• May 28, 2024

Fake Watches Are not the Problem You Think They Are

Over time, if you view enough relevant YouTube videos, you will ultimately discover a very particular kind of video. A self-proclaimed watch expert is holding two nearly similar timepieces in each hand. He reveals that one of these timepieces is a fake, a replica (it’s nearly always a he). Then the macro photography starts, giving us close-up views of each watch’s individual parts and highlighting the apparent flaws in the imitation as well as the flawless fit and finish of the real thing. A creative technique to dispose of the duplicate is often shown at the end of the film, either with a minor explosion or with a hammer or commode. These movies are provided as a service to the watch community to help prevent you from falling for a so-called “super fake” while attempting to buy the real deal from an unknown online seller or a dishonest (or maybe ignorant) dealer.

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Watching these movies would lead one to believe that fake watches are widely available and must account for a sizable portion of all timepieces sold at any given moment. Although the precise number of plausible fakes is difficult to estimate, there is a wealth of anecdotal information from watch buyers suggesting that there are very few of them. You won’t likely come across many accounts of individuals being conned if you read forums, follow Instagram, and speak with collectors who frequently purchase what are thought to be frequently falsified watches. At least not from reliable sources. lone incidents of people falling for a hoax? Yes, that does occur. However, you would expect to hear these stories all the time if they were ubiquitous, wouldn’t you?

Contrary to what the YouTubers would have you believe, fake watches don’t seem to be that big of a deal. However, this does not negate the existence of authenticity problems in the watch industry. They just originate from a less spectacular or readily understood location. Nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to what’s going on in the world of vintage watches when it comes to individuals being duped, misled, hoodwinked, and just plain ripped off.

Ben Clymer said something on our show last year that I can’t get out of my head. mostly because, having witnessed the antique watch market grow over the past few years, I have personally had this notion many times. When asked why he was more drawn to contemporary timepieces that he could wear regularly and create memories with, he said that the antique market has grown more dangerous, making it harder even for specialists to know precisely what you’re receiving.

In contrast to the frequently frightening material created about super fakes, this antique issue is never discussed, but it affects a greater number of collectors. I don’t have hard data to support this, but there’s a ton of easily accessible evidence that trustworthy vintage dealers—as well as some less trustworthy anonymous wannabe dealers via online forums—are selling vintage watches by the truckload, many of which have cases that have been overpolished or reconditioned—without disclosing the difference—or both. However, case problems pale in comparison to dial refinishing.

In the language of the trade, dials of vintage watches sold today were frequently polished, or “redialed,” years ago—long before they were taken photos for the eBay listing or Reddit sales post where you saw it. It’s crucial to remember that the seller of the watch with the refinished dial probably didn’t have it done himself. Since it occurred so long ago in the watch’s history, the refinished dial is now considered vintage, which makes it more difficult to identify and, to be honest, less significant to many.

Dials have been refinished for a number of reasons over the years. repairing harm sustained while in use, to start. A dial would be fixed at the manufacturer during regular maintenance if it started to fade or exhibit symptoms of lume deterioration. In particular, Rolex collectors are aware of this, and if you know what to look for, service dials are simple to identify. (This excellent analysis of what collectors look for in a 6062 Rolex shows how little some of the modifications are to the service dials.)

Dials that have been altered throughout the resale process to make them appear anything close to a “new” dial are more difficult to spot. Dealers would often have timepieces disassembled, cleaned, repaired, and generally rejuvenated in all sorts of ways before placing them under the glass with the idea that a more aesthetically beautiful watch would be easier to sell before there was a developed antique watch industry as we know it today. These 1950s timepieces would have seemed brand-new in the 1980s. These days, they display their age and may easily trick a non-collector into believing they have acquired a unique or uncommon item. As a matter of fact, they may have discovered something that was altered significantly from the manufacturer and that was probably kept a secret.

There are countless examples. Almost always, a 40, 50, 60, or 70-year-old dial that seems to be in perfect shape is a redial. If you attentively examine the dial marks and text under magnification, you will notice irregular lines, mismatched typefaces, and even the reemergence of base paint layers behind touch-up work. Naturally, to distinguish between an original and a fake watch, one must possess an almost encyclopedic understanding of the item in question, or at the at least, know someone who does. This is the kind of ability that usually requires experience and costs as much to learn as the mistakes you make along the road.

Redialed timepieces are typically defended on the basis of aesthetics. One may argue that a “clean” dial with new paint, more vibrant colors, readable chronograph scales, and other features is more aesthetically pleasing than a badly worn-out, deeply patinated dial that has lost some of its punch. Of course, one’s personal aesthetic preferences vary, but part of the appeal of a vintage watch is its aged appearance. Admittedly, this may seem corny, but a dial’s age and wear convey a narrative, and once you paint over that individuality, the tale becomes lost.

One further argument I occasionally hear in support of creative redials made to order according to a customer’s demands is that every owner of a watch is allowed to do with their own property as they like; if they want to alter the color or put their initials on the dial, that’s OK! I really believe in the adage “It’s your watch, do what you’d like,” but I also have a passion for timepieces and the stories they tell. I believe it’s kind of a requirement to work in this industry. It is essentially incompatible with the reasons that most of us are drawn to watches in the first place to decide to destroy a piece of history.

To be clear, I’m not arguing in favor of keeping a watch’s financial worth. However, I do believe that tarnishing a watch deprives it of important historical and cultural significance. It’s possible that we take it for granted because there are so many watches with historical influences available, but it’s important to note that Omega is no longer producing Seamasters from the 1950s. Redialing timepieces such as these deprives upcoming watch aficionados of the chance to examine and analyze them in their original, factory-fresh state. For many of us, collecting watches is only one of our many intellectual pursuits. Whether the redial was carried out in the regular course of business thirty or forty years ago with approval from the original maker, or if it was commissioned by the current owner to address a perceived fault, every redial makes research and study more challenging and stressful. These goods come in limited supply, therefore we ought to cherish them.

Over the years, my personal connection with old timepieces has evolved significantly. My main interest when I first started collecting was vintage—that is, really reasonably priced vintage. On eBay, you may still find excellent pieces that haven’t been polished at all for a very reasonable price. Yes, there were redials, but as I mentioned before, you have to educate yourself and enjoy your life. My ultimate objectives for antique collecting were all condition-related. I just wanted time capsules that had not been opened, and I didn’t even really care what kind of watch it was.

It’s true that this is an odd approach to gather, but in the end, my interests grew significantly. As Clymer acknowledged in our podcast, I’m not really that interested in historical timepieces these days and would much rather use new, contemporary watches to create my own memories. A portion of that is just my interests evolving from when I was first getting into the pastime. However, it also symbolizes the stressful and challenging process of making sure the timepieces you purchase are authentic and undamaged.

Because let me tell you, an overly polished redial done with the wrong hands and a sloppily placed toothpaste colored lume will never do when you handle a vintage Zenith Defy that has not undergone any aesthetic changes since the day it left Switzerland. Like a magnificent old structure, one is a historic item, a rare relic, and something that should be preserved. The other is an error, sadly widespread, and although it may look good at first, it has lost its genuineness.

In 2022, a redialed watch might not strictly be considered a fake in the sense that we currently understand them. Nonetheless, they are as pervasive and cunning as any contemporary imitation. I’ve always found it a bit odd that although the community is quick to denounce fakes of contemporary hype timepieces—as we all should—many of them remain mute when it comes to the widespread misrepresentation of historic watches that are, in one way or another, not what they seem to be. I hope that as more people are accepted into the field and start dabbling with vintage, it becomes more acceptable to call these watches out for what they are. As a collector and enthusiast, I really enjoy the direct link that antique timepieces bring us to the past.