Buying a Swiss watch

The term "Swiss" watch is something of a misnomer as all "Swiss" watches, apart from Rolex, are now made in China (as indeed are all Japanese watches). Unless brand names mean something to you the real bargains are the Japanese watches, such as Citizen or Seiko, which are at least as good as the Swiss watches both aesthetically and in terms of functionality, and a fraction of the price. Japan has a long horological tradition and some of the Japanese watch companies are actually older than the Swiss ones.

How to buy a Swiss watch cheaply

There are only 2 ways you can buy a genuine Swiss watch relatively cheaply:

  • From an online store. Their overheads are much less and they can pass these savings onto their customers.
  • Buy it second hand.

How to spot fakes.

If you are buying a Swiss watch, especially a Rolex, you need to be sure its genuine. The lower quality replicas are fairly obviously fake but the high quality ones are hard to distinguish from the real thing. Below is a guide to the types of fake Rolexes you might be likely to encounter and how to detect them.

There are 2 kinds of fakes: battery operated quartz and self winding automatic. 


It is easy to tell that the battery operated quartz watches are fake. They sell at  around $5 and do not pretend to be anything else. The second hands have a jerky movement and therefore don't look anything like the originals which are automatic with sweeping second hand. (The exception is the quartz Cellini but this is not a popular model)


Automatics come in 3 grades: 'Chinese', 'Japanese' and 'Swiss' which is a fancy way of saying low, medium and high quality. They are all made in mainland China, although some of the parts may be made by Japanese or Swiss manufactures.


Along with the quartzes these are the ones most commonly  found in the street markets such as Patpong. Tourists are, perhaps understandably, reluctant to spend more than a few dollars on a fake.  They have sweeping second hands, and to the untrained eye have the same look and feel as the better  quality ones. However, they do not keep good time, and the bracelets are made of chrome plated aluminium which corrodes after a few months; the gold tends to peal off quite rapidly especially in a hot climate.

How to recognize a Chinese fake

  • The link on the bracelet closest to the case is smaller than the others 

  • Adjust the time. When you pull out the crown the second hand will continue running.

  • Some of the features will not the same as on the originals. With the Daytonas the buttons are non-functional. 


These are of higher quality than the 'Chinese' fakes and more authentic. The bracelets are made of stainless steel, the dials of scratch proof sapphire and they keep good time. They have some degree of water resistance. They are good watches although like the Chinese are fairly easy to distinguish from the real thing.

How to recognize a Japanese fake

  • Set the time to midnight. Note that when the date changes the number starts to move at around 10 pm and finally flips at midnight. On the original Rolex the date will change at exactly midnight.

  • Shake the watch and put it to your ear. The movement continues whirring for around 3 seconds. Turn the watch round and shake it in an anti-clockwise direction. There is no movement. With an original Rolex the movement will sound the same in either direction.

  • The functionality of  the Daytonas is different to that of the originals. The totalisator dials on the 'Japanese' models act as calendar functions rather than measuring elapsed time.

  • In many Japanese fakes, the cyclops - the glass bubble over the date that acts as a magnifying glass - gives only 1.5 magnification rather than the 2.5 on the originals. 


Generally only Submariners and Explorers are available in this grade. They are the highest grade of fake and even someone who has actually owned a real Rolex would be hard put to distinguish them from the originals. They are faithful to the originals, are made of the same materials and keep perfect time; the Submariners are waterproof to around 10 meters.

How to recognize a Swiss fake

  • Practically the only way you can do so is to take the backs off;  "ETA" will be engraved on the movement rather than "Rolex" as in the originals.

How do people get away with selling fakes?

Why do the police do so little to stop people selling fake watches? The reason is very simple:there is little they can do about it. If the vendor claims that he doesn't realize that it is a fake that he is selling then it is impossible for the authorities to punish him. You can be punished for being dishonest but not for being stupid. Providing the vendor sticks by his story that he had no idea that the watch he is selling was fake, then no court will ever find against him. The watches will be confiscated but he will face no other punishment. This is the excuse that all professional sellors of fakes use and it is the reason that it is impossible to get rid of fakes.

Should I buy a replica watch?

Never buy a replica watch. Even the best quality ones are very unreliable and often stop working within weeks of purchase. It is difficult to get them repaired. There is no motivation the the manufacturer of a replica or fake to ensure they are of high quality as it is impossible to know who produced them. If you cannot afford a famous brand name watch, choose a lesser known brand. It will be far better value than a replica.

Should I sell fakes?

If you are totally broke its not a bad business as they are easy to sell and it requires little capital outlay, but you are unlikely to get rich doing it. Its a business to avoid if you can possibly help it.


Overall, discerning a fake online is no simple task. You can't finger the item as you might in a brick-and-mortar store. You can't take a good look at the seller or his shop to see whether or not they look legit. However, the case for safe cyber-buying isn't hopeless. Online consumers can take lots of steps to protect themselves from getting scammed by the charlatans.

So, arm yourself with these practical tips for safe cyber-shopping.

  • If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Whenever possible, work with reputable online retailers. Consumers should check out Web sites of brick-and-mortar retailers first. That way, they can return any questionable goods to the store in person. They can also stop by the store to complain or to ask any questions.
  • If you aren't familiar with the online retailer, always review the site's general appearance first. If it looks unprofessional, has no returns policy prominently posted, or lacks the seller's physical address, those are warning signs. Also, make sure the company's phone number is listed and working before making your purchase.
  • Don't be afraid to ask the seller questions, just as you would in a brick-and-mortar store. Online-auction buyers have a right to know just how long the seller has had the item they're interested in and how he got it. It's perfectly all right to ask the seller for a copy of an appraisal report. Many legitimate sellers would have those handy anyway.
  • When buying expensive items, say, over $500, consider using an escrow account to complete the transaction., the only U.S. escrow site approved by eBay, will hold your payment and not transfer it to the seller until you receive your purchase, compare it to the photograph of the item you bid for, and confirm its authenticity.'s commission typically add up to less than 6% of the purchase price, and buyers and sellers often split the fee.
  • Check the seller's rating. Auction sites like eBay post the sellers' ratings and comments from people who've dealt with that seller in the past. A lot of disappointed buyers is an obvious stop sign. With other Web sites, it's a good idea to do a search for the site's name or the company name to look for comments from disgruntled customers or buyers in discussion groups.