It seems that online fake watch merchants have decided to spread their wings and expand their wares to include Seiko, Citizen and Casio watches. This subject actually surfaced in the Seiko & Citizen Watch Forum several times this year.
Personally, I couldn't care less about replica Swiss watches. There's a healthy market for them and people buy them as gifts, to try them out before deciding to buy the real thing, for safety reasons (they don't want to wear their genuine Rolex Daytona going to unsafe places or events) or just for pure fun. Heck, someday I might get myself a replica Omega Speedmaster automatic just for kicks!
I discovered that there are several replica watch sites have been advertising replica Seiko, Citizen and Casio products at prices that are similar or higher than genuine watches. They made it clear that the watches they're selling are replicas (they'd prefer to avoid the word "fake" for obvious reasons) and have no qualms about it.
That's not it. My actual concern is the fact that these sites are actually using stock catalog photos of genuine Seiko, Citizen and Casio timepieces. How do you know that these sites are selling authentic or knock-off Seiko watches? You don't.
You won't know until you've parted with your money, ordered the item, receive the package and open it up. Then it hits you like the proverbial brick wall and you get that sinking, stinking and sickly feeling deep in your guts. You scream bloody murder. "It's a bloody toy watch!"
At least someone who replied to the thread mentioned that he ordered a Hamilton and a Citizen watch from one of these replica sellers. What he received was vastly different than what was depicted on the website. When he complained to the merchant, they replied something like "What you have ordered is similar to your request".
Um, yeah...that's a very professional sounding reply indeed. Right.
He was pretty mad about it and I could imagine that he wrote his post in sheer anger. I felt sympathy for this poor bloke who was taken for a ride. He judged the products from the photos that were shown, not their description.
A closer look at the sellers
Who are these sellers? Well, I really don't know. They could be small-time merchants who rely on "drop-ship" suppliers. In case you haven't heard of drop-ship suppliers, these are mainly wholesalers or middle-men who will ship the product to the buyer. The merchant only takes in orders and processes them. For all you know, the seller may not even have handled the actual product in the first place.
In the absence of photographs of the replica watches (I doubt the suppliers will bother to take photos of them), their only recourse is to borrow pics of genuine catalog pics and upload them to their websites. They may get away with it as they have explicitly indicated that the stuff they're selling are replicas (read: fakes).
I decided to take a cruise in cyberspace and look for such watch sales sites. I came across a few online sellers that peddled Seiko, Citizen and and Casio timepieces. The pictures of these watches looked to good to be true. I had to compare the photo of this seller's watches with pics of known genuine Seikos to be doubly sure.
Just take a look at this screen capture below. Click on the thumbnail to see the picture in greater detail.
Now, those are photos of actual late model Seiko watches depicted in the website. You can see a bevy of Sportura models lined up in the photo. Ironically the seller advertises them as “high quality fake watches”. How would you know in advance what you'll receive exactly as pictured on the site?
The problem is that you won't know for sure until that package arrives at your doorstep and you open it.
Too good to be true?
You know the common saying – “if something’s too good to be true, it usually is”. Well, that holds true for these replica watch sites. Case in point: The same seller advertises a replica Seiko Sportura SLQ021J Kinetic Chronograph watch for “an affordable price”.
Now, if case you didn’t know, the SLQ-series are one of Seiko’s flagship, limited edition Kinetic chronograph models. A true collector’s item, powered by the hand made 9T82 movement and fully assembled in Japan only by the most experienced and qualified technicians.
Here’s the thing: not one of these watches retail for less than USD2,500! (Gasp!)
Top: Not your everyday Seiko. The 9T82 Sportura Kinetic is regarded as a fine watch by collectors. Yes, this one’s genuine.
Now let’s take a look at that give-away price offer for that Seiko SLQ021! If you look at the price, it says a mere USD171. OK, fair enough it’s priced under two hundred clams. It’s a bogus Seiko Sportura anyway. But will it actually look exactly as pictured in the website?
“Look, Maw! It looks just like the real thing for just 171 bucks!”
Now, high end and ultra-high end Seiko watches aren’t easy to copy to begin with. The Kinetic movement itself is a patented horological marvel from Seiko. Sure, replica makers could come up with the intricate molds and materials if they wanted to.
But they’re not likely to duplicate high end Seiko watches. Why not? Well, for one thing – there’s just no demand for fake high end Seikos. For starters, well-heeled consumers with money to burn would rather buy some big-name Swiss brand watch rather than an expensive Seiko.
Fake Swiss watches have a faster sales turnover and profit margins are much higher. Counterfeiters from the Far East would rather invest their time and money in copying the likes of Rolex, Cartier, Patek, Dunhill, Rado, Breitling and Omega…to name a few.
There’s no way a USD171 copy of a Seiko SLQ021J will end up looking exactly like the website shows. Not a chance.
Here's yet another replica watch merchant and I looked at its "100% replica Casio watches".
Now, I've seen fake Casio Pathfinder and Triple-Sensor watches before in person. They're likely to be cheap imports brought in from China.
They almost look identical to the real ones but have nowhere the build quality of the genuine products. Neither do they have the altimeter, barometer, digital compass functions associated with these complicated watches.
You're certainly forgiven if you look at the Sea Pathfinder model in the above screenshot and proclaim it looks like the real thing. In fact, it is a genuine Pathfinder. The million-dollar question is, will you get the watch as portrayed in the website?
Will the real Citizen 20th Anniversary Aqualand stand up?
Now this issue is pretty intriguing. Following the thread that first appeared in the SCWF, I checked out this photo of a Citizen JV0030 20th Anniversary diver from a replica watch site and emailed Sir Les, who is an expert with Citizen Aqualand divers and incidentally, owns one as well.
I've even played around with the Citizen JV0030 at a watch store last year, wondering whether I should get one (it's a pretty big watch!) for myself. It's an excellent diver's watch in its own right, with world time, EL backlight, chronograph, blue lume and a depth gauge to boot.
A JV0030 Aqualand sold by a replica seller (left) and the same model advertised by a reputable merchant (right)
If you examine both photos, you'll see that there are no differences. Of course there are none! That's because the replica seller is using the same catalog photo from Citizen. The problem is that the customer wouldn't know if the item that he'll be receiving will be identical to the JV0030 in the photo.
Now, are you willing to risk buying from a replica seller?
Yeah, we take Western Union payments too!
To facilitate payments for replica watches, some of these replica watch vendors also offer payments by Western Unions, bank wire transfers and international money orders. Hey wait, there’s more! If you pay by Western Union, they’ll throw a 30% discount over the advertised price too!
Now, what sort of reputable merchant takes Western Union payments in the first place? Western Union is a well known remittance service like bank wire transfer. People usually use services like Western Union and MoneyGram to send monies to their friends and loved ones across the world.
However, when a seller also accepts Western Union as a mode of payment and gives incentives, something is amiss here. Western Union is not like PayPal, which keeps records of the sales transaction and provides protection for the buyer.
Above: A typical Western Union agent outlet in Europe
Western Union takes your money, charges the sender a fee for it (that means you) and processes the remittance. The beneficiary (that’s the merchant) receives the money and you’ll have to trust the seller to deliver as promised.
It’s not Western Union’s practice to keep track of the transaction that the money is to be used for – and once you have remitted the funds, there’s no turning back. Once the seller has your money, he’s not likely to refund you for your case of buyer’s remorse.
At least with credit cards and PayPal you can always initiate a complaint and a charge back if you felt that you’ve been cheated.
So, be wary of online watch sellers who take Western Union payments and give you discounts on top of things.
Knowledge is always your best defense
I've received quite a few emails from people asking me to have a look at an item on eBay or an online seller. They want to know if the watch that they've just bought or are considering to purchase is a genuine one.
I've more happy to oblige with answers if I know enough about the seller and the watch that they're referring to. In all my replies I tell them to do some research on their end. Learn how to tell the difference between reputable online dealers and the flaky ones.
Knowledge is still your best asset and defense. It's free and will save you from a heartache later on.
Note: This article is a reprint and re-edited from my previous article titled “It’s A Bloody Toy Watch!”, last April 2008.
Originally posted 2008-12-25 00:39:00.