Sophisticated counterfeits of luxury watches have become prolific on the market in recent years. While original paperwork verifying the details of the watch is a good sign of its authenticity, it is not always available to a potential buyer of a pre-owned watch. It’s important, therefore, for anyone in the business of buying and selling watches to have the skills it takes to authenticate a watch, or at least have a good sense of what distinguishes a real watch from its forged counterpart.
As one of the most sought-after watch brands, Audemars Piguet has produced a watch that is among the world’s most copied models – the Royal Oak. Though the identification of a counterfeit is generally a sum of the parts, here are a few of the standard features we check to help authenticate one of these watches.
- METAL FINISH – the Royal Oak has a very fine brush-finish that runs vertically throughout the watch.
- WEIGHT – check to see that the watch has the proper heft for its purported metal. Stainless steel and gold metals are much heavier than a base metal that could be used for a replica. Further to this, mechanical movements are much heavier than quartz, which is often used as an alternative to the more expensive mechanical movements.
- TEXT PRECISION – the text on the dial should be crisp – not fuzzy – and bright. The enamel on the numbers or line markers should not bleed over metal edges. Precision and legibility is key here.
- LUME – use a fluorescent light or dark room to check the intensity of the luminous features on the dial, as it should have a high and consistent glow.
- DATE WINDOW – check the placement, font size and depth of the date window. A replica may have a shallower date window and different font than a genuine. The placement is usually incorrect on a replica as well.
- MOVEMENT – if there is any indication that the watch has a quartz movement you can be sure you are dealing with a replica. Also, listen to the sound the movement makes. It should be a fast, consistent and very low tick. Swiss watch-makers have perfected the precision of these movements.
- SUB-DIAL – The sub-dials on a genuine Royal Oak placed at the 6, 9 and 12 should be closer together at the 9 and 12 marks. Replicas with this sub-dial configuration are often evenly spaced. On other sub-dial configurations the spacing is usually still incorrect, so check it against high-res images of the same model from a reputable website.
- PUSHERS – replicas usually have slightly different shapes than a genuine.
- SCREWS – the screws on the case and of the watch should be flush with the case and no visible gaps between the screws and the metal should be present.
- WATCH CLASP– check that the clasp mechanism works properly and does not ‘stick’ or malfunction easily. The parts should fit together nicely, and not be lose or flimsy.
The below photos show two photos showing an authentic Audemars Piguet Royal Oak reference 15400 (left) and a replica (right), with the key differences of the two pointed out below.
- The thickness and shape of the line markers (gap between the double 12 o’clock markers on the replica
- The brightness of the white on the dial
- Screw size (larger and rounder edged screws on the replica
- Date window font
- Text precision
- Text fonts and color of the case back (the text on the authentic watch is a bit narrower and also has a blackened appearance)
- Screw color and depth
- The movement differences, such as the replacement of the center wheel jewel with three screws on the replica as well as the different movement part configuration of the two.
One of the very valuable tools we often use when examining a watch is the high-res image feature on auction websites like Christie’s and Sotheby’s. If you search for a watch that you’re looking for on their database and it has sale history, you can usually find an image of it. These watches at auction are vetted by specialists who have done the diligence necessary to authenticate them. The images of these watches can be used as a great comparison to the watch in question.
Though this is not a complete list of check-points for authentication of a Royal Oak it is certainly a good reference guide, and a reminder of how important it is to look at the detail. If any of these features raises a red flag, get the watch checked out by a reputable watchmaker, dealer, or to be 100% certain, by Audemars Piguet themselves.