Meet the Emirati watch expert spotting fakes at a glance in London

Working in London's exclusive Knightsbridge area, Marya Ali appraises, buys and sells high-end timepieces

Do you know how to spot a fake watch?

Do you know how to spot a fake watch?
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It happens every week, like clockwork. A prospective customer will enter the Love Luxury boutique in London's upmarket Knightsbridge with a fake watch.

Some customers have been conned themselves, others are trying to hoodwink the shop.

But first they have to get it past Marya Ali – which is where the plan fails.

It is the 25-year-old Emirati’s job to distinguish whether the watch is real or imitation, which she is now so good at she says she can do with just a cursory glance.

Ms Ali, who was born and raised in Abu Dhabi, moved to London in 2020 with her sister, who is studying there.

She had been working in the media industry back home, and seemed destined for a career in architecture and engineering, which she was studying at Abu Dhabi University.

But once in London she found herself with time on her hands, which is when she met a family friend, a luxury watch collector, who introduced Ms Ali to her future career.

“This collector had a private room filled with Patek Philippe watches – more than 500,” she says.

“And most of them were single sealed and double sealed.”

Single sealed watches have never been brought out of the box. The most valuable of all – double sealed watches – remain unopened in the sealed, small box, which is still contained in a larger outer box of original packaging.

“They have stopped doing that now with Patek. You are not allowed to leave it in the box,” says Ms Ali.

“You have to take it out and rip the seal off because the demand in the market for single seal and double seal was [crazy].

“Every time I went into that room, I came out knowing a lot more stuff.”

The collector introduced Ms Ali to a store, which hired her, helping her to hone her craft.

Around a year and a half ago, she joined Love Luxury, which sits behind bulletproof glass on a street lined with other exclusive boutiques in one of London's most exclusive areas.

Its owners, Adam and Emily Abraham, self-professed billionaires, have just opened a second boutique in Dubai.

Over the past few days the new UAE branch in Jumeirah has closed two deals – including the sale of a Patek Nautilus, a rose gold, a 5711/1R for £160,000.

Ms Ali works at the London boutique, where she appraises, buys and sells pre-owned and new luxury watches, some of which sell for upwards of £300,000.

“When I was growing up, my family liked jewellery, watches, handbags. They were into everything," she says.

“They were [into] brands like Chanel and Hermes.

“I have one member of the family who’s really obsessed with bags. She travels all over the world to get them. I wasn’t really into handbags.

“But I was always more drawn towards watches,” she says, as the diamonds on the face of the Rolex Datejust 28mm watch twinkle on her wrist. It is not hers.

Ms Ali does not actually own any luxury watches – yet.

She prefers the utility of an Apple watch for wearing every day. But she is saving up for one to buy as an investment.

“Watches are like a toy for me. We just buy and sell them. I enjoy buying and selling them more than owning them,” says Ms Ali.

“I have one in mind that has been discontinued and I am planning on saving up and getting it.

“It’s a Patek Philippe 5711 Nautilus and they go up in the market from £80,000 to £100,000.

“It’s a very nice piece. It got discontinued. It has a blue dial as well.

“And a blue dial in the watch market is in high demand. It’s green first and then blue,” she says, as she checks her phone which now has numerous unread messages from clients and friends.

“A lot of people, friends and family come to me for watch advice, a lot. Even friends who want to invest £10,000 or £15,000,” says Ms Ali.

“I think watches are a great investment because they are always increasing.

“If you pay the right price it’s always a good investment. But it just has to be the right price you are paying.”

Patek Philippe is the best, followed by Richard Mille and Rolex, she says.

But of course you have to ensure what you are buying is genuine.

That is no problem for Ms Ali. “I know if a watch is fake just by looking at it,” she says.

Nevertheless, she follows a meticulous step by step plan to appraise all watches brought into the boutique.

How she spots fakes

  • Check the weight
  • Look at the material
  • Examine the clasp
  • Study the paperwork

“The first thing I would do is to check the weight of the watch. A steel model has a different weight to a rose gold model, to a gold model. That’s the first thing to look at. You can feel the material of the watch,” she says.

“The second thing is the dial. If it is a Rolex, for example, you look at the writing on the dial. With Rolex the newer models have Rolex engraved around the bezel. It has to be engraved and stamped at a specific point.

“Even the clasp you can feel if it is fake or not and the bracelet.

“Sometimes you can get a real watch with a fake link. Some people would fake links to add value to the watch or to resell the link.”

Sometimes, real watches are accompanied by fake paperwork or cards.

“With a watch a card has a lot of value,” says Ms Ali.

“If you lose a card, you lose 20 to 30 per cent of the value of the watch. Some people fake the card if they lose it.

“With watches, you can’t replace the cards. You can get archive papers but you can’t replace the cards.

“People do try it [selling fakes]. I see them probably once every week.

“Some people know. But some people genuinely don’t know they are fake.”

Ms Ali does not advise people to wear any luxury timepiece – either real or imitation – on the streets of central London, which has suffered a spate of watch thefts in recent months.

“To be honest, here in London I don’t advise people to wear any watches. Because the stories we are hearing is just sad. Customers, dealers, traders, everyone, clients. I hear a lot of stories,” she says.

“I have heard a couple of stories of people getting robbed wearing fake watches.”

Having grown up in Abu Dhabi, one of the world’s safest cities, moving to London, which has a significantly higher crime rate, was an adjustment.

“I used to leave my car open, our flat door open. When I came here, I didn’t realise it was a privilege for us to feel safe. I was surprised,” she says.

So, where does she think people should wear their high-end brand watches?

“In Dubai,” says Ms Ali.

Updated: August 18, 2023, 10:51 AM