• Tempus Rerum Imperator (Time is the ruler of all things)

    At The Time Biz, time is our only concern.


The Time Biz is a blog about things concerning time. Clocks, watches, the science of time, and anything at all having to do with time are our focus. We hope you enjoy our site.

The Cartier Mystery

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Cartier has long been famous for a number of things, including fine jewelry, clocks and watches.  About 100 years ago, they introduced the “mystery clock,” which offered hands that appeared to float without any visible mechanism to drive them.

They’ve spawned a few imitators over the years (Jefferson made a number of “mystery clocks” in the 1950s) but Cartier holds the title of doing it first.

cartier mystery clockThey’ve dusted off the mystery clock technology and applied it to watches, which is likely a whole lot harder to do, given the relatively limited space available.

Their new Mysterious Day and Night watch offers a fascinating glimpse into a watch that takes a time-only timepiece and makes it far more interesting than time-only watches generally have a right to be.

Powered by an in-house Caliber 9982 MC, the watch offers a 40 mm gold case with sapphire crystal front and back.  The watch offers a completely different way of telling time from what you might expect from a watch, and particularly different from what you might expect from a company that takes their watches seriously.  The watch includes a 48 hour power reserve, though we doubt that this is the sort of watch that you’ll be wearing on a daily basis.

The minutes are displayed  via a hand that points to a numerical scale that ranges from 0-60.  These numbers are located between what would normally be the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions.  The hand moves from 0 to 60 and then, on the hour, snaps back to the zero position again.

The hours are displayed in a similar fashion, using a 12 hour scale that ranges from 6 to 12 to 6.  These are located between what would normally be the 9 o’clock position and the 3 o’clock position.  The hour indicator is a moving hand that appears to be either a sun against a white background or a moon (with stars) against a black background.

Every 12 hours, the semicircular window for the hour hand changes colors from white to black, indicating not only the time but whether it happens to be daytime or nighttime.

Granted, you could check that by looking out the window, but this is far more interesting.  Plus, even with the transparent case back, you can’t really see what’s driving that hour hand, hence the “mystery.”

The watch will be available in both rose gold and white gold, depending on your taste.  No word on production numbers or whether the watch will be limited at all, though the $63,000 suggested retail price tends to make production self-limiting.

People like nice watches, but the number of people who can afford a $63,000 watch is limited, and one must keep in mind that there are many competing timepieces for that kind money from watch collectors.

Still, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and watches that offer something unusual or something that’s a little “out there,” do tend to attract attention, particularly when they come from a company like Cartier, which already has a reputation for quality and prestige.

The Cartier Mysterious Day and Night is not yet for sale, but is expected to reach the market early next year.



Own a Piece of Historic Hollywood

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You may not spend much time in California, but even if you have never been there, you are probably familiar with the famous “Hollywood” sign that’s mounted in the hills above the city.

Originally built in the early 1920s to promote a housing development called “Hollywoodland,” the sign was eventually shortened to read just “Hollywood” and became iconic.  A few years ago, the sign was restored, as it was suffering from decades of exposure to the elements.

rgm hollywood watchA group that calls itself Hollywood 1923 was able to salvage part of the metal that formed the old sign.  They approached American watch company RGM and asked them if they could produce watches using the metal from the old sign for the dial of the watches.

That did not work out, due to various manufacturing issues, but RGM did not completely do away with the idea of using the metal from the metal from the sign.  Instead, they had small metal scrolls made that said “Hollywood,” and these are mounted on the face of the watch.

You might not be familiar with RGM, but the Pennsylvania-based company has been making watches in America for 25 years.  They make fascinating and attractive mechanical watches, though they use movements sourced from elsewhere.  In the case of the Hollywood watch, the movement used is a Swiss movement made by ETA.

rgm hollywood watchOther models use vintage movements; the 222-RR, for example, uses a rebuilt movement from Hamilton pocket watches.  Production is modest, and the prices  you’ll pay for RGM watches typically fall into the mid-four figure range, though some models, such as the Tourbillon, push the $100,000 mark.

In the case of the Hollywood watch, the price is $9500 or so.  The price is the least of your worries if you want one, however.  Production was limited to only 12 pieces, and half of them are gone as we write this.

The case is the same one used for RGM”s model 25, being made of stainless steel.  The movement is an ETA 2892-A2, a Swiss-made automatic movement.

The dial has a nice Art Deco look to it, using period numerals on the face along with the image of a film reel.  The watch is time-only, with hours, minutes and a sweep second hand.  It says “RGM Watch Col” at the top, and between the hands and the 6 o’clock position, you’ll see the “Hollywood” banner, with “1923” just below it.

If you’re a film buff, a watch collector, or a fan of movies, this would be a nice watch to own.  Plus, it’s made in the United States, which these days is a bit of a rarity.   It only seems appropriate to have an American watch company produce a timepiece that pays tribute to a sign that is undoubtedly an American icon.

If you’re interested in learning more about the RGM Hollywood watch, you’ll find more information at the Hollywood 1923 Website.   That’s also the only place where you can buy them.



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Big Ben is Quiet Until 2021

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Big Ben, the clock that sits atop Elizabeth Tower at the north end of Westminster Palace in London, is one of the world’s most famous clocks.  Built in 1859, the clock has run more or less continuously for 156 years.

The “Westminster chimes” are so well known that the sound has been incorporated into many doorbells and the clock is visible around a large part of the city of London.

big benWhile the clock’s lights were turned out during both World War I and World War II, the clock ran continuously through both wars, and did not have a catastrophic failure of any component until 1976, when part of the chiming mechanism broke, leaving the clock inoperable for nearly a month during the next nine months.

Big Ben’s sight and sounds are simply part of British life, and both are something that tourists expect to see and hear when they visit.  Unfortunately, Big Ben is going to be silent for the next four years.

Both the clock itself and the tower that contains it are due for repairs, and the bells of the clock are being shut down for the next four years out of consideration for the workmen who will have to work in, on, and around the clock tower on a daily basis.

The clock chimes every 15 minutes, and if you happen to be inside the tower at the time, the sound is quite loud.  In addition, the building itself needs repairs and updating the clock tower is something that hasn’t been done in more than 30 years.

big benDuring this time, the clock will be disassembled, cleaned, and repaired, though authorities are promising that at least one clock face will be visibly functional during this time.  While the clock mechanism will be disassembled and non-functional, an electric motor will power the hands during this time, giving passers by at least the impression that the clock is working.

The chimes will continue to operate for important functions, such as New Year’s Eve and Remembrance Day, a day in November that commemorates those who died during the two World Wars.

Given the time that it was built and the size of the timepiece, Big Ben is remarkably accurate, and its accuracy is said to be within 7 seconds per day.  The clock can be adjusted via an ingenious means – a stack of pennies sits atop the clock’s 660 pound pendulum, and adding or removing a single penny can adjust the clock’s speed by roughly a half a second per day.

There is some debate as to whether “Big Ben” refers to the clock tower, the clock itself, or simply the 13 1/2 ton bell that rings every quarter hour.  Not only that, but no one is sure as to why the clock is referred to as “Big Ben” in the first place or who Ben might have been.

Regardless, the clock has long been a fixture in Britain, and tourists and locals will have to learn to make do without the sounds of this classic piece of timekeeping for the next four years.  After that, the clock will likely run well for decades more to come.

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The Smart Clock is Here

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Smartwatches have been getting a lot of press the last couple of years, while clocks have largely been ignored.  That has changed with the recent introduction of a “smart clock” called La Metric.

La Metric is nominally a clock that displays the time on a 29×8 pixel display that measures roughly 8 inches wide by 2.4 inches tall.  If you only want to use it for that, it will work just fine.

On the other hand, La Metric is capable of doing a lot more than that if you’re so inclined, and it appears that many people are so inclined.

La Metric also has the ability to connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi or via Ethernet.  You can control it via an included app on your smartphone.  It has a built-in speaker, too.

What sorts of things can you do with La Metric?  It can display pretty much anything you can program it to do, and since it’s also compatible with ITTT (If This Then That,) you’re pretty much unlimited in what you can get it to do.

You can display the time.  You can get it to display text from email messages.   You can connect it to a home automation system to alert you when something goes wrong, or when you have a package delivered to your door.

You can use it as a countdown timer to count the time down until whatever event it is that concerns you arrives.  You can connect it to your smartphone to play music.

Because La Metric is “open platform,” you can create your own apps for it, or download apps that others have created.  The company will have a store, of course, so you can buy preconfigured apps from them, or you can just make your own.

La Metric is powered via USB, though they also make a version that runs off of a battery for portable use.   Frequent software updates add functionality.  A recent update now adds Amazon Alexa support.

You can get it to work as a functioning stock ticker.  You can get it to display news headlines.

The project was started on Kickstarter and earned nearly 6 times the amount of money the company was seeking.  Obviously, a lot of people saw the potential in this clock that also functions as a general purpose display device.

Obviously, not everyone needs a smart clock.  On the other hand, it’s handy to have a clock that works like a clock if that’s all you want it to do, but which can do a whole lot more should the need arise.  La Metric is capable of doing a lot of interesting things today, but imagine the things it might be capable of doing a year from now after all of the buyers have had time to tinker with it and come up with their own apps.

Retail price on La Metric is $199, though it’s available at a discount at the La Metric Website if you’re willing to subscribe to their newsletter.  That sounds like a fair offer.  After all, you can always unsubscribe, but their newsletter will likely keep you up to date on all of the new things this amazing little clock can do.

Thin Is In With Wristwatches

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The world of wristwatches is a competitive one, and since pretty much everyone who makes a watch knows how to make one that can keep accurate time, makers need to find other ways to persuade buyers to purchase their particular models.

Adding gold or precious gems has long worked, but there are plenty of companies that make such watches.  Similarly, adding complications, such as a tourbillon or a moon phase indicator is getting a bit old hat, too, as there are probably hundreds of models out there that offer those complications.

piaget 9p

The Piaget 9P started it all

So what’s next?  Lately, a number of watchmakers have been working on making their timepieces thin.  There’s no real definition of what constitutes a “thin” watch, but many buyers seem to prefer wearing a watch that has minimal thickness between the crystal on the top and the back of the case on the bottom.

With that in mind, a number of makers have been working to make their watches thinner, often while including the sorts of complications that help make sales.  It’s one thing to make a watch with a tourbillon, but it’s something else to make one that’s super-thin.

These days, a “thin” movement is one that’s less than 3mm thick.  That’s about one-eighth of an inch, for those who measure in Imperial units.  Making a fully functional watch with minimal thickness is tough, but makers are upping the ante by adding more features and making the movements automatic.  That’s harder, because the rotor that winds the watch has to have some thickness itself.

One thing that can make it difficult to make a thin watch is the case itself.  Why?  Because a thin movement necessitates a thin case, and a thin case isn’t going to be very sturdy.  The case needs to be able to protect the movement, and if everything is so thin that it can be flexed or damaged, then the entire process is a waste of time.  Coming up with a thin case that is strong enough and durable enough to protect the movement is itself quite a challenge.  Fortunately, there are a lot of strong, thin materials available today that weren’t available a few years ago, such as sapphire and carbon fiber.

breguet classique tourbillon extra thin automatic 5377

The Breguet Classique Tourbillon Extra Thin Automatic 5377

The “thinness wars” aren’t really new; Piaget started to shake things up back in the 1950s when they created a watch, the 9P, that was only 2 mm thick.  Things have taken off lately, however, with a number of prominent makers of luxury watches taking up the challenge.

Bvlgari is one of many brands of luxury watches that have joined the party, having produced the Octo Finissimo Tourbillon, at 1.95mm, and the Octo Finissimo Automatic, which is somewhat thicker at 2.23mm.  Most wearers would gladly sacrifice a quarter of a millimeter to add the self-winding feature.

Piaget is still in the game, but Breguet may have raised the bar quite a bit with their Classique Tourbillon Extra-Thin Automatic 5377.  Adding a tourbillon is a feat in itself, but this time, the entire movement is only 3 mm thick and on top of that, the watch is fully automatic.

It won’t surprise you to discover that almost all of the companies making such watches are high end manufacturers.  You’re not going to see these sorts of offerings from Timex or Guess, but luxury brands are using them to help distinguish themselves from their competition.

If you like a thin watch, there’s a lot out there from which to choose.

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85 Years of the Kit Kat Clock

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It’s a largely forgotten piece of Americana, but at one time, it seemed that nearly every household in America had a Kit Kat clock hanging on the wall, usually in the kitchen.

Then, for a time, it seemed that you couldn’t go into a thrift store without finding one for sale, priced at a dollar or so.

It turns out that the Kit Kat clock has never really gone away, and the Kit Kat clock is now 85 years old.

original kit kat clock

A rare example of an original Kit Kat clock. Note the missing bow tie.

The Kit Kat clock was designed by the late Earl Arnault, who built the clock in Portland, Oregon through the Allied Clock Company starting in 1932.  Original models were made of metal, and those are quite rare and are rarely seen today, as the company soon switched to plastic, which was easier to work with and less expensive.

The first-generation Kit Kat clock was a bit different from more modern designs, as the cat lacked the distinctive bow tie and had a simpler clock face and less pronounced paws.

That changed in the mid 1940s, when the design was changed to the version that everyone knows.

The Kit Kat clock sold well throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and in 1962, the company moved to California and changed its name to the California Clock Company.  Production continued into the 1980s, though by the late 1970s, sales had dropped off.  Interest in the clocks had waned, as the image seemed a bit dated, and pretty much everyone who wanted a Kit Kat clock already had one.

The company’s motor supplier was no longer making electric motors that were suitable for the Kit Kat clock, and the clock went out of production for a while as the company pursued battery technology.

In the 1990s, a redesigned Kit Kat clock came to market, this time powered by batteries.  The company is still producing them today, and they’re now available in a wide variety of designs and styles.

kit kat clock

A newer example of the Kit Kat clock, complete with the bow tie.

While the Kit Kat clock is the best known of the clocks to come from Allied, they produced other clocks as well, including one that looked like a poodle.  There were also some variations on the basic Kit Kat clock even back in the 1950s, with a few colored models made that are now fairly rare.

Original models of the Kit Kat clock are now quite collectible, and buyers who are interested in an older, AC-powered model should be prepared to spend several hundred dollars to find one that is in good working condition and complete.  One of the problems with buying a vintage Kit Kat clock is that the detachable tail is almost always missing.

Be prepared to pay quite a bit extra if you want a vintage Kit Kat clock that includes the original box.  Most of them were discarded at the time of their original purchase, so vintage boxes are rare.

If you’re interested in owning a current model, they are available in a wide variety of styles and colors, along with a few limited edition models through the manufacturer.

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The Great Historical Clock of America

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After sitting in a barn in New Hampshire for decades, the Great Historical Clock of America has been restored.

Little is known about the origins of the 13 foot tall clock, which also measures 8 feet wide and 4 feet deep.  The clock uses a number of weights totaling more than 100 pounds to drive both the timepiece itself and the many elaborate mechanical complications that display what were then regarded as some of the most important moments in our nation’s history.

great historical clock of americaThe clock was built sometime in the 1890s and is thought to have been built by a C. Chase of Boston.  The clock depicts the Statue of Liberty, but the dioramas also depict Niagara Falls, Pocahontas pleading to spare the life of John Smith, the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, and more.

The clock, though enormous, was designed to be disassembled so that it could be shipped around the world for display purposes.  The clock is known to have been displayed in far-away places such as New Zealand and Australia.

For reasons unknown, the clock was forgotten about decades ago, and sat in a barn in New England, where the owner of the barn charged people 25¢ to take a look at it.

At some point, the clock drew the attention of restorers at the Smithsonian.  It took the experts there hundreds of hours to restore the clock, and parts of it had to be recreated, such as the “flowing” water of the Niagara Falls.

The team of 9 conservators reportedly spent 300 hours just cleaning the clock, and yet more time getting it to run and keeping it running accurately.

The clock is now once again on display at the Smithsonian, as part of their “American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith” exhibition in the west wing of the museum, which until recently was closed for renovation.

It would be interesting to learn more about this clock.  Was it the work of just one man, or did a team build it?  Where there both artists and clockmakers working to build this impressive piece of timekeeping, or did one man alone have the skills to build both an elaborate clock mechanism as well as the detailed and colorful dioramas?

The clock really doesn’t describe particularly well; it’s one of those things that you have to see to fully understand.  Fortunately, we found a video that shows the intricate detail that went into this piece, which is the size of several automobiles.


The Watch-Buying Quagmire

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You would think that buying a luxury watch wouldn’t be difficult or complicated.  At least, it wouldn’t be any more complicated than buying a refrigerator, a TV or a car.

That’s not the case, however, and shopping for a watch can be as difficult as shopping for healthcare, and is often accompanied by the same pressing question – “What, exactly, is the price?”

There are three basic places where luxury watches get sold in the marketplace:

  • The primary market – This is where luxury brands sell to the public either directly, through their own Website or network of stores, or through authorized retailers who sell at company mandated prices.
  • The gray market – This is where new watches are sold through unauthorized retailers, usually at discounted prices.
  • The secondary market – This is where second hand watches change hands.

You’d think that most watches sold new would come through authorized dealers, but that’s often not the case.  Authorized dealers will give you access to the best selection, and if you’re looking for that ultra-limited production model, it may be the only way to buy.

The gray market is where things get fuzzy.  Watches aren’t like books; when a company finds that they’ve made too many $25,000 watches, they’re not going to be remaindered and sold in a discount bin at 10¢ on the dollar.  Officially, those watches are in the hands of retailers, but those retailers who have watches to sell that they can’t get rid of might want to sell them, quietly, to a third party for a quick infusion of cash.

Third parties can’t offer a manufacturer warranty, but they can offer lower prices than the authorized retailers.  That’s pretty enticing for many buyers, as they’re not overly concerned about a warranty when they’re buying a Rolex or an Omega.

The secondary market has some overlap with the gray market.  This is theoretically where you’ll be buying second hand or pre-owned watches, but some of them may actually be new watches that are being sold as pre-owned in order to avoid the scrutiny of the manufacturers, who don’t want to see their brand name diluted or the perceived value of their products reduced in the marketplace.

These three areas of marketing are not known to most buyers, and making matters worse is the fact that a lot of counterfeit or replica watches are making their way into the mix, as well.  Most buyers want the real thing, but the only way to guarantee that you’re getting the real thing is to buy from the manufacturer.

Most sellers of gray market watches are legit, but the manufacturers would have you think otherwise.  That’s how they keep their prices up.  “You want the real thing?  Then you must buy from us.”

The biggest problem, of course, is that there’s a glut of high end watches on the market.  A 20 year old Rolex likely works just as well as a new one.  Most luxury watches don’t wear out and most consumers don’t buy a new one every year.  Yet high end watchmakers are cranking out more watches every year, mostly to keep their stockholders happy.

After all, the stockholders are interested in the bottom line, and that means selling watches.

What does this mean for the average consumer?  It means that if you want a nice luxury watch and you don’t insist on having some ultra-limited model, you can likely save thousands of dollars by making your purchase through a gray market or second hand dealer.


Monster Watch Fails to Sell

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Unusual watches and limited edition models come up for sale all the time.  You can always buy a rare watch if you have enough money.

patek philippe caliber 89What you can’t always buy is a watch that’s truly one of a kind.  Those opportunities are rare, and even having a lot of cash at your disposal isn’t going to help you if someone who owns a one-of-a-kind watch isn’t willing to sell.

That’s why it’s somewhat surprising that a recent auction of a Patek Philippe Caliber 89 pocket watch ended without a sale.  The watch was one of only four made, each with a different case material (three kinds of gold and one platinum.)

The Caliber 89 was brought to market in 1989 to celebrate the company’s 150th anniversary.  It took five years to develop and another four years to manufacture, all for a product whose production was just four units.

The Caliber 89 is quite a remarkable watch.  The timepiece has 1728 parts and 33 complications, including:

  • Day of the month
  • 12-hour recorder
  • Day of the week
  • Hour of second time zone
  • Moon phase display
  • Winding crown position indicator
  • Century decade and year displays
  • Leap year indicator
  • Power reserve
  • Month
  • Thermometer
  • Date of Easter
  • Time of sunrise
  • Equation of time
  • Star chart
  • Sun hand
  • Time of sunset
  • Split second hand

The watch measures 89mm in diameter and 41mm thick.  It weighs 1100 grams.  It was, at the time it was made, the watch with the most complications ever, surpassing another Patek Philippe watch – the Henry Graves Supercomplication.

Given its unique history, its historical significance, and its out and out rarity, everyone pretty much assumed that the watch would not only sell when it came up for auction, but that it might very well establish a record for the most expensive watch ever sold.  That would be $24 million, which was the price when the Henry Graves Supercomplication sold recently.

A Patek Philippe Caliber 89 was last sold publicly in 2009, when it sold for $5 million.  Speculation has been that this watch, with a yellow gold case, might go for a much higher price, and the pre-auction estimate was $6.4 million to $9.9 million.

Oddly enough, when the gavel finally came down on the auction, which was held this past May, the watch went unsold, as the bidding did not reach the minimum reserve price.

This does suggest that one should be careful when investing in watches.  While this one is rare, it’s the second time that it has failed to sell in the last two years.  That means that anyone who buys it now will also likely have trouble selling it quickly anytime soon.

While such watches can make good investments, one has to be aware that the market does fluctuate.  Over a long period of time, say 20-30 years, buying the Caliber 89 might make sense and might return a profit.

Over a shorter time period, however, the likelihood of a sale is much less certain, as is the likelihood of a net gain on the investment.

Still, the Patek Philippe Caliber 89 is an important watch in timekeeping history, and there aren’t many people who would not like to have it in their collection.

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Is Your Luxury Watch Real or Fake?

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High end, luxury watches can be very expensive.  That’s just the way it is.  Unfortunately, just because a watch is expensive, it doesn’t mean that it is genuine.

As with anything that has value, over the years, someone has probably found a way to counterfeit it in order to make a profit from unsuspecting buyers.  That’s good for them, and bad for you if you don’t know what you’re buying.

Many luxury watch brands have been counterfeited over the years, and perhaps none more than Rolex.  A good Rolex watch, even a second hand one, can cost thousands of dollars.  A replica, on the other hand, can usually be purchased for less than $50.  That means that if someone is selling a replica to you but attempting to pass it off as genuine, you’re risking a lot of money.

Here are a few suggestions that may help you separate the fake watches from real ones:

  1. Know what you’re trying to buy.  The more information you have about what the watch should look and feel like, the better off you will be.  If you can, visit a jeweler and look at and inspect a real one.  Or look at photos from reputable auction houses, such as Sotheby’s or Christies.  These companies are quite good at making sure that what they’ve offered for sale is genuine, so photos you see there are likely of the real thing.

    That’s no substitute for experience, and knowing what a real example of the watch you’re trying to buy feels like can help.

  2. Is the watch light?  High end luxury watches are surprisingly heavy.  They’re made of fine materials and often contain gold or platinum, which are heavier metals than steel.  A genuine luxury watch is going to weigh more than you might expect it to weigh.  A counterfeit, on the other hand, is likely to have relatively little heft to it.
  3. Look for serial numbers and company marks.  While not all brands do this, Rolex puts a number on both the band and the watch case.  Make sure they match and that they’re well-formed.
  4. Listen to the watch.  You might expect that a working watch would tick, but high end watches are surprisingly quiet.  That’s because they’re well-engineered and made with precision.  Inexpensive replicas will likely tick loudly.
  5. Look at the quality of the printing on the watch face.  A lot of replicas are surprisingly poorly made and that is often visible when you closely examine the writing or marks on the watch face.
  6. Documentation can help.  Many older watches that have been carefully stored may include paperwork and other documentation from the date of the original purchase.  Does this watch have such paperwork, or is it being sold as-is?  Can the seller provide any provenance about the watch at all?  Did it come from an estate?  The answers to these questions can help a lot.
  7. Consult with an expert.  If you can, have a jeweler or reputable watch dealer examine the watch.  Someone who sells watches on a regular basis will usually be able to spot a fake from an original in a matter of seconds.  It’s worth consulting with a pro, even if you have to pay them for their time.

It’s unfortunate that counterfeit goods are flooding the market these days, but there’s money to be made by taking advantage of people.  Don’t let them take advantage of you.

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