The staff at the IWC boutique at the Hong Kong harbor landing already knew me. I called ahead to be sure they had the pieces in which we might be interested. They couldn’t have been more gracious. A private room, champagne, and canapés appeared. So did a good part of the collection along with extraordinarily knowledgeable curators to explain things. We both learned a lot. I didn’t feel at all uncomfortable asking for a loupe to match the serial numbers (and there are several on IWC watches, the hang tags, and even the boxes). Two hours and over $20,000 later, we emerged with my client’s prize. With it came assurance that the piece was authentic and that we were given the best price possible from a company boutique, which is to say, pretty close to full retail. But hey, they did box up two remaining canapés to go. I was happy and more important, my client was happy.

Asking all the important questions in the world. Source: @fakewatchbusta.

My third category of replica watches buyer is Mr. Bling. He is the extreme form of the poseur who wants to appear as someone far wealthier than he is. Bling craves status and attention beyond his actual capacity to attract both. Maybe Bling is your realtor who wants to show he or she is all about the money. Could be your lawyer who is hoping to replace the fake with the real thing once your case settles.

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While the first two replica buyer categories might be excused for their ignorance, Bling knows exactly what he’s doing. If caught in the vise of irrefutable evidence, Bling noisily swears he’s going to sue the bastard who sold them this [very excellent, and quite expensive] fake. It’s all an act. Bling is an act. The replica watch is just a prop. At least my yacht collector client is the first to admit he isn’t wearing the real thing but for a forgivable reason.

Real “bling” might bring some unwanted attention and risk

There’s another more justifiable spinoff of Bling. Most legitimate celebrities or uber wealthy individuals value their security. They may favor wearing a fake watch and jewelry to a public event for safety reasons. The real stuff they use when attending protected events monitored and controlled by professional security staff.

Then there is the idiot fringe who flaunts their bling. One example is the $10 million Paris jewelry heist suffered by Kim Kardashian-West. One of the arrested perps explained, “The jewels were shown on the Internet, and (she said) that she didn’t wear fakes… the time she would arrive in France, you just had to look at the Internet and you knew everything, absolutely everything.”

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It seems that Kardashian-West is not alone when it comes to neglecting her own well-being. Lady Gaga – who earned $59 million last year – once outraged her Thai fans two days before her concert there by tweeting, “I just landed in Bangkok baby [on her private jet]…I wanna get lost in a lady market and buy a fake Rolex.” This so offended the Thai people that her concert was a bust as thousands boycotted. Fake Rolexes are part of the Thai underworld. Saying in a public forum that you’re going to buy counterfeit (especially when you can afford the real thing) is an outrage to the Thai people’s sense of fairness.

What’s Illegal About Replica Watches?

First off, you’re stealing someone else’s intellectual property that they’ve spent years and enormous sums of money developing to then trademark, copyright, and patent to protect their investment. Rather than get into the legal intricacies, suffice it to say that patents and copyrights do little to provide a legal barrier that watch counterfeiters cannot overcome. However, trademark infringement is another thing altogether. If a counterfeiter confuses consumers to the point where a manufacturer can prove there’s a real question as to who produced the watch, they can make a strong case for intellectual property infringement, or at least claim a form of unfair business practice tort. That’s where the watch manufacturers are using the law to protect their investment.

If a fake watch has the legitimate manufacturer’s name and logo on it as well as other trademarked elements designed to tell who made the watch (called trade dress in the industry), the counterfeiter can be prosecuted. Conversely, remove the name and logo and other distinguishing features and a fake [quite arguably] becomes legitimate.

Image Credit: WatchesOnNet

Is There Such Thing As “Good” Replica Watches? Do More Expensive Replica Watches Have Better Workmanship?

In a word, no. Replica watches cost from just a few dollars up into the four figures and sometimes more. To me, the difference is in the effort it takes to identify the fake. The cheaper ones are identifiable immediately – sometimes from across the room. There’s the metal color, the exhibition case back on a Rolex (Rolex doesn’t do exhibition case backs), and the printing on the dial. Misspelling the manufacture’s name is usually a dead giveaway.

Those costing in the higher end of fakes are more difficult. The weight may be identical to the real thing from lead placed inside the case. The fit and finish may seem perfect. All the [counterfeit] paperwork and presentation boxes, hang tags, and plastic wrap on the piece itself appear in order. Yet when a trained expert opens the case back, the telltale signature of fraud jumps out like a jack-in-the-box. Maybe the bridges are not finished or decorated as expected; perhaps the entire mechanism is pot metal rather than the anticipated rare metals.

Image Credit: Bob’s Watches

Replica Watches vs. Authentic Watches

Advantages of buying replica watches
  1. Comparatively low cost for what it is.
  2. Convenience – when it stops, just throw it away.
  3. “Try before you buy” the real thing is perhaps a legit excuse for having one.

Disadvantages to replica watches

  1. It’s illegal, comes with potential jail time, and hefty fines.
  2. Humiliation when you’re discovered – and you will be discovered
  3. Hurts the legitimate manufacturer’s business and depresses the lawful industry while encouraging the fraudulent manufacturers.
  4. Perpetuates substandard working conditions at the fake factories using child labor and toxic, hazardous materials.

Do you admit that it’s a replica?

  • The person who is capable of buying the real thing: “Always.” Then justifies it in some self-redeeming way.
  • Unsuspecting victim: “Maybe.” It’s more humiliating to admit having been fooled than by the actual fake watch.
  • Bling: “Never!”

Image Credit: Bob’s Watches

Moral issues aside, replicating a sophisticated, complicated watch can be both an engineering challenge and an art form unto itself. However, the darker aspects of this sub-rosa industry overshadow any justification for replicas. Watch professionals and committed collectors have stated that people are far better off with assets that are within their reach and appropriately represent their style and values. A replica may fool some, but you can never fool yourself. As the FHH says, “Fake watches are for fake people.”

Chris Malburg is an authentic person whose work appears in a number of popular magazines, books, as well as three suspense/thrillers with a fourth on the way. Contact Chris at [email protected].

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