Where there is great demand, you should expect that there will, ultimately, be a large counterfeit market as well. It’s no wonder the question “How Can I Tell if a Rolex is Real?” is a frequently searched term on Google.
No need reemphasizing that Rolex watches are super expensive pieces. Everyone already knows that. So, if you’ve decided that you’re going to invest in a Rolex timepiece, then you might want to spare the time to learn how to tell a real Rolex from a counterfeit one.
Most counterfeit watches are typically made in China. However, more countries in Asia are beginning to follow in China’s footsteps.
Usually, the first sign of trouble shows itself when you hear the price of the watch. Typically, these fakes can sell for about $25 to $200. However, we must admit that the counterfeit industry is upping its game and getting better. These days, even the most experienced dealers can get fooled by some counterfeit watches.
Even though many fake Rolex watches are easy to pick out at first sight, a novice will still be easily swept away by a fake Rolex watch. So, to help you pick out a fake Rolex from a real one, we have prepared this guide. By the way, take this as a first tip. Prime targets for counterfeiting are usually the Rolex Datejust and the Rolex Submariner.
Table of Contents
How Can I Tell If A Rolex Is Real? — Some Tips To Help
You can break these tips into 6 categories viz:
1. The looks which include the engravings, the case back, the metal quality, the magnification, as well as the GMT hand.
2. The feel which includes the feel of the winding crown, the heft of the watch, as well as the details.
3. The sound of the watch. The tick, to be precise.
4. Lastly, the numbers on the watch. This includes the serial and model numbers, the letterings on the dial, the engravings, and the holograms.
5. The movement.
6. The water resistance.
The Looks Of A Real Vs Fake Rolex
The Case Back
This is, perhaps, the easiest way you can spot a fake Rolex from a real one. Simply check out the case back of the watch in question. Typically, this case back should be a plain metal back.
If the back of the watch is an exhibition glass case back that allows you to see the watch mechanism, then it’s most likely a fake Rolex.
Or it might also be a very rare genuine Rolex watch made in the 1930s. These watches come with an exhibition glass case back.
So, typically, a real Rolex typically features a metal case back with a stunningly smooth finish.
A genuine Rolex will have its case back completely smooth without any engraving of any kind. So, be suspicious if you find any Rolex with an engraving on its case back.
There are only a few Rolex watches with an engraved case back. One is the Rolex Sea-Dweller which has the words “Rolex Oyster Original Gas Escape Valve” engraved on the case back. You’ll find these words engraved in an arc on the outside of the case back.
The other Rolex watches with a similarly engraved case back are the Rolex Milgauss, COMEX, military watches, as well as some much rarer older models.
Other genuine Rolex watches besides these with engravings on the case back include certain older models of the lady Rolex Datejust including the 6917, 69173, and 69174. These typically come with the words “Stainless Steel” and “Registered Design” on their case backs.
Quality Of The Metal Used
Rolex does not have any watch made with 14K gold or gold-plated parts. A real Rolex watch is either 18K gold, stainless steel, or platinum. If you can see faded metal or gold, best believe that isn’t a genuine Rolex watch.
Magnification / Cyclops
Rolex watches that have a date complication usually come with a cyclops. This cyclops refers to the magnification glass window sitting above the date complication.
On a real Rolex, the cyclops lens would magnify the date such that it appears about 2.5 times larger than its actual size. So, the date looks like it’s jumping out at you, taking up the entire glass bubble.
In a counterfeit piece, on the other hand, the magnification is only about 1.5 times. Sometimes, it’s even lower. This makes the date appear tiny and difficult to read.
Again, when you look at the date window of a real Rolex, it should appear to be placed dead-center above the number. In a replica Rolex, it’s different.
So, if you’re looking through your Cyclops or through the side and the date appears flat or is difficult to see or remains the same size, the Rolex is definitely fake.
But here’s something else to note. Some counterfeiters have decided to use bigger fonts in order to imitate the magnified look. Please, watch out for that.
When you pick up a real Rolex watch, the GMT hand is supposed to appear sandwiched between the minute and the hour hands. On a replica, however, the GMT hand would be found sitting close to the dial rather than being sandwiched between the hour and minute hands.
You’d think this is an oversight on the part of the counterfeiters, but it’s not. The faulty GMT hand is actually as a result of the counterfeit movement in their watches.
The Second Hand
Rolex is a sucker for perfection and you can also see that in the movement of the second hand of its watches. If the second hand of the watch in question is moving jerkily, then the watch is, most likely, fake.
Rolex always ensures that its second hand makes a clean sweep which is characteristic of a mechanical movement. Jerky movements are characteristic of quartz movements rather than mechanical movements. And Rolex has never made a quartz watch.
The Feel Of A Real Vs Fake Rolex
One way you can tell a that a Rolex is real is by checking for its heft. If it’s real, a Rolex should feel solid in the hand when you hold it, especially the more modern ones. This solid feel comes as a result of the genuine metal used to make all parts of the watch.
Rolex watches are made from 904L stainless steel as well as other precious metals. So, typically, when you feel them, especially at the center of the movement, there’s this extra heft to them that a fake Rolex watch lacks. In essence, generally, the lighter Rolex is the fake one.
The Winding Crown
Check out the winding crown at the 3 o’clock position. If it’s a fake Rolex, the crown would look and feel basic. A Rolex, on the other hand, has a more elegant crown. There’s absolutely nothing basic about a Rolex’s winding crown. It comes with unique grooves and engravings whose fine crafting can be felt by the individual when they touch the crown.
Counterfeiters do not have the same level of expertise and craftsmanship that Rolex has so their crowns typically come out pretty basic.
Another thing to note is that models from 2002 and later are supposed to have a second, smaller crown etching at the 6 o’clock position to give the watch a sense of exclusiveness. This smaller crown etching is so tiny, you might not even be able to spot it except you use a magnifying glass. So, keep that in mind.
Finally, about the crown, the ball points on the engraved crown of a real Rolex, will have round ball points that are distinct from the stems.
You’re supposed to notice a slightly greenish tint along the surface of a real Rolex’s crystal. As you know, Rolex watches come with sapphire crystals which is why they give a greenish tint. In a fake Rolex, the crystal is mineral crystal so, rather than green, it gives off a violet or purplish tint.
Another thing about a real Rolex’s crystal is the micro-etching. There’s supposed to be a tiny crown logo micro-etched onto the 6 o’clock position. Especially in watches made in 2002 and later, you should look out for this proof of authenticity.
You won’t be able to see it with your naked eye. So, make sure your lighting is right and use a magnifying glass to help spot it.
The clasp of a real Rolex must feature a crown. Also, on the inside of the clasp, you’re supposed to find a stamp. These stamps must be crisp and clean either with the numbers 750 or 18KT.
You also want to look out for the teeny details. Like we mentioned in our article, How Rolex Watches AreMade? (click here to read it), Rolex is big on quality control and will not let any watch leave the facility except the watch is completely perfect. Rolex has thousands of workers in its employ. Plus, Rolex takes up to a year to make its watches because quality must be maintained.
So, look out for the quality of the finish, the quality of the dial, the lume, and markings. They must be no less than perfect. Then the bracelet and case must feel rounded without any sharp edges whatsoever.
The Sound Of A Real Vs Fake Rolex
We already mentioned that a real Rolex’s second hand makes a clean sweep (almost perfectly but not perfectly) while a fake Rolex’s second hand movement is jerkier. The reason a real Rolex has a smoothly sweeping second hand is that the second hand of a Rolex watch, the way the watch is designed, makes 8 ticks per second which help it make a clean sweep.
The second hand on a real Rolex will make about 28,800 beats per hour and only a high-quality movement can achieve that. Something counterfeiters would obviously lack.
Even if counterfeiters manage to get a real Swiss-made movement, the second hand would still jerk obviously rather than make a clean sweep.
Nonetheless, even if the second hand sweeps, you might still want to check out the movement in the watch by opening it up.
Plus, Rolex watches are not noisy. If the suspected watch is making loud, ticking noises then that watch is, most definitely, not real.
So, pick up the watch and place it close to your ear. If you hear a ticking sound, then the movement is a quartz movement which Rolex, definitely, does not use in its watches. A Rolex must be completely noiseless.
The Numbers On A Real Vs Fake Rolex
Model and Serial Numbers
A Rolex watch will come with a sealed case back and only very few sellers know how to open a Rolex to show you its movement. Thankfully, there are other ways to look for a Rolex watch’s serial and model numbers. Nonetheless, please endeavor to buy from a seller who will open up the watch for you to inspect. It is critical, and we’ll explain why soon.
For now, here’s how to find the model and serial numbers of a Rolex watch. Look at the outside of the case but you must be super careful, else you won’t find what you’re looking for.
Typically, Rolex engraves the model number of its watches between the lugs at the 12 o’clock position. The serial number is also etched between the lugs of the watch but, this time, at the 6 o’clock position.
Now, if your watch is a 2005 model or newer, then the serial number would be under the crystal inside the bezel but also at the 6 o’clock position.
You can confirm if your watch has a genuine model number by looking it up on Google to ensure that it corresponds to the model it claims to be or a different one.
Watch the video below for a visual demonstration on how to check for your watch’s model and serial numbers.
Another thing about Rolex watches and their model and serial numbers is the way in which they are engraved. In typical Rolex style, it is perfect and precise. Fake Rolex watches, on the other hand, will have their model and serial numbers either roughly etched or sand-blasted. Plus, rather than being well-spaced, the spacing in between the model and serial numbers are supposed to be even while on the fake watches, they are too close together.
Also, counterfeiters typically use the same model and serial numbers on all their watches.
The Dial’s Letterings
You might need a magnifying glass for this. With this glass, you’re going to be looking at all the numbers and letters on the face. All markings must be crisp and clear. There must be no sharp corners and everything must be perfectly aligned.
If the letters and numbers look like they are bleeding or they appear fuzzy, the watch is probably fake.
If your watch is a Daytona, then look at the numbers on the dial. If you see the numbers 20, 30, and 40, it’s a fake watch. Rolex will never use those numbers for a chronograph watch.
After that, look at the crown, the ball points on the crown are supposed to be spherical and give off a 3D effect. If the dial of your watch has a crown with flatish ball points, then it’s most probably fake.
Still on the dial, look out for how the word “Rolex” is inscribed. Typically, you should find this around the inner rim of your dial. However, a fake Rolex will have this written in ink rather than with high resolution laser as Rolex does it.
In the video below, check out how to spot the difference between a fake Rolex and a real Rolex.
Genuine Rolex models used to be shipped from the factory, after they were newly made, with a sticker on the case back. This sticker is typically 3-dimensional and Hologram encoded.
On this sticker, you’ll find Rolex’s trademark crown above the watch’s reference number (model number). You can easily identify the Hologram simply by looking at it from a variety of angles which causes the background pattern to change.
On counterfeit watches, however, the stickers are not holograms and are, instead, just a sticker with a pattern of Rolex patterns repeated on the sticker. This pattern does not change in appearance when viewed at different angles unlike the original one.
This tip does not apply to watches made after 2007, though, as counterfeiters started to get better and better at replicating the hologram. So, yeah, this is a funny one, but the rules change if your watch is post-2007. If a post-2007 Rolex comes with a hologram sticker, then it is fake, no matter how genuine the hologram is.
The Movement Of A Real Vs Fake Rolex
No matter how good counterfeiters get, they won’t be able to replicate the level of craftsmanship and precision Rolex puts into its watchmaking.
So, first off, genuine Rolex movements always have the name “Rolex” engraved on it. Also, all parts of the movement are perfectly finished. Of course, to see this, you’d have to open up the watch (click here to read How to Open a Rolex Watch).
Again, Rolex movements are mechanical and not quartz. Since its history as a brand, Rolex has only made very very few quartz watches.
Now, as technologies get more modern and more sophisticated, counterfeiters are getting increasingly better at making Rolex replicas even down to their movements. Some of these fakes are so convincing, they could even have an experienced person fooled. These watches are called super fakes.
However, once you place the movements in these super fakes under close scrutiny, you begin to see the subpar finish as well as the slightly less reliable and precise movement.
So, when you go to a dealer to buy a Rolex, ask them to open up the watch so you check all these things. If they are hesitant to do that, then know that the dealer is shifty. Do not buy that watch.
This video explores the movement in a replica Rolex watch. Check it out:
The Water Resistance Of A Real Vs Fake Rolex
A Rolex is tested under the most extreme of conditions to ensure that they are truly water-resistant. Only one in a thousand watches fail this test, anyway. Now, to verify that your watch is genuine, you might have to do a water surface tension test on the crystal.
For instance, when you smear a film of water on a real Rolex’s crystal, the water will almost always pull together since the crystal is sapphire which means its surface is smooth. In summary, the water shouldn’t spread out when smeared on the surface of a genuine Rolex’s crystal.
Another way to test water-resistance would be to simply take the watch through a water pressure test. However, you might want to desist from doing that for a couple of reasons.
First, if the watch isn’t real, you’ll damage the watch badly. Secondly, even if the watch ends up being genuine, it might still fail the water pressure test if it’s damaged or in need of servicing.
How Can I Tell If A Rolex Is Real — What The Experts Look Out For
1. A Rolex watch that comes with the GMT reference number, 1675 and a Submariner dial is generally considered suspicious. Experts will usually check to ensure the reference number corresponds to a specific model.
The video below shows how to tell a fake Rolex Submariner from a genuine one.
2. Serial number between a Rolex watch’s lugs and the one on the papers (if available) should match.
3. A genuine Rolex movement should have a movement number which should correspond to a particular watch model.
4. The serial number of the watch must be clearly stamped on the movement. Experts will look out for the quality of the stamp as well as whether or not the numbering is correct.
5. The inner fonts and markings on the case back of a genuine Rolex must correctly correspond to the brand.
6. A mechanical movement comes with over a hundred parts, and an expert can tell if the movement and its parts are correct. If the parts are incorrect, it brings the authenticity of the watch into question. There have been cases where fraudsters inserted a fake movement into a real Rolex case. Experts will catch that.
7. The water pressure test we warned against can be expertly done by an experienced watchmaker. They’ll check the seals of the watch first to indicate if it’s original before testing the watch. Fake watches do not usually come with a diving rating.
How To Avoid Buying A Fake Rolex
1. Avoid Shady Locations
If the seller tells you to meet them in a shady location to test the watch, don’t fall for it. Make sure you only buy from a trusted, certified Rolex seller.
2. Only Buy From An Experienced Watchmaker Or Jeweler
Sometimes, fake Rolex watches look more brilliant than real ones. Hence, you might have to work with an experienced watchmaker to tell the real from the fake.
3. Don’t Buy From Unreliable Auctions
If you buy from an auction ceremony that’s not trustworthy, you might not be able to verify that the watch is authentic. So, avoid such.