About my work on fake watches

“For now more than 10 years, the counterfeiting phenomenon has done nothing but expand. It’s a source of worry to the industries affected by this illegal market of fake medication, components and luxury products. These and other counterfeit products often make headlines and poison the economic system.” 
– Fabrice Gueroux

After the publication of my first two books I continued to investigate more closely the subject of counterfeiting.

It allows me to understand the trends and development of this phenomenon for the next 10 years.

For now more than 10 years, the counterfeiting phenomenon has done nothing but expand. It’s a source of worry to the industries affected by this illegal market of fake medication, components and luxury products. These and other counterfeit products often make headlines and poison the economic system.

What are the consequences of counterfeiting for today’s economy? This parallel industry affects the economic framework as well as the safety of consumers. The opportunity costs for watch companies seem obvious and the legal consequences of purchasing such goods are starting to gain momentum.

It must be understood that the counterfeit market is opaque and is linked to organized crime. Making the public aware of the counterfeiting problem is not futile and is beginning to have a real impact on buying behavior.

Counterfeiting watches is growing exponentially, especially concerning online sales. Judicial authorities struggle and take recurrent action against illegal sales sites while there has been a resurgence of counterfeited bands. This phenomenon is no longer confined to the major brands but affects the entire luxury watch sector. The result is a constant increase in the choice and range of counterfeit models.

From an economics point of view, one could say that on the face of it counterfeiting cannot have any real impact on the companies because they always have the means to defend themselves. However, the expansion of this parallel economy has a butterfly effect on the watchmaking industry and we are beginning to see its first damaging repercussions.

In 2007, my first book laid down the premises of an invasion of fakes and already foresaw a resurgence of sales in view of the endless possibilities of the Internet. The counterfeiters already had a suitable terrain as well as the facilities with which to spread their fake watches. From then on, copies with a modicum of “quality” were being noticed, but failed to get much attention from watch connoisseurs, experts and other enthusiasts.

In 2010 it became necessary to update some of the data and evaluations in a second book. The counterfeiters had in fact made a great leap forward in the apparent quality of their copies. As a result, the quantities disposed of saw a considerable rise. The brands, which had hitherto little reason to be concerned, started taking a closer interest in the issue.

The following years allowed me to dig deeper into the field of counterfeiting and I endeavored to assess more precisely the directions and trends of this phenomenon in the next 10 years. In my books and Masterclass I cover the subject of vintage watches and devote much of this manual to the subject.

It’s because of this expertise that quite a number of my readers send me emails and call me for information on a period model that they’re interested in. I’m always happy to help and ensure that an enthusiast makes a purchase in the right conditions.

The type of requests and questions that I get enable me to confirm today that the vintage-watch market is literally flooded with fakes. Fitting a watch with fake parts, such as a clasp or a crown, can increase its value tenfold. I notice that quite a few watch fans are taking an interest in the vintage watch market, considering it a road to rich returns. I should also point out that counterfeiters know how to read, they are well organized and can follow the developments and trends of a market. Furthermore, they have the capacity to meet any given demand, often faster than some professionals. I can only conclude that the surprises are not over.

So far as contemporary watches are concerned, I thought that the “quality” of the common copies would have improved, as in the 1980s which saw a resurgence of fake Rolexes, Cartiers, Breitlings and others that could be found in street markets. Nothing has changed on that side. A recent hidden-camera documentary showed that such markets were still the playground of the small retailers of low-grade fakes. The way of presenting the product is always the same, and when you ask the seller for something better you are quickly taken to a side alley. There a new seller, introducing himself as an “expert supplier of rare objects”, will offer watches of superior quality, sold for between 500 and 1,000 dollars. This buys you the entry level in the hierarchy of quality fakes.

Openly announced as counterfeit products, such watches can sometimes fetch 2,500 dollars.

On the same subject, two factors have drawn my attention. The first is the number of brands featured in the counterfeiters’ catalogs. The second is the number of fake complicated watches on offer.

In 2013, my view of the market in fakes could be summed up in the equation: top brand + popular model + quality product = market in fakes, consisting predominantly of low-grade copies. I was wrong.

The priority has definitely been the effort put into the two factors mentioned above. Judging from what I have found out, even independent watchmakers will soon have to recruit a team of lawyers specialized in intellectual property rights and the suppression of fakes. The niche brands are in the counterfeiters’ catalogs as well, and even though the quality is not always there, examples can be found that could fool quite a few. Counterfeiters are undeniably a danger for the watch industry. Most of them have no problem in declaring that the products they are selling are fake. At this stage the buyer knows what he’s in for and his purchase is his own responsibility. The person-to-person sales sites for their part are overflowing with copies under cover of some kind of anonymity for sellers who claim to sell authentic watches.

Having read so far you will probably end up by thinking that it is difficult, if not impossible to get a good deal without the company or the advice of an expert, and that it is dangerous to commit financially to such a sensitive issue. I would say that learning and understanding are important. Education in such an exacting subject as horology requires some learning and knowledge. That is what I shall try to bring you in my last book “Watches: An Identification Manual for Contemporary and Collector’s Pieces” and my Watch Expert Masterclass.