How to Spot a Real Patek Philippe Watch

Words by Candace Longfellow | 5.12.16
Buying a Patek Philippe watch takes a lot more than walking into a store and laying down your credit card. For the most intricate styles, called Grand Complications, buyers must submit to an application process. The Stern family, which has owned the company since 1932, reviews each application to judge whether a prospective owner has a proven track record with the company and appreciates the fine craftsmanship of each timepiece.

Patek Philippe World Time 5130P

The auction route isn’t much easier. Patek Philippe easily beats all other fine watchmakers when it comes to record-setting hammer prices, and pieces continue to appreciate in value, as much as 60 times the original price. It’s estimated that less than one million watches have been produced since the company was founded over 175 years ago, making Patek Philippe watches among the rarest timepieces on the market.
With all the hoop-jumping required to buy the real thing, replicas flourish. “Patek Philippe is commonly thought of as the most prestigious Swiss watch designer, and therefore many counterfeiters look to capitalize on their prominence,” says Fine Jewelry and Watch Manager Nathan Hall. Here, Hall demystifies these perplexing timepieces and shows us how to distinguish genuine from faux Patek watches.

What are the telltale signs a Patek Philippe is fake?

Patek Philippe watches have certain proportions that are fundamentally driven by the chosen movement, complications, and case size. Most fake Patek Philippe watches do not take these elements into consideration and therefore, a replicated Patek will have exaggerated print to fill the negative space on the dial.
Varying models will undertake different elements from the Patek Philippe repertoire, and knowing these distinctions is often a quick and decisive way to spot a fake. For example, platinum Patek Philippe watches carry a distinctive single diamond setting between the lugs at 6 o’clock. The brand does not expose the Tourbillon complication or even balance wheels, outside of skeletonized versions, and with the exception of rare, limited edition pieces, Patek Philippe does not use eponymous casebacks. 
Contrary to a lot of other high-end Swiss watches, Patek does not blue their screws [a thermal treatment used to protect watch parts]. Many counterfeits use this technique in an attempt to appear more luxurious.

What elements of craftsmanship do you expect to see?

Patek Philippe Calatrava 5000J

Looking at the movement of a Patek Philippe, we expect to see only the highest quality and superb hand-finishing. There is a certain crispness and purpose to a Patek dial. Each one takes about four to six months of production, totaling between 50 to 200 separate operations, and after each step the dial is cleaned in an ultrasound bath.
All modern-day Patek Philippe watches will use sapphire crystals. The texture often found on the dials and bezels is not stamped, but will be done by hand using a technique known as guilloché. Most of these unique elements of quality are requirements of the Geneva Seal, which is an independent Swiss agent, known for their mark of excellence.

What hallmarks, serial or reference numbers does Patek Philippe use and what do counterfeits usually get wrong about them?

Patek Philippe Calatrava with Guilloché Bezel

Patek Philippe keeps all reference numbers and serial numbers within the timepiece. The watch’s reference number and serial number are engraved on the inside of the caseback. On timepieces with sapphire crystal casebacks, the movement’s serial number and the calibre number can be visible, but the watch’s reference and serial are still contained on the inside of the caseback. Fake Patek Philippe watches will often have model or serial numbers visible on the caseback. Depending on the age of the timepiece and the type of movement, the case should be stamped with either the Geneva Seal or their own Patek Philipe seal.

What distinguishes Patek Philippe from other watchmakers?

Patek Philippe Annual Calendar 4937GPatek Philippe Annual Calendar 4937G

In a word, precision. Patek Philippe has mastered the art of fine watchmaking and their exacting standards set them apart from their contemporaries. Another very important distinction is that Patek Philippe is still family-owned — their independence from such groups as Richemont and Swatch allows them to pursue unique passions and goals, more rooted in tradition and values.
Ready to make the investment? Explore our authentic selection of Patek Philippe watches.

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