Imagine having a global population of quality control experts feeding back information on the slightest imperfections in your products.
That is the service being performed by bloggers, forums and Youtubers that share stories of how close to the originals fake luxury watches are becoming, and how to spot what have become known as super fakes.
Anthony Fabiano, co-founder of Watch Certification Services of America (Watch CSA), a specialist in authenticating luxury watches for trade customers, says super fakes are a growing problem because the quality keeps on rising.
“The tier one counterfeiters of these super fakes are moving so fast with improvements. They monitor forums that share information about how consumers can spot fakes, and then immediately address those issues in the watches they make,” Mr Fabiano tells WatchPro.
The problem is getting worse because, while the total number of fake watches manufactured every year may be stable at around 40 million pieces, the quality from a handful of the most advanced Chinese factories is increasing.
Experts like WatchFinder, a pre-owned watch trader owned by Richemont, both describe the challenges of spotting super fakes, and provide important information to the counterfeiters in Youtube videos watched by millions.
The recent scandal swirling around Australian luxury watch trader Horology House, provided the same sort of clues to counterfeiters about how a Rolex Daytona, which was sold to a customer as the genuine item, could be identified as a fake.
Overall, Mr Fabiano thinks the the number of fake watches in the world is actually falling because authorities have cracked down on the mass production of the comically produced knock-offs that were once commonplace at tourist hot spots like Hong Kong, Bangkok and Dubai. However, the super fake problem is getting worse, and customers are drawn into increasingly sophisticated scams thanks to the global marketing power of social media.
The biggest pre-owned watch specialists, such as Watchbox, Watchfinder and Bob’s Watches, are unlikely to inadvertently buy or sell fakes because they have sophisticated systems and multiple layers of authentication, including working with the likes of Los Angeles-based Watch CSA. Chrono24 does a pretty good job of vetting, according to Mr Fabiano, but he still frequently finds fakes on social media, Amazon and eBay.
“There is a lag with people’s understanding of how good these fakes have become. Their view of fakes is two to three years’ out of date,” warns Mr Fabiano.
Watch CSA performs a battery of tests on watches that it authenticates including checking serial numbers against manufacturers’ databases and using artificial intelligence to scan details of watches using photographs taken under microscopes.
Watch CSA works only with trade customers such as pawn shops and professional watch traders, and has honed its business model to make it fast, accurate and reliable through the use of digital photography and artificial intelligence that means watches do not even need to be sent for physical inspection. “We issue certificates based on images and serial numbers,” Mr Fabiano explains.
Fake watches that appear identical to the real thing to the naked eye reveal their imperfections under the closest scrutiny. “It is about quality, not the specific elements that counterfeiters might have got wrong in the past. A ceramic bezel might look perfect to the naked eye, but not at the microscopic level, and the counterfeiters will never be perfect. I do not think they will ever challenge Rolex side-by-side when you check ten different areas of the watch under a microscope,” Mr Fabiano concludes.