It’s a tough time for amateur watch collectors trying to break into the hobby. Even though a Swiss watch is considered the pinnacle of fine craftsmanship and engineering, knock-offs have been created that are nearly impossible to spot without a highly trained eye, or a side-by-side comparison with the real thing. Imagine spending $100,000 on what you thought was an authentic Patek Philippe, only to discover later it’s actually a very good fake.
The last time we checked in with Watchfinder & Co., which bills itself as “the number one place to buy, sell and exchange premium pre-owned timepieces,” it was marveling at how convincing a fake $10,000 Rolex Daytona 116500LN was when compared to the original, to the point where unless you brought a magnifying glass and knew what you were looking for, even an experienced collector could possibly be fooled.
Realizing you’ve spent $10,000 on what turns out to be a fake Rolex would be devastating news, but imagine you spent $100,000 on an even rarer timepiece, only to discover it was actually a fake worth maybe $1,000. As the experts at Watchfinder & Co. reveal this time, even incredibly high-end timepieces are being reproduced on the cheap (or at least much cheaper) with a surprising level of accuracy and detail.
Is this Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711-wannabe a perfect copy? When compared side by side with the real thing, it clearly is not. The coloring on the face is off and doesn’t quite shimmer like the real thing does, the fake is also a few millimeters thicker, and its crown sticks out a bit farther. There are subtler differences as well, including imperfections in the polishes of the metal and glass, which Patek Philippe ensures has a perfect mirror finish when it leaves the factory.
Impressive though they are, the copycats do take some shortcuts, however. They spend more time ensuring the front of the watch is a near-perfect copy given that’s what will be seen most often, and although they’ve recreated the Nautilus 5711's mechanical movement, the differences between the real and fake are far more obvious when the watches are flipped over. There are more obvious visual differences between the two, and using a magnifying loupe reveals the lack of a high-quality finish on etched details.
This detailed close-up examination of the authentic Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 next to the knock-off makes it obvious which one costs $100,000 and which one costs just $1,000, but even experienced watch collectors would still have a hard time when handed just the fake. It gets even harder when trying to purchase a watch online and you have to rely on photographs only.
So who are these knock-offs for? There are undoubtedly unscrupulous dealers who are happy to buy a thousand dollar fake and flip it as an original Patek Philippe, potentially making a tidy $90,000 profit in the process. But there are also those who want to appear to wear a watch like the Nautilus 5711 (a now-retired model) as a status symbol, without actually dropping $100,000 on the real thing. And then there are those who might actually get more pleasure and satisfaction knowing the Swiss watch they’re wearing is actually an impressive forgery. Like a circus sideshow that deep down you know is fake, there’s still some satisfaction in knowing that you’re being fooled.