How to verify the authenticity of a second-hand Rolex watch?
A wristwatch bearing the golden crown sits on the wishlist of almost every watch enthusiast. For many, a second-hand Rolex watch is the best way to fulfil this dream, with availability, price and the chance to own a rare or limited edition piece of history, just some of the draws of a pre-owned model.
While there are many benefits, there is one significant risk - falling victim to a fake. Unfortunately, it is common to find counterfeit Rolex watches circulating the market, with unethical retailers charging premium prices for models that have cost only a few pounds to produce. Of course, a genuine Rolex on the other hand has been carefully created from the finest raw materials, with quality craftsmanship present in its every feature and complication. Therefore, it can often be very easy to tell a real Rolex from a replica.
Although, when buying a Rolex watch from a pawn shop or second-hand seller, you can expect that timepieces will not always be in brand new condition, with their original papers and packaging. This makes identifying their genuineness a little harder.
Therefore, it is recommended that you assess the authenticity of a pre-owned Rolex watch before making a purchase to avoid the risk of spending a significant sum of money on a fake. You can do this by verifying its condition and performance. Here are some factors to look out for:
Rolex serial number
Every Rolex watch has a unique serial number consisting of 4 - 8 characters. Depending on the year the watch was produced, this sequence can consist of just numbers, or begin with a letter, followed by a series of digits. Often, counterfeit watch producers will replicate serial numbers in an attempt to make watches appear authentic. However, these serial numbers do not always match genuine Rolex codes, or the sequence of characters used to identify the specific watch they have reproduced.
If the seller is able to provide any official papers or certificates with the pre-owned Rolex watch, it is always recommended that you check the serial number on the timepiece matches the sequence in the documentation. If these papers are not available, it is best to continue inspecting the Rolex to verify its authenticity.
Serial number placement & quality
The serial number of an authentic Rolex is located on the rehaut of the watch, or behind the bracelet at the six o’clock mark. It is important to assess the placement and quality of this placement, as well as its contents.
Rolex has experimented with a number of different placements for its serial numbers over the years. For pre-owned models, this can be a difficult thing to assess as watches available on the second-hand market span many years. Therefore, it is important to always verify when the specific watch was produced, and then determine whether the placement of the serial number matches the placement Rolex was using at the time.
For example, earlier authentic Rolex models have a serial number behind the bracelet, by the six o’clock mark. However, in 2005, the brand began to place codes on the rehaut (or inside flange) too, which was a move taken to make counterfeit models more identifiable, as placing a serial number on this area requires significant precision. Since 2008, serial numbers have only been placed on the rehaut.
When looking at the serial number on the second-hand Rolex, you can also assess the quality of how it has been etched into the metal. The precise techniques and tools used by Rolex to engrave codes into the small area create smooth and seamless characters, which counterfeiters would find difficult to copy. For those that do try to replicate this Rolex feature, serial numbers often look jagged and irregular, which can be a telling sign of the authenticity of the watch.
The Rolex logo
The Rolex logo is probably one of the most recognisable in the world. Therefore, its placement and quality craftsmanship are paramount in reinforcing the high luxury standards of the brand. On every genuine watch, the crown logo is placed at the top of the dial, making it one of the most obvious symbols of a Rolex. While most counterfeit models would also have this logo detail, it will certainly not be as precisely placed as it is on an authentic watch. Therefore, if you notice any flaws in the Rolex logo of your second-hand watch, whether that be visible glue residue or misalignment, it is most likely a fake.
Rolex has also been known to etch a small logo on the glass, close to the six o’clock mark on models produced from 2002 onwards. This etching is so small and unnoticeable that it may require a magnifying glass or trained eye to detect. Counterfeit models are less likely to feature this small etched logo, so you should inspect the second-hand Rolex closely to determine its authenticity.
Metal case back
As any watch enthusiast would know, clear case backs are common features of luxury watches. But Rolex is renowned for not following the crowd. Instead, most Rolex watches feature a smooth metal case back, with the exception of a small number of rare or exhibition models which do showcase their impressive movements through a window on the rear of the dial.
Therefore, if you can see through the rear case of a second-hand Rolex, and it is not one of these special models (which you would know from the price tag!), it is most certainly a counterfeit.
Case backs are also free from any engravings to uphold the polished standards of the luxury brand. As this is quite uncommon in the watch world, producers of knock-offs can sometimes overlook the detail in hopes that customers will too. Therefore, it is important to always examine the back of any second-hand watch, as it could provide a few tellings signs of its authenticity.
Rolex has not gained its world-renowned recognition for nothing. Rather, it has spent decades perfecting its craft to produce some of the finest watches on the market. Therefore, quality should be uncompromised in any model, whether its condition is pre-owned or brand new.
While aesthetic cues can help determine whether or not a watch is genuine, its performance might be a more obvious indicator. Notably, almost every Rolex watch features a mechanical movement, with the exception of very few battery-operated models, such as the Oysterquartz. Generally, authentic Rolex watches have automatic movements, which is unlikely to be replicated as it is more costly to produce.
Therefore, it is worthwhile checking what the movement type is supposed to be for the specific second-hand model you found at a pawn shop with a quick internet search, or by speaking to an expert.
With a perfected performance and movement type, you can expect other high quality features with a Rolex watch. For example, another telling sign of a genuine watch due to its difficulty to reproduce is a smooth seconds hand movement, rather than a staggered ticking transition, which is common for more budget-friendly timepieces.
Rolex has pioneered a fast-moving seconds hand which makes its motion around the dial seamless. A watch that does not appear to have a smooth seconds hand has likely been produced by cutting corners and is not an authentic Rolex.
As well as a seamless movement, the seconds hand should also make no sound as it circles the dial. This is another result of the high quality craftmanship of the luxury brand, and something that makes its watches so desirable and also explains why many enthusiasts are willing to pay its premium prices.
A sound check, therefore, is a great way to determine a real Rolex from a replica. Simply, hold the watch close to your ear. If you can hear a ticking sound, there is no doubt that it is fake as a soundless motion is not something that can be reproduced by just anyone.
Examination of the date display on the watch dial can also help you decide whether or not a second-hand Rolex watch you have found is authentic. The date display on a genuine Rolex should showcase a little feature called the ‘Cyclops’. This refers to the magnifying glass over the date window, which enlarges its display by 2.5X.
While a magnifying glass over the date is something that can be replicated, the polished quality of the Cyclops in particular, is unrivalled. It is incredibly unlikely that any knock-off will feature a display with such clear and uninterrupted quality. Therefore, if you notice any flaw, it is likely the second-hand watch in question is not an authentic Rolex.
Design & dial quality
Something else you can examine by eye is the quality of the dial on the pre-owned Rolex. Like other features, the quality craftsmanship and high standards of the luxury brand should be present in all visible aspects of the watch, including its dial. Therefore, if you notice anything that looks out of place, whether it be a small bit of glue residue in the corner of an hour marker, or a slightly misaligned baton, for example, you can be sure that this particular piece has not passed through the robust quality assurance procedures at Rolex, and it is likely a fake.
When buying second-hand however, you can expect a certain level of wear and tear, particularly on the outer casing of the watch. Although any significant damage might be an indicator of the poor quality materials used to create a low-cost counterfeit timepiece.
Due to the high quality materials used in genuine models, a Rolex watch should feel a lot heavier and sturdier than standard watches. For anyone who is used to wearing or handling watches, the weight will be noticeable straight away for an authentic model. If you are less familiar with watch weights, try holding the second-hand Rolex you found in the pawn shop with models from other brands to compare the difference.
While there are many ways to verify the authenticity of a second-hand Rolex watch, the best way to protect yourself and your purchase, is to buy from a reputable retailer. Browns Family Jewellers specialise in buying and selling pre-owned Rolex watches, with in-house experts who ensure every piece that passes through our doors is 100% authentic.
We also provide official documentation, a full service and a two year guarantee for extra peace of mind.