When making a purchase as big, lavish, and expensive as a Rolex watch, knowing how to spot a fake Rolex is vital, as a major concern that crosses most people’s minds is whether or not the watch in question is authentic. While some counterfeits are so painfully obvious that they might as well say “Folex” across the dial, others can be so well-crafted that they easily fool the untrained eye. So how can you spot a fake Rolex and avoid spending your hard-earned money on what ends up being nothing but a super well-designed replica? After all, Rolex is one of the most counterfeited watch brands and products in the luxury world.
So while it’s absolutely essential to be confident you’re purchasing from a trusted and reliable source, it is always a good idea to cover your own bases as well. Knowing some basic tips and pointers of how to spot a fake Rolex will especially come in handy when in the market for pre-owned Rolex watches. Below is an extensive list of some signs for telling a real Rolex apart from a counterfeit. We have also included comparison photos between a real Rolex Submariner 116610LN and a replica for some visual aid of visible differences between the two watches.
Research the Rolex Reference Number
One of the first things we recommend doing when learning how to spot a fake Rolex is researching the reference number. Also known as the model number or style number, the reference number on a Rolex watch contains information about the watch including its age (e.g., if it’s vintage, discontinued, modern, etc.), model type, material type, and bezel type. Having this information allows you to compare the specific watch with its reference number to make sure everything matches up as described.
A Rolex reference number can either be 4-digit, 5-digit, or 6-digit numbers that sometimes include letters too. The length of a reference number roughly determines the age of the watch, as Rolex has added digits to their reference numbers over the years. For instance, 4-digit reference numbers indicate vintage Rolex watches, 5-digit numbers indicate discontinued Rolex watches (although not necessarily vintage), and 6-digit numbers indicate Rolex watches made in 2000 and after.
In both 5 and 6-digit reference numbers, the last digit number indicates the material of the watch. Below is an index of which specific numbers indicate which material(s) when used as the last digit of a watch’s reference number:
|· 0 = stainless steel||· 5 = rose gold|
|· 1 = two-tone stainless steel & rose gold||· 6 = platinum|
|· 2 = two-tone stainless steel & platinum||· 7 = 14k yellow gold|
|· 3 = two-tone stainless steel & yellow gold||· 8 = 18k yellow gold|
|· 4 = two-tone stainless steel & white gold||· 9 = white gold|
For example, a Rolex Submariner ref. 116610 is a stainless-steel model while a Rolex Submariner ref. 116619 is a white gold model.
Similarly, the second to last digit number indicates the bezel type. This number is a bit more complex, with certain numbers signifying different bezel types for different Rolex watch collections. For example, the number 0 as the second to last digit of the reference number for a Rolex Sea-Dweller indicates it has a rotating bezel. Whereas a 0 as the second to last digit of the reference number for a Rolex Pearlmaster means, instead, that it has a gemstone-set bezel. For simplicity’s sake, and because listing out the bezel types of every watch in every Rolex collection and model would easily take the helm of this entire article, we’ll leave it at those examples. When researching reference numbers, a simple Google search can help you look up the bezel type of the specific Rolex you are looking into.
As mentioned, some Rolex reference numbers are alphanumeric and include letters at the end. These letters are codes that indicate the bezel insert colors, specifically for Rolex sports watches. These codes are translated from French descriptors, which determine the letters used as codes for each color. The most frequently used color codes include:
- LN (Lunette Noir) = Black bezel
- LB (Lunette Bleu) = Blue bezel
- LV (Lunette Verte) = Green bezel
- BLNR (Bleu/Noir) = Blue and Black bezel
- BLRO (Bleu/Rouge) = Blue and Red bezel
- CHNR (Chocolat/Noir) = Brown and Black bezel
Here are some examples of Rolex reference numbers including these color codes: a Daytona 116500LN has a black bezel, a Submariner 126610LV has a green bezel, and a GMT-Master II 116710BLNR has a blue and black bezel.
How to Spot a Fake Rolex: Weight & Materials
As a general rule of thumb, a real Rolex will almost always weigh more than a counterfeit. Therefore, simply feeling for the weight of a Rolex watch is an easy enough tip for how to spot a fake Rolex. This is because authentic Rolex watches are crafted from the highest-grade materials. More modern Rolex timepieces are made of such materials like 904L stainless steel, 18k gold, or 950 platinum. Some vintage Rolex watches are made from 9k gold, 14k gold, gold shell, and 316L stainless steel before Rolex switched over to using 904L steel. That being said, most imitation Rolexes are made with cheaper materials – in both cost and quality – and tend to be comparatively more lightweight, less sturdy, and in shoddier condition than genuine Rolex watches.
Something else to consider is which material the Rolex model in question is made of. For instance, some Rolex watches like the Milgauss, Explorer, Explorer II, and Deepsea have only ever been made in stainless steel. Knowing this, you can tell that any of these models made in any other material like gold, platinum, or any two-tone combination of materials is indeed a replica. By the same token, watches from Rolex’s Day-Date collection are made exclusively with precious metals like 18k gold or platinum, and any Day-Date you see made with other materials can be determined a fake. Furthermore, the new rubber Rolex Oysterflex bracelet is only ever fitted to yellow, white, or rose gold Rolex watches. Accordingly, if you ever find an Oysterflex bracelet fitted on a steel, platinum, or two-tone Rolex, you can be sure that it’s not authentic.
How to Spot a Fake Rolex Dial
As the face of a watch and the first thing people notice, the dial on a Rolex timepiece is always of the utmost refinement and aesthetic quality – crafted to the highest standards, with every single detail meticulously placed and in perfect alignment. Watch experts and those who are particularly familiar with Rolex can likely pick out discrepancies at a glance. But for those less savvy with the brand, we will discuss some telltale signs of questionable authenticity to look for on the dial of counterfeit Rolexes.
The renowned Rolex coronet logo is the regal five-point crown that can always be found on the dial of real Rolex watches. The crown is located at the 12 o’clock position on the majority of their classic watches, with the exception of the Day-Date – of which the crown is located right beneath the day window at 12 o’clock positioned. For the majority of Rolex’s professional watches including the Submariner, Sea-Dweller, GMT-Master, Yacht-Master, Explorer, and Air-King, the crown logo is right under the large triangular dial marker at 12 o’clock, with the exception of the Yacht-Master II – of which the crown is located right under the countdown indicator on the dial. With that said, it is safe to say that if the watch in question has the crown logo in any other location than described above, it is likely not a real Rolex.
The same can be said if you don’t see the crown logo anywhere on the dial, as all Rolex watches have the crown logo on their dial as described – with the only exceptions being certain extremely rare vintage models like the “No Crown” Rolex Explorer 5504 model. Likewise, if the crown is duplicated with any slight difference in design, it is likely a counterfeit.
Some other obvious signs for how to spot a fake Rolex by its dial include checking for spelling mistakes, crooked or misplaced text, different font style or size, misaligned hour and minute markers, and awkward spacing of features – just to name a few. As mentioned, Rolex watches are exquisitely designed and crafted, with remarkably close attention paid to every detail – big or small. So anything that appears to be aesthetically off, even slightly, is worthy of closer inspection. In the side-by-side photos below of a real Rolex (left) and a fake Rolex (right), you can notice many of these visible discrepancies on the dials:
Side by side comparison of fake and real Rolex Submariner 116610LN dial
- Hour markers:
- The first most obvious discrepancy about the hour markers on both watches is in the different materials used. The hour markers on the replica are visibly cheaper in quality compared to on the genuine Rolex and look like they are stickers.
- The hour markers on the real Rolex are perfectly bordered so that the silver trim is even and symmetrical all the way around the marker shapes. The borders around the hour markers on the Rolex replica are uneven around the shapes on just about every hour marker. The most notable examples are the 4 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 11 o’clock markers.
- The silver border on the hands is visibly differently on both watches. On the replica, the silver border is much thinner than the border around the real Rolex’s hands. This inconsistency is particularly noticeable on the hours hands of both watches.
- Another major indicator of authenticity that’s difficult to depict by photos is the movement of the watch – as shown by the seconds hand. On authentic Rolex watches, the seconds hand has a smooth sweeping movement, while on this counterfeit (and many others), the seconds hand does more of a quick tick-like motion as it moves around the dial.
- Rolex uses luminescent material, or lume, on the dials of certain watches like the Submariner to increase legibility and illuminate features in low light settings – like, say, when deep diving. This is a distinguishable feature on Rolex watches, which you can clearly see applied on each hour marker, as well as on the hour, minute, and seconds hands of the real Rolex but not on the replica.
- You can also tell if a watch has lume applied because it will glow in the dark – which is not the case with this particular fake Rolex, as it does not have any lume application.
- Font type & size:
- The wording font on the replica is different than on the real Rolex in the following ways:
- The lettering on the words “ROLEX” and “OYSTER PERPETUAL DATE” are less bolded and are noticeably different. For example, the R in “ROLEX” are visibly different between both watches, especially in the upper left corner of the R.
- “SUBMARINER”, “1000ft 300m”, “SUPERLATIVE CHRONOMETER”, and “OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED” are all written in a noticeably different font on the replica as well.
- Both the font and the placement of “SWISS MADE” at the very bottom of the dial are also visual discrepancies between both watches. On the real Rolex, the words are underneath the 6 o’clock hour marker, whereas on the replica they are separated by the hour marker and written in a different style font.
- Cyclops glass:
- The cyclops glass feature at 3 o’clock is supposed to magnify the date number by 2.5x legibility.
- The cyclops glass always protrudes above the crystal, like a bubble—it is never flat and never fitted under the crystal.
- The date feature is instantaneous on Rolex watches, which means it will automatically jump to the next day at midnight (as opposed to rolling over slowly). Based on this info, another sign for how to spot a fake Rolex is if you see one with a dial that shows an in-between date (mid roll), as you now know that a real Rolex with this feature would automatically and instantly change the date – rather than slowly and gradually. Of course, this detail would only be noticeable if you had the watch for more than a day – and hopefully you will have detected that it’s a counterfeit well before then.
Laser-etched coronet (LEC) on glass
- A minuscule detail on modern Rolex watches (i.e., made in 2001 and after) have a tiny laser-etched coronet/crown (LEC) on the glass at 6 o’clock. This is one of Rolex’s efforts to get ahead of counterfeiters and create another indicator of authenticity on its timepieces. The LEC feature is extremely hard to replicate, as the crown etching is not etched or even engraved on the glass, but in the glass. Keep in mind that although this feature has been applied to the entire Rolex collection from 2001 on, it varies from model to model how early this feature was implemented. Therefore, if looking for this feature on a particular Rolex watch, it’s a good idea to research when the LEC feature was applied to that specific model.
How to Spot a Fake Rolex Bezel
Rolex bezels come in several different styles, colors, and materials. Styles of Rolex bezels vary from smooth to fluted, rotating to fixed, and marked to unmarked. Having some basic knowledge about Rolex bezels, especially for the watch(es) in question, will prove to be useful when checking for authenticity. For example, all fluted bezels on authentic Rolex watches are made of 18k gold. Therefore, using this info, you can determine that any Rolex watch you find a watch with a fluted bezel made of platinum or stainless steel is indeed inauthentic.
Watches from the GMT-Master and GMT-Master II collection feature a characteristic two-tone bezel in various color combinations. Any Rolex watch with a two-tone bezel will have a distinct line separating the two colors as if dividing the face of the watch horizontally, through the numbers 6 and 18 on the bezel markers. If the two colors aren’t split by a clear and distinct line, if the colors look like they bleed into each other, and/or if the colors split anywhere else on the bezel besides at the numbers 6 and 18, then that watch is surely a fake Rolex.
Below you can see some other notable discrepancies between the bezel of the real Rolex Submariner and the counterfeit:
- The size of the bezels – more specifically the width of them – is comparably different. The bezel on the counterfeit watch is noticeably skinnier in width than the bezel on the genuine Rolex.
- Insert font
- The font on both bezels is also visibly different when looking at the numbers on each bezel. The numbers on the bezel of the replica are thicker and more bolded than the numbers on the real Rolex bezel. This discrepancy is most noticeable when comparing the numbers 2, 4, and 5 between both bezels.
- Pip or Pearl
- The lume pip at the 12 o’clock on the real Rolex bezel has a distinct silver lining around it and also fits perfectly within the borders of the triangle marker around it. Whereas the pip on the counterfeit Rolex’s bezel has a bigger and thicker border around it that breaks outside the border of the triangle marker. It is also not made of lume material, which would not glow in the dark like the pip on the real Rolex bezel.
- Engraving on bezel
- The numbers and markers on the authentic Rolex’s bezel are engraved and have a very clear groove in the bezel’s surface, whereas the bezel of the replica has no groove and is a smooth surface all the way around.
- Engraving on rehaut
- On the inner ring of the bezel, or the “rehaut”, of the real Rolex you can see engravings of the word “ROLEX” five times along both the right and left side, a tiny Rolex crown logo at the 12 o’clock, and the watch’s serial number at 6 o’clock. On older Rolex watches, these details are laser-etched and not engraved. Rolex first started engraving them in 2005 to make this feature harder to duplicate. Either way, it’s a safe bet that if the rehaut of the bezel has either nothing or something else engraved/etched on it, it is likely a fake. For instance, the rehaut of this replica has zero engraving/etching on it and is merely a reflective mirror-like surface all the way around.
How to Spot a Fake Rolex Case
When looking for signs of how to spot a fake Rolex, there are many features on the watch case that are telling of its authenticity, or lack thereof. As aforementioned, the material used to make authentic Rolex timepieces are of the utmost quality – which is usually the clearest indicator of whether a Rolex watch is genuine or counterfeit. Replicas are generally made of cheaper and shoddier material, which often reflects in the overall look and feel of the watch. Details of the style and shape of certain features on a Rolex watch case can also serve as indicators of whether it is real or fake, which are clearly depicted in the side-by-side photos below.
- The lugs on the real Rolex have a thicker width and are more robust in appearance than the lugs on the replica, which are more skinny, slender, and tapered in comparison.
- The surface of the lugs on the real Rolex are brushed metal, while the lugs on the replica are polished metal – with the difference showing in how they shine as well as how the surfaces feel.
- If you remove the metal bracelet from both watches, you will see the serial number of the real Rolex engraved between the lugs but not on the counterfeit.
- Crown guards
- The shape of the crown guards is another pretty evident difference between the two watches. The crown guards are much more pointed in appearance on the counterfeit watch than those on the real Rolex. You can see these differences most clearly both when looking at the watches next to each other facing you, as well as from a side profile.
- Winding crown
- Another visible discrepancy is in the designs on the winding crowns. The markings of 3 small dots under the crown and the Rolex crown itself protrudes outwards, while on the counterfeit the markings are much more flat.
To be clear, there are Rolex watches with the marking of a small line under the crown – specifically, older steel and yellow gold watches with the Twinlock waterproof feature which ensures up to 100 meters (300 feet) of water resistance. However, this particular Rolex model, the Submariner 116610, is equipped with a Triplock winding crown – ensuring up to 300 meters (1,000 feet) for the watch. All Triplock winding crowns only have the marking of 3 dots under the coronet, regardless of the watch’s material. Which clearly indicates that the winding crown on this replica watch is inauthentic because it has the incorrect marking. For some visual aid to help you decipher how to spot a fake Rolex – below is a visual guide of which markings come on the winding crowns of different Rolex watches made of different materials, and with either the Twinlock or Triplock features:
- A feature that’s easy to overlook on a watch is its caseback. There are some clear indicators that a watch’s caseback can give us about its authenticity. Unlike some other brands, Rolex does not furnish its timepieces with transparent casebacks. Rolex watches have full metal casebacks that are fluted and screwed into the case to ensure optimal water resistance. So if a Rolex watch has a transparent case back, it’s a sure bet that it isn’t authentic.
- Most Rolex watches do not have any logos, text, etchings, or engravings on their caseback. So if the Rolex watch in question has any on its caseback, you can take that as a sign that it’s most likely a fake. A few exceptions would be if you were on a professional team that participated in a Rolex event and had won.
- You can see a visible difference in the quality of the finish on both casebacks. On the genuine Rolex, the caseback has a much nicer finish and both the color of the steel and the smooth brushed surface are consistent throughout it. On the fake Rolex, the color is noticeably inconsistent as you can see different colored metal mixed throughout the caseback – which is also made more noticeable by the deeper grooves of the brush strokes across the surface.
It’s important to note there are a few exceptions to this rule – like the modern Milgauss and Deepsea, the vintage Sea Dweller, some gold Lady Datejusts, and military Submariners – all of which do have specific patented markings on their caseback. However, in this case, the counterfeit watch is a replica of a Rolex Submariner that is not military, and therefore should not have any engravings or other markings on its caseback. Especially not markings that reference a totally different Rolex watch collection – the way this “Submariner” caseback references the “Daytona”. When figuring out how to spot a fake Rolex, that kind of obvious inconsistency is one of the surest ways to tell a fake. Also, when buying secondhand watches, there is the possibility that the previous owner may have had their own engravings made to personalize the watch. In these cases – having the watch authenticated by a trusted source is the best way to make sure it’s not a counterfeit watch.
How to Spot a Fake Rolex Bracelet
A watch’s bracelet can also have a lot of telltale signs of its authenticity, some that are easier to spot than others. The four styles of bracelets by Rolex are Oyster, Jubilee, President, and Pearlmaster, in addition to different strap options, as seen below:
- Comparing these two watches again, you can see a couple visible differences in the bracelet links of both watches. On the real Rolex, the links are brushed metal all the way around the bracelet. Whereas on the counterfeit Rolex, only the outer links are brushed metal while the center links are polished and shinier in appearance.
- There is also a noticeable difference in the size of the links and the width of the bracelets. The bracelet links on the genuine Rolex are thicker and more robust looking compared to the links on the replica that are much thinner and more slender in appearance, which in turn make its bracelet more narrow in width compared to the real Rolex bracelet.
- The clasp on the authentic Rolex bracelet is much longer than the clasp on the fake Rolex, which you can clearly see with both clasps side by side.
- The positioning of the Rolex coronet/crown on the clasp of each watch is different. The crown on the real Rolex is positioned so as the very bottom of the crown serves as part of the hidden flip-lock clasp mechanism – designed as a ledge to make it easier to open. On the replica, the whole crown is fitted within the center link with no part of it hanging off the edge like it does on the real Rolex. Additionally, the “hidden” flip-lock clasp on the replica isn’t very hidden at all and is clearly a separate piece that protrudes out further than the rest of the clasp.
- On the fake Rolex, you can see two buttons – one on each side of the clasp – designed as a push-release mechanism for the clasp. On the real Rolex there are no buttons as none are needed to open the clasp, which is opened using only the hidden flip-lock clasp.
- If you open the clasps of both watches, you can see the inside of the real Rolex’s clasp has an engraving of an emblem – with the word “ROLEX” in the center and the Rolex crown above it – as well as the (very small) words “GENEVA” and “SWISS MADE” engraved to the right of the emblem. You can see that on the inside clasp of the replica, there are no engravings whatsoever.
- Interestingly, the reverse is true about engravings on the back side of the clasps of both watches. This time, the back side of the clasp on the replica can have an engraving of the words “STAINLESS STEEL”, while the back side of the clasp on the authentic Rolex has no engravings whatsoever. The fake will be a little harder to detect on this aspect alone, however, you can see the difference between the two.
Trust Your Source
As you can see, there is a multitude of tips, tricks, signs, and indicators for how to spot a fake Rolex. As the most counterfeited luxury watch brand, Rolex replicas are not only becoming more common, the “quality” of these fake watches has also reached a level of sophistication previously unseen in the luxury world. Counterfeiters have become highly advanced in their craft of replicating Rolex timepieces, as we continue to see more Rolex “Superfakes” in the market – counterfeits that are so well made they’re nearly impossible to detect by anybody short of highly trained watch experts who have the necessary knowledge, skills, and tools to identify them.
There are a plethora of Rolex replicas that are considerably easier to detect as a counterfeit with its multiple tells – many that are obvious giveaways, as well as some not-so-obvious – the increasing amount of extremely sophisticated and well-crafted counterfeits circulating in the market is alarming and worthy of the extra time, attention, and money spent for a closer inspection. We highly recommend having any watch in question authenticated by a brand authorized dealer, qualified watchmaker, high-end watch shop, or brand service provider. The last thing you want is to end up with a very convincible high-quality fake Rolex that you bought at a real Rolex price.
At the risk of sounding painfully obvious, an even more secure way to ensure the Rolex timepiece you buy is genuine is to be confident you are purchasing from a source that is equally genuine, trustworthy, and reputable. Finding a seller that stands by every watch they sell is critical. Especially when in the market for a pre-owned Rolex, there is of course more risk involved than buying brand new from a retail store. Particularly when looking on online marketplaces, doing your homework is imperative. Researching which sources are vetted for with a solid reputation, whether they guarantee authenticity of their products, if they offer a warranty with every sale, what their return policy is (if any), and any other info that will increase your trust in the seller is absolutely crucial for ensuring your confidence in your decision to buy something as extravagant, not to mention expensive, as a Rolex watch.