Among watch aficionados we don’t deign to consider fake watches. We know they exist and that people buy them, but we turn our noses up at their existence. Despite our distaste, there is obviously a lot of demand and desire for counterfeit watches. In fact, it’s a booming business.
According to the Swiss Customs Service, the watch industry loses approximately $1 Billion dollars a year from the practice. I’m not really sure this dollar amount is accurate, however, if you take into account that someone who buys a replica watch does so usually because they can’t afford to buy the real thing. Therefore, the “lost” revenue wouldn’t have necessarily translated to a sale to the authentic brand anyway.
Obviously, counterfeiting is an illegal activity, harmful to the watch companies. A counterfeit not only steals designs and intellectual property, it also degrades brand equity. Last year, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry and the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie launched a campaign to discourage people from buying these fakes with the slogan: Fake Watches are for Fake People. I’m not sure how much impact this campaign had for the target market. For us watch enthusiasts, it’s a given.
Interestingly, the Swiss don’t have completely clean hands when it comes to copying watches. In the 1860’s, when the Americans captured the market with their industrialized methods of producing high-quality watches, the Swiss tried to capitalize on the popularity of the product. As an example, they imitated Waltham watches, co-opting the name of the company as well as the appearance of specific models.
With the Swiss dominating the industry, it’s Cartier, Breitling, Tag Heuer, and, of course, Rolex that lead the pack as the most replicated models. Most of these copycats are produced in China. It used to be pretty easy to tell the difference between the real thing and a phony from afar if you had any familiarity with the authentic models. Now the quality has gotten so good that some replicas have been known to fool the experts.
Harry Tan did some great coverage about this issue on his blog Watching Horology and spotted a recent legal crackdown on these replica sites by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. You can reference his posts from here.
So, what are your views about counterfeit watches? Do you feel the brands should do more to protect their copyrights? Are consumers complicit in the act when purchasing counterfeit goods? Does the issue concern you, and if so, how would you deal with it?