BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Subscribe to Top Gear magazine
Sign up to our Top Gear Magazine

Watches: spotting a fake is getting harder all the time

Catching out the imposters has become harder than ever and the problem’s growing

Published: 23 Feb 2024

Spotting a fake watch used to be pretty easy. You could pick it up and feel the weight, look at the finishing on the corners of the case, listen to the movement, check the quality of the glass and the lettering on the dial. There were always loads of little tyre-kicking details that would end up leaving a supposedly expensive luxury watch looking distinctly cheap.

Things have changed. Rubbish fakes that you can spot a mile off do still exist, but they are the type that people buy with open eyes. If you go to a market stall and spend £40 on a watch that claims to be a (possibly misspelt) Panerai, you’re not being ripped off – you know full well what you’re doing. But at the other end of the scale there are counterfeit watches so good even an expert with an eyeglass can’t tell them apart from the real thing. The design details are all spot on, the materials are high quality and some take the deception to such a high level that even taking the back off and looking at the movement doesn’t immediately give the game away.

Advertisement - Page continues below

Fakery is massive now, with a billion dollar market estimated to be producing 30 to 40 million counterfeit watches every year. This means there are sophisticated factories, complete with CNC machines, going to great lengths to make watches that look and feel exactly as they should, for a fraction of the price and none of the kudos.

The legit watch industry is understandably not a fan of this huge black market. They remind people of its links to organised crime, and make a show of destroying caches of recovered fakes. But their efforts have not done much to stem the tide, especially with the counterfeiting factories sitting in the safety of parts of the world that take a much more relaxed attitude to intellectual property rights.

How do you spot a fake? You don’t, you let other people do the work. Whether buying new or secondhand, don’t look at the watch, look at where you are buying it. On the high street, the difference between a legitimate shop and a dodgy market stall is pretty clear. And with a bit of due diligence, online retailers are pretty easy to scope out too. Spotting a fake watch is getting harder all the time – spotting a fake watch dealer is not so difficult. 

Advertisement - Page continues below

Top Gear

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

More from Top Gear

See more on Watches

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine