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Watch your step: Understanding the intricacies of watch appraisals

Fakes/counterfeits/’Franken’ watches

With improved technology and a global counterfeit market fuelled by the Internet, counterfeit watches are a great concern for the industry, buyers, and appraisers alike. The fakes (also referred to as replicas) are becoming more sophisticated. Sometimes, minute differences in the dial or missing numbers in the movement can be the only clue. Acquiring the education to spot a fake is critical if you plan to appraise watches. I recently appraised two Hublot Big Bang wristwatches that turned out to be fakes. My client had purchased them for $10,000 apiece through two retail jewellery stores that sell pre-owned watches. Both were independently appraised a few years later as genuine before arriving at my office. To the uninitiated, these fakes can be very convincing: same case design, materials, signature, and movement with very slight differences between the genuine and counterfeit. The training I received through National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors’ (NAWCC’s) ‘Luxury or Lie’ course was key to detecting these fakes.

Genuine watches altered with aftermarket parts is another challenge facing the appraiser. You may encounter something as simple as a plain bezel replaced with a non-factory diamond bezel. Or perhaps you may find a more sophisticated endeavour in the form of a combination of factory Rolex parts from various watches assembled to look like a vintage Cosmograph Daytona with a ‘Paul Newman’ dial, a rare and highly collectible model. The trade likes to refer to these as ‘Franken’ or ‘Frankenstein’ watches, which are made to defraud the unsuspecting buyer. Once again, training is essential for detection. If you lack the training, the only way to appraise these watches is by retaining a watch expert. Before taking on a watch appraisal, make sure you disclose your lack of experience to your client and in your report, along with the steps you took to gather the necessary information to appraise the watch.

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