In the multi-million dollar world of fake and replica watches, you are certainly forgiven if you thought that only Swiss marques are targeted by counterfeiters in the Far East. High end Swiss brands like Rolex, Omega, Breitling, Patek Philippe, Longines and TAG Heuer are the usual victims. The replica watch industry exists so long as there is enough demand and believe me, there is enough global demand for knock-off timepieces.
Most people who look for replica Swiss watches probably buy them to impress their friends and colleagues. Others buy a fake Swiss watch to have a taste of luxury timepieces before paying top dollar for the originals. Some purchase them out of sheer curiosity, for the fun of it and as inexpensive gifts. And there are also owners of the real watch who buy replicas for safety reasons – they would wear their originals to official events and switch to the replicas for casual outings.
Replica watch manufacturers have come a long way from the instantly recognizable el cheapo junk that you typically find in flea markets. It is a highly profitable industry, as evidenced by the increasing number of online replica watch vendors. These days even fake Swiss watches have different grades of quality. Some fake watch peddlers classify them according to their grades; you can find an "A" grade replica for as little as USD50 and an "AAA" grade one for USD500 or more.
Many top grade replica chronographs come with fully functional chronograph movements to fool most people. Short of opening the caseback and inspecting its innards, even experienced jewelers and trained watchmakers sometimes have trouble in spotting a fake watch.
It is not the cheap knock-offs that the Swiss watchmakers are worried about – it’s the high grade copies passing off as originals that deceives unwitting consumers who pay almost the same prices as the real ones. For this reason, major Swiss watch companies strictly forbid online sales of their watches.
According to the Swiss Customs Service, there are some 30 to 40 million counterfeit watches being circulated every year. It is estimated that USD600 million worth of revenue is lost to the counterfeit industry.
Replica watch retailers have capitalized on the world wide web that you can easily find online replica watch sellers. Chances are you may have received spam on replica Swiss watches (I come across them in my junk mail folder frequently).
(All photos depicted in this article belong to their respective copyright owners).
Do fake Seiko watches really exist?
Many people assume that watches like Seiko have no counterfeit equivalent because Seiko is not considered a luxury watch brand. The answer is unfortunately yes, there are replica Seikos being made and sold. However, the number of fake Seiko watches peddled either on the streets or the Internet are fortunately small.
A seemingly genuine Seiko Premier, but it’s not. It’s 100% fake.
Right above is an example of a bogus Seiko Premier automatic watch. From the twin push buttons it suggests that it’s a chronograph model. The irony is that Seiko has yet to introduce a mechanical chronograph version for its Premier lineup.
A Seiko watch always has its brand and movement code on its caseback. In the above photo on the right, the factory stamped "ALL STAINLESS STEEL" and "WATER RESISTANT" text in huge letterings. The Seiko watch company does not conform to this practice. It has no need to print such text as a unique selling point. Counterfeit makers however, do in an attempt to disguise their products as the real thing. 🙂
Now who on earth would buy a fake Seiko?
That’s a pretty good question. The majority of the Seiko watches are priced well below USD500, particularly the quartz and Kinetic models, which are Seiko’s bread-and-butter products. They range from the very affordable, basic Seiko 5 to above average priced models like the Sportura and Premier models costing USD500 to USD800. A genuine Seiko 5 automatic watch can set you back about only USD60 or so.
At this point you may be wondering, why are counterfeiters making fake Seikos and still selling them? And why would anyone want to buy them?
The answer is plain and simple – one of the basic laws of economics: demand and supply. 🙂
I live in Southeast Asia where there is a large presence of immigrant workers from neighboring countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal and Vietnam. I would estimate 9 out of 10 of them who are looking for a "Seiko" prefer to buy one at the local night and flea markets rather than visiting an authorized Seiko retailer.
Price is often the barrier as genuine Seiko watches could cost them a month’s wages. So why bother paying the full price when they can get a "Seiko" at one half the price of the original?
Ignorance probably comes a close second reason as those who accidentally buy fake Seiko watches simply cannot tell the difference with the real thing.
An imitation "Seiko 5", complete with bogus hang tags (left). The "SEIKO" print is in a straight line where it should follow the caseback’s curve (right).
The purpose of writing this article is to highlight that fake Seiko watches do exist and you may unwittingly buy one online. There are a few unscrupulous eBay vendors who pass off counterfeit Seiko watches as originals. This is a downright deception and cheating. Whether the sellers knowingly or unknowingly advertise them as genuine watches is besides the point.
The good news is that most fake Seiko watches (hobbyists call them "Feikos") are so poorly made that it’s so easy to spot a fake one. The bad news is that consumers who buy them are usually ignorant and they think they’ve bought a Seiko at an amazingly low price.
Some replica Seikos are pretty obvious fakes with outlandish designs. Others are near exact copies (particularly the popular SKX007 divers and mechanical Seiko 5s) that can pass off as the original ones if you don’t know how to distinguish them.
Nonetheless, the counterfeit Seiko market is not a very lucrative one (as opposed to replica Swiss watches) therefore not much effort is spared to duplicate a genuine Seiko.
Fake Seikos often use cheap, substandard China-made movements (borrowed pic)
As with replica Swiss timepieces, fake Seikos also come in varying qualities. Some look so weird that they easily raise suspicions while others look so convincingly authentic that they baffle even the most seasoned veterans.
The most popular knock-offs of Seiko watches seem to be the Seiko 5 automatics. They are simple to produce, with cheap movements from various factories in the Far East but are easy to spot if you know how.
Spotting the Real Deal
The first thing you should know about a genuine Seiko 5 is that they are cased at Seiko’s overseas facilities in Hong Kong, China. The 7s26 movements are however, manufactured in Singapore and from 2006 onwards, Malaysia. The completed movements are then sent to Seiko Hong Kong for the final assembly.
Pictured below is an example of a genuine Seiko 5. A pre-2002 Seiko 5 comes with a stainless steel caseback and in some models, a faint "5" logo laser-etched on the crystal, at the 6 o’clock position. Unfortunately counterfeiters also managed to copy the emblem and incorporate it into their fake products.
From 2002 onwards, in a move to reposition the image of the Seiko 5 and to thwart copycats, Seiko introduced the glass display back (instead of stainless steel caseback) and also did away with the etched "5" emblem on the crystal.
A post-2002 genuine Seiko 5 (model SNK379K) with a glass display caseback.
A pre-2002 genuine Seiko 5s with a solid stainless steel caseback.
Characteristics of a fake Seiko
A Seiko 5 is a mechanical watch. Therefore it should have a smoothly sweeping second hand ticking at 6 beats per second. If you see one that ticks once per second, it’s definitely battery operated quartz.
Update: According to Seiko Japan’s customer service, the company did release short-lived quartz versions of the Seiko 5 in the late 70s. These were however, rare exceptions than the norm. Therefore throughout the rest of this article, a Seiko 5 refers to the mainstream automatic Seiko 5.
Classic tell-tale signs of a fake Seiko include but not limited to:
- Wrongly spelled Seiko brand, e.g. Sieko, Aseikon etc, which is pretty obvious
- Seiko logo with the wrong typeface or font (harder to spot)
- Quartz movement in a supposedly automatic model, e.g. Seiko 5
- Rough finishing and shoddy construction
- Fictitious reference numbers (only experienced collectors will know this)
- A "5" logo etched on the front crystal (pre-2002 genuine Seiko 5s had this logo)
- Generic transparent sticker with a red stripe on the caseback (genuine Seikos don’t use such stickers)
- "Seiko Japan" embossed on the bracelet clasp
- Poor grade luminous material used on hands and hour markers
- Lack of lume on the dial
- Hands that have different shade of color from the hour markers
For easy reference, I’ll categorize the fake Seikos according to their difficulty to distinguish them from the originals.
Category 1: The very obvious fakes
These are usually fake Seikos that come with the misspelled Seiko brand. They are very easy to spot. At least the manufacturers who made them came out with "original" sounding names. 🙂
Three very obvious fakes: MEIKO, SALCO and SGEKO. OK, you can stop laughing now. 😉
Category 2: "Original design” fakes
These are phony watches that misuses the Seiko brand but come with designs that are not copied off any known Seiko models. In essence, the copycats come up with their own designs and try to pass them off as "unique" Seiko models.
Novices unfamiliar with genuine Seiko watches are prone to mistaken these as originals. Most Category 2 fakes have outlandish and cheesy designs as you can see below. Some of them are so ugly that when you look at them, you won’t know whether to laugh or cry! 😉
None of the above fakes resemble any actual Seiko models, really. (Bottom right pic courtesy of Isthmus)
Seiko never made a Rolex Submariner copy, so don’t be fooled! 😉
Category 3: "Wannabe Seikos"
"Wannabe Seikos" are fakes that attempt to mimic the genuine ones but are not very good at it. They often are made to low manufacturing standards – cheap materials, rough workmanship and incorrect dial/hands and caseback typefaces or fonts.
To the untrained eye, these counterfeits look like the real deal. However, there are evident and distinctive tell-tale signs of a phony Seiko if you know where to look for them.
Top left: Fake SKX007 Arrow-tip second hand and white "Diver’s 200m" text signifies this is not the real thing. Authentic SKX007s have a lumed ball on the opposite end of the second hand.
Top right: Imitation SKX171K diver with a black-and-red bezel. Note the etched "Seiko 5" logo on the glass just above the 6 o’clock marker.
Bottom left: Same as top right, albeit with a phony SKX171K style dial. The bezel insert and crown are of the incorrect design and so are shape of the crown guards.
Bottom right: Fake SKX171K on rubber strap. Original Seiko divers have a lumed dot on the bezel insert triangle. The “Diver’s 200m” and calendar font are also incorrect. And they don’t come with rubber straps that say “Wind Velocity” either!
Category 4: Convincing replicas
These are almost authentic counterfeit Seikos that at first glance even seasoned owners could mistake them for authentic Seikos at first glance. Photos don’t reveal everything and it’s quite easy to be fooled. A side-by-side comparison with a genuine model is the best way to discern the forgeries. Most people will say it’s a real Seiko but the trained experts will tell you that it’s not – and even that, after poring over the watch or photo of the watch for a few minutes.
In the photos below, both diver’s watches look quite alike. Newbie buyers are likely to make the mistake of buying the one on the left. See if you can spot the difference! 🙂
Fake Seiko diver (left) vs the genuine SKX007 (right).
Above: A very good copy of the SKX007 diver (left) and it looks pretty real. Click the picture to enlarge and you’ll see that the etched "Seiko 5" logo at the lower part of the crystal is the giveaway.
Also, fake Seiko divers often are issued with a hologram sticker on the glass to make it look convincing. Authentic Seikos do not come with such stickers.
Phony Black Monster (left) and the real SKX779K (right)
Above: This imitation Black Monster (left) has the calendar with a white background instead of black. Also the lumed dot on the bezel is jutting out too far, instead of being slightly recessed. Fake Monster divers are rarely seen and this is the best example of a fake Monster I’ve seen so far.
Bogus SKX171K diver (left) vs the original SKX171K (right)
Above: The fake SKX171K watch comes with an all-black bezel and a lumed triangle that’s too large. The 12, 6 and 9 o’clock markers are also over-exaggerated. Less noticeable is the laser etched "Seiko 5" logo on the crystal and the "Made in Japan" text at the bottom of the dial.
Replica Seiko 5 (left) vs a real Seiko 5 for the Middle East export market (right)
Above: Though hard to spot, the fake Seiko 5 (left) has the words "Automatic" and "21 Jewels" that are placed too close to the center of the watch dial. Also, the font is too thin and faint compared to the original (right).
Imitation SKX007 diver’s caseback (left) vs its genuine counterpart (right)
Above: You can see that the imitation watch has poor quality stamping on its caseback. The "wave" logo is also poorly etched compared to the raised logo on the original. Note the “JAPAN” text etched directly above the serial number. Authentic Seikos don’t print anything on top of their serial numbers. The fake diver also says "7S26-7039", which is actually a bogus (non-existent from Seiko’s records) caseback number.
Watch out for that red stripe!
Often than not, fake watches have a clear protective sticker on their casebacks with a thin red stripe running across the sticker at its edge. It seems that even fake Seikos have this sort of protective sticker.
Original Seikos usually come with a semi-transparent blue or clear circular protective sticker (depending on the model) for their stainless steel backed models. Let’s see the difference below.
Top: Phony SKX007K (left) with the red striped sticker and poorly copied caseback etchings. The one on the right is of an original SKX007K with the semi-transparent blue sticker. (Photos from the Internet)
Is it real or faux?
Below are examples of two dubious looking Seiko 5s albeit convincing copies. To be frank, when I first scrutinized these photos, I wasn’t sure if they were phonies. I mean, Seiko made so many models based on this design and they sure look like authentic.
Upon further inspection I noticed some clues:
The typeface used on the calendar wheel differs from the original Seiko 5. It’s probably made of aluminum instead of plastic used by 7s26 caliber Seikos.
- The lower dial text is also thin and of the incorrect typeface. They are also printed too close to the center of the dial.
The hands’ color also differs from the green Arabic numerals, it’s yellow. Genuine Seiko 5s usually have matching hand and dial lume color hue.
Original Seiko 5s with gold accents usually have matching gold plated bracelets and cases. Here, the hands, calendar window and "5" emblem are gold plated but the rest of the watch is not.
Bogus “hologram security sticker" on the crystal.
All of the watches above are fake Seikos!
A genuine gold plated Seiko 5 should look like this example below. Note that the gold accents used are uniform and matching – the case is gold plated and so are the hands, markers, logos and the day/date window.
A lovely gold plated, genuine Seiko 5 (model SNK368K) on a classy aftermarket leather strap. Borrowed photo.
OK, pop quiz, folks! Have a look at this Seiko Arctura below. Do you think is it genuine?
(Thanks to Peter Horne who submitted this photo in the Seiko & Citizen Watch Forum) 🙂
No, unfortunately it’s also a fake. It’s not your fault if you thought it’s an authentic Seiko Arctura, right down to the Arctura logo.
The dead giveaway is the "JAPAN MADE" text at the bottom of the dial. While Swiss watch manufacturers print "Swiss Made" on their products, Seiko never uses the text "Japan Made".
The "Arctura" and "100M" text is also printed too high up and too close to one another on the dial. Seiko usually leaves a gap between these printings for legibility. The "100M" font is also not typical of the fonts that Seiko uses.
Another thing, absent from this watch are the identifying codes that represent the watch caliber and dial number. Every genuine Seiko timepiece must have its caliber and dial codes printed at the bottom of the dial. No exceptions.
Dial codes on authentic Seiko watches
Original Seiko watches should have the following on the dial in fine print:
"Made in Japan" (Japan made models for specific export markets)
"Mov’t Japan" (Singapore assembled models)
“Mov’t Malaysia” or “Mov’t Singapore” (China made models for U.S. export market)
"Japan" (Japan made models for Japan domestic market and vintage Seiko watches)
No country indicated (China assembled models for non-U.S.market regions)
Pay close attention to the dial codes as fake ones usually have different a typeface or font compared to original Seiko dials. With some practice, you’ll be able to discern the counterfeit ones from the authentic watches.
Where do I find authentic Seiko sellers online?
If you’re in the market for buying a Seiko 5 or SKX diver on the Internet, always look for reputable online sellers. On eBay, stick to merchants with thousands of buyer feedback, preferably those with at least 97% positive feedback.
Some of the online sellers from the Far East that I would recommend you to buy from include but not limited to:
- Pokemonyu (eBay)
- Premierwold (eBay)
- Time Paradise (eBay)
- Watchub (eBay)
- Capital Mall (eBay)
- Poor Man’s Watch Forum
Note: I am not affiliated with any of the above merchants in any way!
There are other genuine Internet based Seiko sellers or re-sellers other than the above from other regions of the world. If you’re buying from eBay, look for merchants that have the Power Seller status with hundreds or thousands of feedback. The positive feedback rating should ideally be at least 97% or more.
For more information on identifying fake Seikos on eBay, you might want to check out my new article here. 🙂
What’s a grey market Seiko?
Some of the sellers like Pokemonyu and Premierworld deal in grey market Seikos. Grey market watches are in fact, genuine products.
The only difference is that they are parallel imports which are not sanctioned by the local Seiko distributor of that country. Grey market Seikos are cheaper but they don’t come with any warranty.
Warranties are not exactly free – you’re actually paying extra for protection and insurance against manufacturing defects. Usually the grey market seller will exchange the watch for you if you receive a defective one.
Of course, one-to-one exchanges are subject to the seller’s terms and conditions. The watch that you receive must have not been altered, has its bracelet shortened or sized. Be sure to read the seller’s fine print before buying a grey market Seiko.
Are Seiko watches sold on the Internet fakes?
I’ve read posts by people saying that they were informed by some authorized Seiko dealers that watches sold on the Internet are fakes.
Here’s my take on this issue. While it’s true that some unscrupulous eBay sellers pass off fake Seiko watches as genuine, this not a generalization of all Internet based Seiko watch sellers. Some brick-and-mortar authorized Seiko dealers don’t bother to do proper research on grey market Seikos. They base their conclusions on hearsay.
Other authorized Seiko watch dealers simply don’t like the fact that grey market watches are hurting their sales because grey market imports are much cheaper. So they are quick to point out that parallel imports are fakes – which is often that not, untrue.
That said, some popular models in the U.S. like the SKX009K diver are given unique model numbers – in America it’s known as the SKX175 to differentiate it from parallel import SKX009Ks. Both watches are essentially the same, except for markings at the bottom dial. Such models that are officially distributed by Seiko USA also have the country of origin marked on the dial, e.g. “Mov’t Singapore” or “Mov’t Malaysia”.
In some European countries, like Germany for example – grey market Seikos are generally disliked by local watch dealers. To discourage people from buying much cheaper grey market watches from Southeast Asia, the watches are often heavily taxed by their country’s Customs department upon arrival. Seiko Germany is probably aware of this “problem” but I don’t know if they have complained to the German Customs to protect their local dealer network.
Many overseas Seiko sellers will inform their prospective buyers that they would no be responsible for import duties and taxes imposed by the buyer’s respective Customs. A few sellers may refuse to ship watches to certain countries due to such import restrictions.
Are there other counterfeit Seiko models?
Fortunately for us, it appears that the counterfeiters prefer to manufacture fakes that are:
- easy to duplicate
- cheap to manufacture
- highly profitable to sell
In other words, they normally won’t bother trying to duplicate a Seiko Kinetic watch or any of the higher range models like the Arctura, Sportura, Criteria, etc. The manufacturers will not bother with complicated designs and movements as it’s not worth the cost and effort. Even if they do attempt to copy, the outcome is usually very poor. They hardly look like the genuine Seiko models they try to duplicate.
It seems that the most common counterfeit models are the Seiko 5 automatics and the SKX divers, both groups based on the 7s26 movement.
Fake Seikos are not to be confused with "Franken Seikos" which are genuine watches that are cobbled from parts belonging to other Seiko models. I’ll cover the subject of Franken Seikos in a separate post.
Is Seiko doing anything about this?
From what I’ve read, the Seiko Time Corporation is concerned about counterfeit watches spilling into the U.S. and have successfully prosecuted the perpetrators. There are articles regarding Seiko pursuing cases against counterfeit manufacturers but they are rather old news, dating to 2001.
Here are some references pertaining to fake Seiko watches:
What can I do to avoid buying a fake Seiko watch?
Well, it takes some reading and researching on your part to be able to avoid falling into the Feiko trap. Familiarizing yourself with photos of authentic Seiko watches can help.
If you’re buying on eBay, check the retailer’s ratings and feedback. While eBay does its best to combat bogus watch sellers and shut them down, they always find ways to make a comeback under some other names.
A number of fake Seiko sellers on eBay are based in China, so you’ll need to be careful when buying watches on eBay. While eBay has a tough policy on sellers of fake products they are not always reported.
One infamous seller who went by the name "maimaichinaman" used to peddle in counterfeit Seikos until eBay closed his online store after complaints from buyers. Undeterred, the seller simply registered himself again and resumed his business. I don’t know if he’s still at it but I’m not surprised if he is.
When it comes to buying from unfamiliar sources, the caveat emptor rule applies. Beware of online sellers offering cheap Seiko watches at unbelievable prices. If you are ever in doubt of a Seiko watch, feel free to post a question to me via this blog’s Contact Form 🙂 (This article’s comments form has been closed due too many comments, which slows down this page’s loading times).
Alternatively, you can also ask in the Seiko and Citizen Watch Forum and the members will be glad to verify its authenticity. If you do post a question about a watch sold on eBay, simply link the images of the watches in your post. Please do not post ongoing auction links (not even the auction number) in the forum – it’s against the forum rules.
Good luck and happy buying! 🙂