Rolex watches are symbols of elegance and refinement. This is the reason there is a significant market for counterfeits. The differences between a real Rolex watch and a fake one aren’t always obvious, but with a few simple guidelines, it’s usually possible to determine whether a Rolex is likely to be the real deal or a cheap imitation. For high-quality counterfeits, however, it may be necessary to consult a professional. To start learning effective tips for judging the quality of your Rolex, see Step 1 below.
1 Listen for the telltale “tick, tick, tick” rather than a much more rapid ticking noise.
On standard watches, the motion of the second hand is jerky and truncated because the majority of them are quartz watches. The second hand shifts abruptly from each second position to the next. If you listen carefully, you can usually hear a quiet “tick, tick, tick” from this motion. On the other hand, Rolexes (and many other fine watches) have second hands that move almost perfectly smoothly because they have automatic movements not quartz. Because of this, Rolex does not make a “ticking” noise. If you hear a slow ticking noise coming from your watch, this is a dead giveaway that you’re not wearing a real Rolex. The noise you hear should be much faster than a battery operated watch.
2 Look for jerky second hand motion.
As noted above, Rolexes have second hands that smoothly sweep across the face of the watch, rather than jerking from one position to the next. Look at your watch’s second hand carefully — does it turn smoothly, tracing the path of a perfect circle around the edge of the watch’s face? Or does it appear to speed up, slow down, or jerk as it turns? If the second hand’s motion is anything less than silky smooth, you may have an imitation on your hands.
In fact, if you look extremely closely, a real Rolex’s second hand motion isn’t perfectly smooth. Many models actually move at a speed of about 8 tiny movements per second. Some models even have slower speeds. To the naked eye, however, this motion is usually undetectable, so the second hand looks like it’s moving smoothly.
3 Look for fake “magnification” of the date.
Many (but not all) Rolex watches have a small dial or window that displays the date. Usually, this is on the right side of the watch face (near the “three o’clock” position). To make this dial easier to read, some Rolexes include a small magnification lens (sometimes called a “cyclops”) in the glass over the dial. This part is difficult to counterfeit, so many fake Rolexes will have something that appears to be a magnification panel, but, on close inspection, is actually only ordinary glass. If the magnification panel over the date dial doesn’t actually seem to make the date numbering any larger, you may have a fake.
Actual Rolex magnification windows should magnify the date to 2.5x — the date should take up nearly the entire window. Some good counterfeits will magnify the date somewhat but often not to the point that the entire window is filled. They will also not be centered over the date exactly. Be suspicious of a magnification window that looks glued on imperfectly or off center.
Loosen the stem and roll back the hands to change the date, it should change to the previous date when it goes down to the 6 position, not at the 12. This is virtually impossible to replicate. If it does not do this it is likely a fake.
5 Feel for a suspiciously light weight.
Real Rolexes are constructed from real metal and crystal and thus have some heft to them. They should feel solid and substantial in your hand and on your wrist. If your Rolex feels suspiciously lightweight, it may not be of the highest quality — it may be lacking some of the precious metals used in many models of Rolex or may be constructed entirely from substandard materials.
6 Look for a clear backside to the watch.
Some imitation Rolexes feature a clear glass back which allows you to see the inner workings of the watch. This clear backing may or may not be concealed beneath a removable metal cover. In fact, no current models of Rolex contain this sort of clear caseback, so if your watch has this feature, it is not a true Rolex. Only a few Rolexes have ever been made with clear case backings, and these were all exhibition models.
It is thought that counterfeiters add this clear caseback to help vendors sell watches to unwitting customers by allowing them to view the workmanship inside the watch. Inexperienced customers may be wowed by the inner workings of the watch, rather than alerted to the fact that something is wrong.
7 Look for non-metal construction.
Take your Rolex and turn it over. Examine the back of your watch — it should be made of smooth, unmarked, high-quality metal. If the band is not made of leather, it should be made from high-quality metal construction as well. If any part of the watch’s construction is made from plastic or a thin, cheap-looking metal like aluminum, you’re dealing with a fake. These qualities are clear signs that corners were cut during the manufacture of the watch. Rolexes are made from only the finest materials. No expense is spared in the creation of each watch.
In addition, if the back casing of your watch appears to be made from metal but can be removed to reveal a plastic inner case, the watch isn’t genuine.
8 Test the watch’s water-tightness.
One surefire way to determine whether a supposed Rolex is real or not is to see if it is waterproof. All Rolex watches are made to be perfectly airtight — if your watch leaks even a little bit, it’s probably not the real thing. To test whether your watch is waterproof, fill a cup with water, make sure the stem is screwed on tightly and dunk the watch into the cup for several seconds, and take it out. The watch should be working perfectly fine and you shouldn’t see any water inside the dial. If you do, you have a fake on your hands.
Obviously, if your watch is a fake, this test can harm or even ruin the watch. In the event of water damage, you may be forced to take the watch to an experienced repairman or even buy a new one entirely, so, if you’re not comfortable with these possibilities, try to rely on the other tests.
Note that the Submariner is the only Rolex watch designed for deep water usage — while other Rolexes should be fine in the shower and the swimming pool, they may leak under more serious aquatic conditions
9 When all else fails, compare your watch to the real thing.
If you’re still not sure if your watch is a real Rolex, it can be helpful to compare the way your watch looks to the way it is supposed to look. The Rolex website contains a catalog of all the watches Rolex produces, with multiple pictures for each. Find the model of watch you have on the Rolex site, then compare the appearance of your watch to that of the available “reference” images. Pay special attention to the dial — is everything laid out where it should be? If your watch has an extra dial like a chronograph or a date dial, is it in the right place? Are all the inscriptions identical? Is the lettering the same?
If you can answer “no” to any of these questions, you probably have a fake. Rolex’s brand is famous for the quality of its craftsmanship — noticeable errors are extremely rare.
10 Look for the serial number.
Some expert-made counterfeits won’t be easy to tell apart from actual Rolexes. To spot these, you may need to examine the watch’s tiny, intricate detail work, which is the hardest part of the watch to fake. To start, try finding your watch’s serial number. This will require you to remove the band. You can usually do this by pushing the joint holding the band to the watch out of its place with a thumbtack or similarly-sized object. However, if you’re uncomfortable with this, you can also have a professional do it for you. The serial number should be located between the “lugs” at the six o’clock end of the dial.
The lettering on the serial number should be perfect and precise, with fine lines. Some counterfeiters use an acid-etching method which produces serial number markings with a noticeable “sandy” appearance under magnification.
Between the opposite set of lugs, there should be another similar marking. This is the case reference number and will be labeled with the words, “ORIG ROLEX DESIGN.”
An original Rolex will have sharp and detailed engraving located between the lugs. Counterfeiters often try to mimic these engraving, the result often appears like the serial number has been roughly etched into the casing.
Note that it’s possible to look the date of your watch’s manufacture up with your serial number — several handy online sources (like this one) can help you here.
11 Look for the crown at six o’clock.
Starting in the early to mid 2000s, Rolex began etching the trademark crown logo into the crystal of their watch’s dials. If your watch was made in the past decade or so, you may be able to see this tiny mark of authenticity. Use a magnifying glass or a jeweler’s lens to carefully examine the glass at the six o’clock end of the watch’s dial. Look for the Rolex crown logo — the same design as the much larger logo at the opposite end of the dial. The etching you are looking for is very, very small and can be quite tricky to see. You may find that it is easier to see if you shine light at the face of the watch at an angle.
Some counterfeiters do attempt to copy this etching, but it is extremely difficult to duplicate with the precision of an actual Rolex. If this etching is large enough to easily see with the naked eye, you may have a fake on your hands.
12 Look for etched inscription inside the rim of the dial.
Another mark of authenticity is the fine, etched lettering that is usually included around the rim of Rolex watch dials. Examine this lettering with a magnifying glass or jeweler’s lens. The lettering should be fine, precise, and elegant, with no imperfections. Additionally, the lettering should be etched into the metal rim. If it appears to be painted or printed instead, the watch is likely a fake.
13 Look for a high-quality crown logo on the dial.
Almost (though not quite) all Rolex watches have the trademark crown logo located at the top of the dial near the twelve o’clock marking. Examining this logo under magnification can sometimes reveal a fake. The logo should appear to made of high-quality metal construction. The circles at the end of the crown’s points should have raised bumps. The outline of the crown should glimmer with a different metallic sheen than the inside. If your crown logo looks cheap or flat under magnification, this is a sign of poor craftsmanship (and a likely indicator of a fake).
Note that, typically, all watches from Rolex’s Oyster series bear this etching. Watches from the Cellini series often have non-standard designs (rectangular faces, etc.) and thus may not have this etching.
14 Look for perfectly precise lettering on the dial.
Rolexes are renowned for their perfection. Even small, relatively undetectable defects can be clues that your Rolex isn’t top quality. Examine the lettering on your watch’s dial with a magnifying glass or jeweler’s lens. Each letter should be perfectly, precisely formed with straight lines and smooth curves. The spaces between words and letters should be consistent. If you notice that any letters seem to be even slightly uneven or smudged under magnification, this is a sign that the watch was made with sub-optimal printing technology and is probably not a Rolex.
It’s also worth mentioning that, obviously, any sort of misspelling is also a dead giveaway that the watch is a fake.
15 Beware sub-par packaging.
Everything about a Rolex watch should be elegant, dignified, and perfect. This even includes the packaging. Real Rolexes come in fine jewelry boxes which usually include a mount to hold and display the watch as well as a small cloth to clean and polish it. All packaging should bear the official Rolex name and logo. The watch should also come with a manual and warranty paperwork. If your watch is missing any of these things, it may not be genuine.
Buying a watch by itself off the street is a complete crap shoot — since there’s no packaging, there’s no way to tell it’s authentic.
16 Beware shady locations.
When shopping for Rolexes, use common sense. A reputable jeweler or a fine watch dealer is much, much more likely to be selling genuine Rolexes than a street vendor. Rolexes can cost thousands of dollars, so it’s safe to assume that anyone who sells them will have the resources to own a legitimate business. If you’re unsure whether a certain retailer is a reputable Rolex seller, consult Rolex’s online listing of certified retailers here.
Pawn shops can be a mixed bag — they may have genuine Rolexes, but they may not, depending on the individuals who sold the shop the watches. Some pawn shops take efforts to ensure that they only sell genuine watches, while others may turn a blind eye to counterfeits. If you don’t know whether a certain pawn shop can be trusted, try to find online reviews and testimonials for the store before making your purchase.
17 Beware unusually cheap prices.
When it comes to buying Rolexes, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Rolex watches are fine-made luxury goods crafted to perfection — they’re never cheap. The most expensive Rolex watches in the world sell for over a million dollars, while even some of the cheapest models can sell for over $4000. If you’re being offered a Rolex for $100 dollars, it doesn’t matter what the seller’s explanation is — there’s either something wrong with the watch or it’s not the real thing.
Don’t accept an unscrupulous seller’s excuses. If you’re being told that a Rolex watch is being sold for cheap because the seller found it or because it was given as a gift, walk away. Assume that there are no lucky coincidences when spending the kind of money that it takes to purchase a Rolex.
18 When all else fails, take your watch to an experienced jeweler.
Sometimes, even when you know what to look for, it’s almost impossible to tell whether a watch is the real deal or a fake. In these cases, a knowledgeable, trustworthy jeweler or watch salesman can help you by examining the watch for qualities that the ordinary person can’t catch. If you have a great relationship with this expert, you may be able to have your watch’s genuineness judged for free. Otherwise, jewelry appraisal services, while not cheap, are fairly affordable when compared to the price of a Rolex.
For instance, some jewelry appraisal services can run at a cost of up to $180 per hour. Because of this, you may want to have multiple items appraised at once to get the greatest possible value.
Only use jewelry appraisal services that charge by the hour, on a per-piece basis, or for a contracted amount based on the estimated time needed. Never use appraisers that charge a percentage of the jewelry’s value — this is a scamming technique.