My task today is to equip you with a few tips when it comes to spotting fake Patek Philippe watches. On the one hand, telling the difference between a real and a counterfeit Patek Philippe watch is an easy task if you’re relatively well acquainted with the brand and what it stands for (the level of investment required to buy in to Patek’s entry level is so significant that one would assume such a potential purchaser would be pretty well-versed in the nuances of watchmaking as it is).
On the other hand, there are some pretty good fakes out there these days (which have pushed the global market for counterfeit pieces up to around a billion dollars per year). But let’s start with the obvious – the things you’re more likely to see if someone new to watchmaking turns up at work one day flashing a Calatrava they’ve picked-up on the beach in Benidorm and wants your expert take. Be gentle with them: Even fakes can command some pretty serious cash these days…
The Basics: Quality, Quality, Quality
As much as it pains me to point out some glaringly obvious signs you’re handling a fake, it would be remiss of me not to run through the patent giveaways just in case you’re unsure.
Patek Philippe is a world-leading company. Their wares are right at the top of the tree when it comes to the execution of time-honoured techniques. Instantly, when you pick up a real Patek, you should feel like you’re holding something valuable. Spotting fake Patek Philippes starts here. The case should have a real depth of lustre to it, and the finishing should be crisp and exact. Forget buttery edges, a blurring between polished and brushed surfaces, or any kind of roughness. It should look like it’s been hewn by the hands of God.
The movement itself should be perfectly finished, and bear the typical finishing patterns of a Patek Philippe – most notably Geneva stripes. Depending on its age, it should either bear the Geneva Seal (the Poinçon de Genève) or the Patek Philippe Seal.
Tilt the movement in the light – any wobbles or ‘dead spots’ in the metal could be a tell tale sign of poor quality materials used, or a substandard plating process having been applied to the movement.
I’ve seen a lot of Grade-A fakes that look good on the wrist. From a glance, they are indistinguishable from the genuine article in daylight. That said, if you’re dealing with a model such as the Aquanaut, you can instantly tell the difference by switching the lights off and studying the lume. Strength of glow and, most crucially, lume consistency and precise application are areas a lot of fakes neglect. The Aquanaut family doesn’t make-up a massive percentage of the Patek range, but it is a super popular fake, partly because it’s in vogue, and partly because a sports watch in steel is a damn sight easier to forge than a classically styled piece in precious metal.
And look out for blued screws – many fakers add this traditional feature to make the watch appear more luxurious, but Patek do not.
So in very basic terms when spotting fake Patek Philippe watches, look for flaws, not for logos, case shapes, or dial design. These things can be lifted from any retailer website and replicated exactly. What they can’t fake so easily, though, are centuries of experience when it comes to producing the components the brand is known for.
On Your Backs
As soon as you flip a fake watch, however, the truth reveals itself to you: Stock movements (often modified ETA 2824 clones) are a dead giveaway. A quick catalogue search would reveal such an obvious ploy, but what about watches that appear to feature the correct movement? What then? Does a genuine Patek Philippe movement mean you’re holding a genuine Patek Philippe watch? Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily the case (pun intended).
The Emperor’s New Clothes
Frankenstein watches (or Frankenwatches) are a thorn in the side of every discerning collector – especially those trawling the pre-loved market for a steal. Hot fakes – those just off the production line – are almost always deficient in quality in a depressingly obvious way, but ‘new’ watches that have been cobbled together from parts of genuine watches, or been rebuilt from a genuine core are harder to spot. Luckily, though, forgers often let themselves down by trying to be too clever.
If you have a watch powered by what you’re confident is a genuine Patek Philippe movement, check the case back for serial numbers. Patek never engrave the serial on the outside of the case. On closed case back models, the serial is engraved in the centre of the case back on the inside; on display backs, the serial is still tucked away out of view, around the interior edges.
Some forgers will try and link the case to the movement number by engraving it on the outside. That’s a dead giveaway. Despite this, the serial number itself could be genuine – it’s easy enough for a forger to hijack an existing serial and stamp their watch with it. For a fee, Patek will delve into their extensive library and confirm whether or not a quoted reference is correct. If, however, it doesn’t match the model of the watch in question, that’s your cue to run a mile.
Being sure of the veracity of your purchase is essential. Never make snap decisions. If you feel you might be missing out on the bargain of a lifetime unless you act rashly, leave it. Bargains and Patek Philippe are not well associated for a reason. Keep a cool head and the ear of an expert to hand at all times – that’s the only way to guarantee you’re making a sound decision.
About the Author
Fell Jensen is a Swiss-trained watchmaker working as an industry analyst.