When you see a 'Patek Philippe' watch with a $200 price tag, a neon pink dial, a plastic case, and a clumsy bezel, you don't have to be a watch expert to know you're looking at a fake. Unfortunately, not all fakes are quite so easy to spot. As each year passes, counterfeiters seem to get cleverer and cleverer and their fakes get more and more realistic. Telling the difference between an authentic Patek Philippe and a fake Patek Philippe has turned from something anyone with eyes in their heads could do into an art form. But if you're clever with your process and diligent with your details, it's still just about manageable. All you need are a few little tips...
Low Prices Equal High Risks
If you're in the market for a Patek Philippe, it's fair to assume that you know a little about the brand. At the very least, you'll know it makes luxury Swiss watches, that it's considered one of the finest watchmakers in the world, and that it has a history and reputation that stretches back over 175 years. You'll also know that none of that comes cheap. If you want a Patek Philippe watch, you can't just turn up at Walmart with a pocketful of dimes and ask for one nicely at the counter (well, you can, but it won't get you very far). Patek Philippe watches come with waiting lists that go on for years. They also come with price tags with more zeros than you thought possible. Which means that if someone offers you the latest model right here, right now, with no waiting list, no prior association, and no need to pay anything more than you've got in your wallet right now, you should probably move as quickly as you can in the opposite direction. As your mother always told you, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Wise words. It's easy enough to check average prices on the internet, so do it. And if someone offers you a watch at an unbeatable price, think twice. Patek Philippe doesn't specialize in unbeatable prices. It specializes in unbeatable watches. And unfortunately, the two are rarely compatible.
Inspect the Goods
As the thetruthaboutwatches.com says, never buy a watch until you've inspected every square inch of it. A Patek Philippe watch is perfection personified. There shouldn't be a single jarring feature, a solitary misstep, nothing. Before you hand over a single cent, put the watch under a lens and inspect it for any tiny imperfection that could give the game away. Remember - forgers are clever. They're not going to try and get you to part with $20,000 if there's something obviously amiss with the watch. Any clue is going to be small - but it'll be there. You might just need a bit of time and a very keen eye to find it. As you complete your inspection, be sure to check the following:
As The Real Real notes, Patek Philippe watches are made to proportions that are driven by the movement, complications, and case size. Those proportions are perfect. If the dial seems too large for the bracelet, if the bezel looks clumsy against the case, if there's anything that looks even the slight bit off, then whatever it is you're looking at, it's not a Patek Philippe. Take time to study the numerals and lettering: they should be as crisp and clean as a fresh sheet of paper. Unless you're dealing with a skeletonized model, the tourbillon and balance wheels on the dial should not be visible. Check what's protecting the dial: all modern Patek Philippe's should have a sapphire crystal case back. If the model is supposed to feature luminescent coating on the hands, check it under dim light. If the hands don't light up like a Christmas tree, you're looking at a fake.
As gemmabywpd.com comments, real Patek Philippe watches will be made from stainless steel, platinum, or 18k gold. They should have a weight to them: if the watch feels flimsy, it's an indication it's made from materials of lesser quality. Bracelets will either be 18k gold or platinum; straps should be steel, leather, or composite. A Calatrava Cross and Patek Philippe seal should be printed on the underside, as should the model number of the watch. Buckles should display the brand logo while deployment clasps should bear the Calatrava Cross
Check the Serial Number
Unless you're dealing with a very old timepiece, the watch should display a unique reference number and generic model number on the case back. If the watch has an exhibition case back, the numbers will be found engraved around the rim. Once you find the numbers, authenticate them via an online reference number checker. The details confirmed via the checker should match what you were expecting in terms of production date, model. etc. Just be aware that while the serial number can help pinpoint a fake (e.g., if there isn't one and it's a modern watch, it's definitely either a fake or someone has gone to the effort of polishing it off - either way, it's suspicious), it's not in itself enough to prove whether a watch is authentic or not. Forgers can quite easily access reference numbers online, and just as easily engrave them onto the watch. Use the reference number as an accompaniment to the rest of your authenticity checks, rather than in isolation.
Bring in the Experts
Unless you're an expert in watches, it's not always going to be possible to spot a fake. If the fake is a bad one, then there's likely to be one or two glaring details that give the game away. The problem is, some fakes are so cleverly made, it would take an expert to tell it apart from the real thing.... and unfortunately, watching a few videos and reading a few articles like this aren't suddenly going to make you an expert. An independent assessment by a qualified expert is the only tried and tested way of ensuring you don't end up with a dud. If the seller has nothing to hide, they should have no reason to object if you ask to get the watch verified before signing off on the deal. If they come up with an excuse, take it as a red flag. An honest seller will understand the requirement and be happy enough to oblige. A dishonest one won't.
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Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker