Understanding the key differences between a real and fake Rolex is important before spending your hard-earned money on a luxury watch. While some counterfeits are easy to spot, others can be well-designed with the intent to deceive buyers. Rolex is, after all, one of the most counterfeited brands in the world.
Knowing the signs of how to spot a fake Rolex can be particularly helpful when shopping for pre-owned watches. This comprehensive guide outlines several key indicators that distinguish a real Rolex from a fake one. Additionally, comparison photos of a genuine Rolex Submariner 116610LN and a replica are included to provide visual examples of the differences between the quality of the two watches.
Rolex Fake vs Real – Reference Number
How to Research the Rolex Reference Number
If you want to learn how to distinguish a fake Rolex from an authentic one, a good place to start is researching the reference number. The reference number of a Rolex watch, also known as the model number, contains essential information such as the age of the watch, model, material, and bezel type. This information helps you compare the specific watch with its reference number to ensure that everything matches the description.
Rolex reference numbers can be four, five, or six digits, and sometimes include letters. The length of the reference number indicates the general age of the watch. Four-digit reference numbers indicate vintage Rolex watches, while five and six-digit reference numbers indicate discontinued and modern Rolex watches, respectively. In both five and six-digit reference numbers, the last digit indicates the material of the watch. Below is a chart that explains what material the watch is made of according to the last digit of the 5 and 6-digit model numbers:
- 0 = stainless steel
- 1 = two-tone stainless steel & rose gold
- 2 = two-tone stainless steel & platinum
- 3 = two-tone stainless steel & yellow gold
- 4 = two-tone stainless steel & white gold
- 5 = rose gold
- 6 = platinum
- 7 = 14k yellow gold
- 8 = 18k yellow gold
- 9 = 18k white gold
For instance, a Rolex Submariner reference 116610 denotes a stainless-steel model, while a Rolex Submariner reference 116619 represents a white gold model. Additionally, the second-to-last digit of the reference number indicates the bezel type, although this number is more complex. Certain numbers denote different bezel types for different Rolex watch collections. For example, for a Rolex Sea-Dweller, a 0 as the second-to-last digit means it has a rotating bezel, while for a Rolex Pearlmaster, it signifies a gemstone-set bezel. So, we recommend doing a Google search for your specific model.
Some Rolex reference numbers have alphanumeric codes that include letters at the end. These letters are codes that denote bezel insert colors, primarily for Rolex sports watches. These codes are translations of French descriptors, which determine the letters used as codes for each color. The most common 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
How to Spot a Fake Rolex with Weight & Materials
To differentiate between a genuine Rolex and a fake one, a helpful tip is to check the weight of the watch. Generally, an authentic Rolex is heavier than a counterfeit one, as it is made of high-quality materials like 904L stainless steel, 18k gold, 950 platinum, or RLX titanium. In contrast, fake Rolexes tend to be made with cheaper materials, making them lightweight and weaker.
Additionally, knowing which material a specific Rolex model is made of can also help spot a fake. For instance, certain models like the Milgauss, Explorer II, and Deepsea have only been produced in stainless steel, and any made with other materials are replicas. Similarly, watches from Rolex’s Day-Date collection are exclusively made with precious metals, specifically gold or platinum, and any made with other materials are likely to be fake.
How to Spot a Fake Rolex Dial
The dial is the centerpiece of any watch and is usually the first thing people notice. On a Rolex watch, the dial is crafted to the highest standards with every detail meticulously placed and in perfect alignment. Watch experts and those familiar with the brand can easily spot any discrepancies, but for those who are less knowledgeable, there are some telltale signs of questionable authenticity to look for on the dial of counterfeit Rolex watches.
The famous Rolex coronet logo is a regal five-point crown that can always be found on the dial of genuine Rolex watches. The crown is typically located at the 12 o’clock position on most classic watches, except for the Day-Date model, where it is located beneath the day window at the 12 o’clock position. For most of Rolex’s professional watches, including the Submariner, Sea-Dweller, GMT-Master, Yacht-Master, Explorer, and Air-King, the crown logo is positioned below the large triangular dial marker at 12 o’clock, except for the Yacht-Master II, where the crown is placed under the countdown indicator on the dial. Therefore, if the watch in question has the crown logo in any other location or is missing the crown logo, it is likely not a genuine Rolex.
Another red flag is any spelling mistakes, crooked or misplaced text, different font style or size, misaligned hour and minute markers, or awkward spacing of features. Rolex watches are exquisitely designed and crafted, with remarkable attention paid to every detail, no matter how small. Therefore, anything that appears to be aesthetically off, even slightly, warrants closer inspection. In the photos below, you can see visible discrepancies on the dials of a real Rolex (left) and a fake Rolex (right).
Side by side comparison of fake and real Rolex Submariner 116610LN dial
- Hour markers:
- The most apparent difference between the hour markers on the two watches is the material used, which is the first noticeable inconsistency. The hour markers on the counterfeit Rolex appear to be of lower quality than those on the authentic Rolex, and they appear to be sticker-like in appearance.
- The hour markers on the authentic Rolex have even and symmetrical silver borders surrounding their shapes. On the other hand, the hour markers on the Rolex replica have uneven borders around the shapes of almost every marker. This is especially noticeable on the 4 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 11 o’clock markers.
- There is a visible difference in the silver border on the hands of both watches. The border on the replica is notably thinner than the border around the authentic Rolex’s hands, especially on the hour hands of both watches.
- One crucial authenticity indicator that is hard to capture in photos is the watch’s movement, as indicated by the seconds hand. Genuine Rolex watches feature a seamless, sweeping motion of the seconds hand, whereas on this fake (and many others), the seconds hand moves in a jerky, ticking-like motion as it travels across the dial.
- Rolex incorporates luminescent material, also known as lume, on the dials of some of its watches such as the Submariner to enhance readability and illuminate details in dimly lit conditions, such as during deep diving. This is a distinctive characteristic of Rolex watches, as you can observe it on each hour marker, as well as on the hour, minute, and seconds hands of an authentic Rolex, but it is not present on the replica.
- The absence of lume application can also be detected by the watch’s lack of glow in the dark, which is evident in this counterfeit Rolex as it does not exhibit any luminescent properties.
- 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.
- A way to identify a fake Rolex is by observing its date feature. Rolex watches have an instantaneous date display, meaning the date changes precisely at midnight, not gradually. If a Rolex replica shows an in-between date (mid roll) on the dial, it is a telltale sign of a fake since the real Rolex would change the date immediately. This characteristic might not be noticeable unless you have the watch for more than a day, but ideally, you should have already identified the counterfeit before then.
How to Spot a Fake Rolex with Laser-Etched Coronet (LEC) on Glass
- On modern Rolex watches produced after 2001, there is a tiny laser-etched coronet/crown (LEC) on the glass at the 6 o’clock position. This is an additional measure taken by Rolex to stay ahead of counterfeiters and establish another authenticity indicator on their timepieces. The LEC feature is incredibly difficult to replicate because the crown is not simply engraved or etched onto the glass but is instead embedded within it. It is worth noting that while this feature has been incorporated into the entire collection of Rolex watches manufactured from 2001 onwards, the timing of its implementation varies from model to model. Therefore, if searching for this characteristic on a specific Rolex watch, it is advisable to investigate when the LEC feature was added to that particular model.
Rolex Fake vs Real – Laser-Etched Coronet (LEC) on Glass
How to Spot a Fake Rolex Bezel
Rolex watches have various styles, colors, and materials for their bezels. Knowing the basics about Rolex bezels, especially for the watch under scrutiny, can be helpful when checking for authenticity. For instance, fluted bezels on authentic Rolex watches are made of 18k gold. Hence, if you come across a watch with a fluted bezel made of platinum or stainless steel, it is undoubtedly a fake Rolex.
The GMT-Master and GMT-Master II collections have a unique two-tone bezel in different color combinations. Any Rolex watch with a two-tone bezel will have a distinct line dividing the face of the watch horizontally through the numbers 6 and 18 on the bezel markers. If the two colors appear to bleed into each other or the colors split anywhere else on the bezel besides the numbers 6 and 18, then that watch is a fake Rolex.
Additionally, modern Rolex watches made in 2001 and later have a tiny laser-etched coronet/crown (LEC) on the glass at 6 o’clock. This feature is hard to replicate, and its implementation varies across different Rolex models. Therefore, researching when the LEC feature was applied to a specific Rolex model is advisable.
Check out the side-by-side images below to see other significant differences between the real Rolex Submariner and a counterfeit version.
Rolex Fake vs Real – Bezel
- There is a significant difference in the width of the bezels between the two watches. The bezel on the fake Rolex is visibly narrower compared to the bezel on the authentic Rolex.
- Insert font
- When comparing the bezels of the real Rolex and the counterfeit watch, the font on the numbers is noticeably distinct. Specifically, the numbers on the replica bezel appear bolder and thicker compared to the font on the genuine Rolex bezel. One can easily spot this difference by comparing the numbers 2, 4, and 5 on both bezels.
- Pip or Pearl
- The lume pip located at the 12 o’clock position on the authentic Rolex bezel is distinguished by a silver lining around it and fits seamlessly within the confines of the triangle marker surrounding it. Conversely, the lume pip on the counterfeit Rolex’s bezel has a larger, thicker border that extends outside the triangle marker’s boundary. Additionally, it lacks lume material, rendering it unable to glow in the dark like the authentic Rolex bezel’s pip.
- Engraving on bezel
- On the genuine Rolex, the numbers and markers on the bezel are deeply engraved and have a distinct groove on the surface, whereas the bezel on the counterfeit watch is completely smooth with no groove.
- Engraving on rehaut
- A real Rolex watch features engravings on the inner ring of its bezel, also known as the “rehaut”. The word “ROLEX” is engraved five times on both the right and left sides, with a tiny Rolex crown logo at the 12 o’clock position, and the watch’s serial number at 6 o’clock. Older Rolex watches may have these details laser-etched instead of engraved, but Rolex started using engravings in 2005 to make them harder to replicate. If the rehaut of a bezel has no engravings or something else engraved on it, it is likely a fake. In the case of this replica, the rehaut has no engravings or etchings and is simply a reflective, mirror-like surface.
How to Spot a Fake Rolex Case
When searching for indications of a counterfeit Rolex, there are various features on the watch case that reveal its authenticity or lack thereof. As previously mentioned, authentic Rolex timepieces are made of the finest quality materials, which is typically the most apparent indication of whether a Rolex watch is genuine or fake. Replicas are usually crafted from inferior and cheaper materials, which frequently manifests in the overall appearance and texture of the watch. Additionally, specifics about the design and form of specific features on a Rolex watch case can serve as signs of its legitimacy, which are illustrated in the comparison photos below.
- The lugs on the genuine Rolex appear thicker and more substantial compared to the skinnier, slender, and tapered lugs on the replica.
- The real Rolex has lugs with a brushed metal surface, whereas the lugs on the replica have a polished metal surface. This contrast is noticeable in both the shine and the texture of the surfaces.
- The authentic Rolex has its serial number engraved between the lugs when the metal bracelet is removed, which is not the case with the counterfeit watch.
- Crown guards
- The disparity in the shape of the crown guards is another conspicuous dissimilarity between the two timepieces. The crown guards on the counterfeit watch have a more pointed appearance compared to the genuine Rolex. This difference is evident when viewing the watches side by side or from a profile angle.
- Winding crown
- The designs on the winding crowns also differ noticeably. On the authentic Rolex, the markings of three small dots under the crown and the Rolex crown itself protrude outwards, whereas on the counterfeit, the markings are much flatter.
Rolex Fake vs Real – Winding Crown
To clarify, it should be noted that certain older steel and yellow gold Rolex watches with the Twinlock waterproof feature, which provides up to 100 meters (300 feet) of water resistance, do have a small line under the crown. However, the Submariner 116610 model being discussed here is equipped with a Triplock winding crown, which ensures water resistance up to 300 meters (1,000 feet). Triplock winding crowns always have three dots below the coronet symbol, regardless of the watch’s material. Therefore, the incorrect marking on the winding crown of this replica watch clearly indicates that it is not authentic. To help identify other fake Rolex watches, the visual guide below shows the markings on winding crowns for different Rolex models made from different materials and with either the Twinlock or Triplock features:
- The caseback of a watch may often be overlooked, but it can provide clear indicators of its authenticity. Unlike other brands, Rolex does not equip its timepieces with transparent casebacks. Genuine Rolex watches come with full metal casebacks that are fluted and screwed into the case, providing optimal water resistance. Therefore, if a Rolex watch has a transparent caseback, it is undoubtedly a fake. Of course there are a few exceptions, including the Cellini Prince and the new 2023 anniversary model platinum Daytona.
- In general, Rolex watches do not have any logos, text, etchings, or engravings on their casebacks. Therefore, if the watch in question has any such markings on its caseback, it is likely a counterfeit. However, there are a few exceptions, such as if the watch was part of a professional team that participated in a Rolex event and won.
- There is a noticeable difference in the quality of finish on the casebacks of both watches. The genuine Rolex has a much better finish with consistent color of the steel and a smooth brushed surface throughout. On the other hand, the counterfeit Rolex has an inconsistent color with mixed colored metal visible on the caseback. This is further emphasized by the deeper grooves of the brush strokes on the surface.
Rolex Fake vs Real – Caseback
It should be noted that there are some exceptions to the general rule outlined above. For instance, certain Rolex watches such as the Milgauss, Deepsea, vintage Sea Dweller, some gold Lady Datejusts, and military Submariners do have specific patented markings on their caseback. However, in the case of the counterfeit watch being discussed, which is a replica of a non-military Rolex Submariner, there should not be any engravings or markings on the caseback. Particularly not markings that reference a different Rolex watch collection, as is the case with this “Submariner” caseback that references the “Daytona.” Such blatant inconsistencies are among the most reliable ways to spot a fake Rolex. Additionally, when purchasing secondhand watches, it is possible that the previous owner may have had personal engravings made on the watch. In such cases, it is best to have the watch authenticated by a reputable source to ensure that it is not a counterfeit.
Rolex Fake vs Real – Bracelet
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:
- Upon comparing these two watches, it is apparent that there are a couple of visible differences in the bracelet links of each. In the authentic Rolex, the links are made of brushed metal all around the bracelet, whereas in the fake Rolex, only the outer links are brushed metal and the center links are polished, giving them a shinier appearance.
- The difference in the size and width of the bracelet links is another visible distinction between the two watches. The links on the authentic Rolex are thicker and have a more robust appearance, whereas the links on the replica are noticeably thinner and more slender. As a result, the bracelet of the counterfeit watch is narrower compared to the genuine Rolex bracelet.
- A visible difference between the two bracelets is the length of the clasp. When compared side by side, the clasp on the genuine Rolex bracelet is significantly longer than the clasp on the counterfeit Rolex.
- The position of the Rolex crown on the clasp of each watch is distinct. On the authentic Rolex, the crown is located such that the lowermost part of the crown acts as part of the concealed flip-lock clasp mechanism, serving as a ledge to facilitate opening. On the replica, the entire crown is embedded within the center link, and there is no part of it overhanging the edge as there is on the genuine Rolex. Moreover, the “hidden” flip-lock clasp on the replica is not very concealed and is evidently a separate piece that protrudes further than the rest of the clasp.
- The counterfeit Rolex features two buttons, one on each side of the clasp, which serve as a push-release mechanism. In contrast, the authentic Rolex has no buttons since they are unnecessary to open the clasp, which is instead released using the hidden flip-lock clasp.
- When you open the clasps of both watches, it is evident that the real Rolex’s clasp has an emblem engraving that consists of the word “ROLEX” in the center and the Rolex crown above it. To the right of the emblem, you can find the words “GENEVA” and “SWISS MADE” engraved in small font. On the other hand, the inside clasp of the replica doesn’t have any engravings.
Rolex Fake vs Real – Backside of the Clasp
- It is worth noting that the situation is reversed when it comes to engravings on the back side of the clasps of both watches. Surprisingly, the replica’s clasp can be engraved with the words “STAINLESS STEEL,” while the authentic Rolex’s clasp has no engravings at all. Detecting the fake solely based on this aspect may be a bit more difficult, but the difference between the two can still be discerned.
Trust Your Source
There are numerous tips and indicators for spotting a fake Rolex watch. As the most counterfeited luxury watch brand, the quality of these fake watches has improved to a level previously unseen in the luxury world. This means that counterfeiters have become highly skilled at replicating Rolex timepieces, with some counterfeit watches being almost impossible to detect without the help of highly trained experts. While there are still many obvious tells that can give away a fake Rolex, the increasing amount of sophisticated counterfeits on the market is concerning. It’s important to take the time to carefully inspect any watch in question and have it authenticated by a reputable source, such as a brand authorized dealer, qualified watchmaker, high-end watch shop, or brand service provider.
It’s also crucial to purchase from a genuine, trustworthy, and reputable seller. This is especially important when buying a pre-owned Rolex, as there is more risk involved compared to buying brand new from a retail store. When shopping on online marketplaces, it’s essential to do thorough research on the seller. Look for vetted sources with a solid reputation, and check whether they guarantee the authenticity of their products, offer a warranty with every sale, have a reasonable return policy, and any other information that will increase your trust in the seller. Ultimately, taking these precautions will ensure confidence in your decision to buy an extravagant and expensive watch like a Rolex.