Rolex replicas account for nearly half of fake watches, Watchfinder chief says

Almost 10% of watches received from sellers last year were found to be fakes

Swiss watch designer and manufacturer Rolex last year began a certified pre-owned programme that authenticates used watches sold through authorised dealers. AFP
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The number of sophisticated fake watches uncovered by pre-owned dealer Watchfinder is rising, with Rolex replicas accounting for about half.

As many as 10 per cent of the watches received from sellers last year were determined to be fakes, according to Watchfinder chief executive Arjen van de Vall.

Rolex is the most aspirational luxury watch brand and the highest demand … hence … it’s the most replicated,” Mr van de Vall said.

Fakes are also becoming harder to spot. Watchfinder used to be able to identify about 80 per cent of bogus time pieces by sight alone but now that is 20 per cent, he said.

Employees at the company, owned by Swiss luxury conglomerate Richemont, now need to perform more detailed inspections including opening watch cashbacks and checking movements to identify the high-end counterfeits.

Fake or replica luxury watches are a growing problem in the €25 billion ($27.3 billion) per year secondary watch market with some fakes fooling the most knowledgeable experts.

Omega, part of Swatch Group, said last month that three former employees were part of a criminal plot to sell a Frankenstein Omega Speedmaster, that was an amalgam of mostly authentic parts from other vintage watches. The watch sold at auction in 2021 for more than $3 million, the highest price yet paid for an Omega timepiece. The company itself was the buyer and has said it was the victim of a criminal conspiracy.

Last year, Rolex began a certified pre-owned programme that authenticates used watches sold through authorised dealers.

It is not just Rolex watches that are being faked or altered with inauthentic parts and components.

“You see replica or clone watches – very, very high quality watches – of virtually all of the big luxury brands,” Mr van de Vall said. “The whole gamut.”

The rising fraud in pre-owned watches comes after prices for the most desirable models spiked to unprecedented levels during the pandemic before pulling back sharply.

Secondary market prices have declined by about 18 per cent in the past year, according to the Bloomberg subdial watch index, which tracks prices for the 50 most traded luxury watch models by value including Rolex, Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet.

Updated: July 04, 2023, 6:41 PM