Photo: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
If you're looking to buy a Swiss watch or wondering whether your best friend really is wearing $12,000 Rolex, then you must know your watches. If you can't distinguish a fake from the genuine article, chances are you'll get scammed or must take it at face value that dropping 12 grand on a timepiece is nothing among your friends. Knowing what a real Swiss watch looks like is not enough. Even counterfeits are made well and can sell for $1,000. But at the end of the day, it's like having frozen pizza. It may taste good, but it isn't the real thing.
Visit authorized Swiss watch dealers, and window-shop for the best brands: Rolex, Omega and Brietling. Quiz the dealer; there's no such thing as dumb questions. Have the dealer open the case of the watch so that you can examine the movement inside (the mechanism that runs the watch). Take some catalogs home so you can do some research; pay particular attention to the watch's features and movement. Some fake Rolexes feature a 25-jewel automatic Swiss movement, stainless steel case, screw-down crown and sapphire crystal. That's a quality watch by any definition, and sells for about $340. It's still a phony. The expression in watch collector circles is that "fake people buy fake watches." Don't be one.
If you're buying a Swiss watch, take your catalogs with you. Compare the watch dials to the catalog photos. Are the brand and model names the same as in the photos? The dial may be poorly reproduced, not as lustrous or have a different color/shade as the original. Some fakes even misspell the brand or model name, or the hands fall short of the hash marks or numerals. A telltale sign is the sweep of the second hand. If the second hand moves at one-second intervals, the movement is likely a battery-powered quartz, which is considerably cheaper than a mechanical automatic. The sweep of an automatic's second hand is smooth.
Big-ticket Swiss watches include chronographs with two subdials and a stopwatch function. Chronographs are expensive to manufacture. Cheap knockoffs usually feature quartz movements with non-operating subdials and stopwatch functions. Press the buttons at 2 o'clock and 4 o'clock on the case edge. Nothing happens? You are entitled to display genuine disgust as you drop it back in the seller's hand. With a genuine Swiss model, the stopwatch hand and subdial counters function when pushing the buttons.
Look at the caseback. Very few of the best Swiss watches have see-through, or display, casebacks that expose the movement. Rolex, for example, never makes them. Some of the fake Rolexes and Omegas may have the proper solid stainless steel caseback, but inside is lurking a Japanese Myota automatic movement. Myota movements are good-quality, but if you find one inside a Rolex or Omega, the watch is as phony as a Gucci handbag in a flea market.
Buy a Swiss watch only from an authorized dealer who offers documentation and a warranty.
Avoid buying Swiss watches from discount websites. Swiss watches discounted more than 50 percent are not genuine. Most high-end Swiss watchmakers do not sell their timepieces online, and will likely not honor the warranty of timepieces sold by discount websites.