all things wristwatch.


Three Biggest Questions

by Adam Harris

Harris standing in the workshop at the National Watch & Clock Museum.

Photo credit: Keith Lehman.

With my latest acquisition I try to answer these three questions for all watch aficionados to ponder. After 10 years and 200-plus “vintage” watches, why ask myself these questions now? The answer lies in my latest acquisition: a beautiful “vintage” Rolex GMTII.


First, no one can buy a used Rolex today from an authorized distributor, without being concerned if it’s 100 percent genuine and original. Love it or hate it, Rolex is still the most iconic luxury watch sold today—and the most counterfeited manufactured watch. Rolex sells at least 800,000 watches a year; I would not be surprised to learn the fakers sell as many! Over 1 billion genuine watches are made each year. Switzerland is the world leader in watch sales at some $24 billion.


“Counterfeiting costs the watchmaking industry billions each year,” said Nick Hayek, head of Swatch Group. “The worst thing about it is that these copies are being made more and more professionally.”


Therefore, finding and choosing a genuine Rolex is far from easy, even for the most experienced collector. The counterfeiters get better and better, adapting to all the industry’s anticounterfeiting methods.



For watch collecting, I believe the

three biggest questions are:


1. Is this watch genuine or fake?

2. What is a vintage watch?

3. What is your favorite “vintage” watch in your collection?



Here is a good example of a fake Rolex. The “rehaut” is the ring between the dial and the bezel and crystal. Since 2005 Rolex has started to etch on the rehaut “ROLEXROLEXROLEX” as a counterfeit measure. Yet here we see a fake Rolex submariner with that incorporated:



A long time ago I was told the three biggest lies were “The check is in the mail,”

“Of course, I love you.” and the third is too rude to print!

Look closely on the rehaut on left side between 8 o’clock and 12 o’clock, and you will see “ROLEX” etched. Adam Harris/

Photo of a genuine Rolex movement. Credit:

Photo credit:  Adam Harris/

My Rolex GMTII dates from 1998, probably making it my first “non-vintage” watch! I don’t know if there is any correct term for a 17-year-old watch—maybe “adolescent”—not so far from the truth, because this model was the early forerunner to the current Rolex GMTII that has surely now reached maturity.


However, to answer the question, what is “vintage” in wristwatch terms, I personally call it before 1960.


Question 3: what is your favorite “vintage” watch in your collection? This is the hardest question of all, because I own more than 200 watches, and most can truly be termed vintage; indeed, many can correctly be covered by the term antique. So what makes a “favorite?”


Is it its age? If so, my oldest watch is a 1908 Omega with a left-hand dial (far left) beside an original 1906 advertisement.




Rolex uses its own unique in-house movement, but opening the watch to reveal the movement on a Rolex is no mean feat. Hans Wilsdorf did not name it “The Oyster” without good reason; therefore, many buyers have to trust their decision to purchase the wristwatch seeing only the dial, case, and crown—not a decision for the fainthearted or indeed the uninitiated.


My knowledge and experience told me “Buyer Beware.” Buying online based on  photos for these luxury pieces is highly risky, because even the displayed photos may not be of the actual watch.


So I decided to buy locally in Spain, from the local Gold Rush, a jeweler and pawn shop. Here I could closely examine the watch, and more importantly, enjoy a one-year guarantee. I inspected the movement before the case was professionally resealed and received a genuine receipt that clearly stated all the important numbers to my watch.


I know for certain that I purchased a 100 percent genuine 1998 Rolex GMTII with the original strap. Could I have identified a fake by photos alone? No, impossible. My best goal would have been to eliminate the counterfeits.


Could I have identified a watch without seeing the movement, by dial, case, and crown? I believe so, but that is only because of my experience—not for the novice.


Question 2: What is a vintage watch? To answer this question is as difficult as, and even more emotional, than the previous question! Why? Everyone wants to hear that their watch is vintage! Actually, the correct usage of the word vintage is to identify the year when a wine was made. Because the term has been hijacked and abused for the sole purpose of describing and hocking other non-wine-related items, it’s rather meaningless and continues to be abused. I believe the common usage is an item 50 to 100 years old.


The technically correct definition of antique is an item that is at least 100 years old. However, some items, such as cars are often called antiques because so few of them are over 100 years old. Because few wristwatches at least 100 years old, I personally call “vintage” earlier

than 1960.

Photo credit:  Adam Harris/

Photo credit:  Adam Harris/

Is it its uniqueness? If so, my 1923 cushion-shaped Eberhard hermetic.




Photo credit:  Adam Harris/

Photo credit:  Adam Harris/

Photo credit:  Adam Harris/

Is it its “head turning” capability? If so, my

cushion-shaped 1917 World War I Elgin with offset crown at 1.30.

Photo credit:  Adam Harris/

Is it its mechanical ingenuity? If so, my 1929 Harwood, the “genesis” of all self-winding wristwatches.

Photo credit:  Adam Harris/

Photo credit:  Adam Harris/

Is it wearing the first digital watch ever made?

If so, my 1932 (yes 1932) Peseaux would cover that.



Photo credit:  Adam Harris/

Photo credit:  Adam Harris/

Is it the most iconic watch ever manufactured? If so, my 1933 Jaeger-LeCoultre “Reverso.”



Photo credit:  Adam Harris/

Photo credit:  Adam Harris/

Or is it a watch that can cover all these qualities? Age, mechanical ingenuity, first of a kind, or iconic? The Rolex GMTII covers all these qualities—on just one timepiece!




No, it’s not vintage and not quite as old, as I would have liked. Rolex launched the GMTII in 1983, and it was affectionately called “The Fat Lady,” because it was slightly thicker 2mm than the next generation. I decided to purchase this piece because it had additional features that I liked: Super Luminova dial, sapphire crystal, and the latest 3185 caliber movement.


Its uniqueness is surely apparent: the first truly waterproof watch aptly called “The Oyster” with screw-down crown, COSC certified chronometer for accuracy, and its original blue and red “Pepsi” dial, not originally offered on the “Fat Lady.”


Rolex sells 800,000 watches every year, all with COSC certification, fully water and dustproof with its patented screw-down crown, one-piece solid case with screw on back, without a doubt makes a Rolex the workhorse of timepieces.


First of a kind is for sure. Rolex probably holds more patents than most other watch manufacturers; the most famous Rolex is “The Oyster” crown, patented 1926, and “The Perpetual,” the first self-winding rotor watch, patented 1933.


Finally, iconic—no other watch attracts so much emotional comments than a Rolex; you either love it or hate it, but 800,000 people each year pay a lot of money to wear this “iconic” piece.


Do vintage Rolexes attract the money that vintage Pateks do? No, not by a long shot, but the great true “vintage” Rolexes from the 1950s and 1960s are starting to become high auction items.


Me? I bought mine for all the reasons above plus an important sixth reason: unlike any other watch in my other collection, this one is 100 percent wearable in the humidity of Spain, in the sea, and in the shower—for any activity. It has a 24-hour dual-time function that is fantastic for every day and essential to me while traveling and it’s a workhorse time machine. I love it!


Visit 'Luxury or Lie? – Identifying the Genuine from the Fake.'



GoldRush – La enia

Watch Time, August 2013 – Watch Production

Wikipedia: Counterfeit volumes.




Top Watch Sites

514 POPLAR ST / COLUMBIA PA / 717.684.8261 ext. 212 / WATCH_EDITOR@NAWCC.ORG