a real vs. fake Rolex unless you know what to look for. The best advice is to work with someone knowledgeable and trustworthy. What always works, is to keep in mind: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.”
Inside the Watch: What Do Experts Look For?
Simply put, until the bracelet and back case cover are removed, there is nearly no way to know for sure that the watch is authentic. It is only when you open a Rolex watch to reveal its movement and hidden parts, that you can see the characteristics that help to identify a genuine watch. A skilled examiner with experience will know immediately whether a Rolex is genuine by looking at the movement, which is manufactured in-house and is impossible to fake.
At Worthy, we carry out a one-of-a-kind watch appraisal, working with the most experienced watch professionals and following the highest standards in the industry. Learn more about our watch appraisal by clicking here.
What exactly do our experts at Worthy look for inside a Rolex to check its authenticity?
Reference number versus the dial. A watch with a Rolex GMT reference number 1675 and a submariner dial looks suspicious. We will make sure the reference is correct to a specific watch model.
Serial watch number. The serial numbers, located between the lugs, should match the Rolex system and if paperwork is available, should match them as well. Furthermore, the engraving between the lugs of a genuine Rolex feature very fine lines. Some counterfeits will feature an etched appearance (sandy). In addition, the spacing on these numbers is often too close together and not even as on a genuine Rolex. Everything that applies to the serial number also applies to the reference number (model number).
Movement model versus watch model. On a genuine Rolex movement we will see a movement number. This is the movement model and it should correspond with a specific watch model.
Movement serial number. Every real Rolex have a clear stamped serial number on its movement. We will examine the quality of the stamping and the correct numbering.
Case back (inner) fonts and markings. A real Rolex watch carries the markings that correspond correctly to the brand.
The color of the wheels. In general, close examination of the inside movement will tell you a great deal about the authenticity and also the real condition of the watch.
The structure of the movement. There are hundreds of parts which compose this mechanical watch movement. An experienced watchmaker will be able to know if the overall movement is correct, if parts are not correct it will bring questions about authentications. There are many cases in which a fake movement was inserted into a genuine Rolex case making a frankenwatch.
Water pressure threshold. Comparing water pressure threshold to a specific watch rating (after checking the seals of course) is an indication that can easily be checked in an expensive Rolex. A fake Rolex won’t have that “diving” rating.
While we do not advise that you carry out these inspections on your own, it is good to know what your watch expert will be looking for when trying to spot a fake Rolex. Even more, the level of detail and work that goes into properly authenticating a watch. You can rest-assured after all of these tests that you are wearing a genuine Rolex, through and through. When you sell a watch at Worthy, all of these tests are conducted for you followed by an HD photoshoot and online auction to qualified watch buyers.
Check out how to sell your pre-owned Rolex at Worthy by clicking here.
This article was written in collaboration with Worthy watch experts and watch industry veteran, Adam Harris.