Luxury or Lie? Instructor Adam Harris
reflects on course's success.
by Keith Lehman
A month has passed since the NAWCC held its first class to identify fake-luxury wristwatches. Taught by the National Watch & Clock Museum's Guest Wristwatch Curator Adam Harris, the three-day course covered a wide range of topics, beginning with the basics of wristwatch knowledge and ending with an intense, hands-on evaluation that challenged the students' newly learned skills to spot a fake wristwatch.
Students came from a surprisingly diverse background: jewelers, pawnshop owners, appraisers, writers, and even a few clockmakers. This assortment of professionals together in one room tells a lot of how prevalent the wristwatch market is and how dangerous counterfeits are.
I was privileged to sit in for two days of Luxury or Lie. Admittedly, I am a novice in the wristwatch and horological world, but Luxury or Lie taught me many important concepts. At the beginning of the course, Harris provided a glossary of more than 80 wristwatch and horological terms. Next, movements and major watch brands were covered in tandem. Harris explained effectively how most watch companies buy movements from third-party manufacturers. Only the highest of the luxury brands make their own movements.
Concerning fakes, it is shocking how a small amount of knowledge can save you thousands of dollars. Although there are fake wristwatches that are nearly impossible to tell without opening them up, most can be revealed with just a little bit of patience and a keen eye. For example, one of the first fakes Harris presented was a Tissot.
The watch was complete with a box and papers and to the untrained eye, seemed authentic. However, further investigation showed many parts of the watch were not correct; even without taking it out of the box, its true colors show. On the back of the box, in small print it reads at the bottom T810033963/Chinese!
My knowledge and appreciation of wristwatches has expanded manyfold after Luxury or Lie. By the middle of the second day, I was actually overwhelmed. Fortunately, the informaton I did not absorb can easily be found in the course's book. WatchNews had the opportunity to interview Harris to get his thoughts on the course.
Gary Girdvainis, editor of AboutTime and WristWatch Magazine with instructor Adam Harris.
Photo of classroom a day before the students arrive.
“It was excellent and I will tell the other members of Chapter 12 of the NAWCC and also the members of the Potomac Guild of the Horological Association of Virginia (HAV).”
Joseph Jabbour, Clock and Watch Appraisal Services of Northern Virginia, LLC
Luxury or Lie class begins.
Sponsored by WatchNews and the National Watch & Clock Museum, the students of Luxury or Lie were invited to a after-class party at Bully's Restaurant in Columbia.
WN: Now that Luxury or Lie is over, what is your overall impression of the course?
AH: My impression was very positive; I realized that teaching novices of timepieces takes more time. I also realized that many evaluators of outstanding luxury pieces do not necessarily understand all the complications and finite intricacies of a watch, which had to be explained in detail. The next course is already being adjusted for that.
WN: Has anything changed for you since the class ended?
AH: Yes, in some strange ways. I guess I am a little more respected at the Museum. I have also been approached by two separate organizations: one to do a one-hour webinar and the other a monthly article in their publication. I believe all these activities will advance awareness of the NAWCC, which will in turn increase membership in the NAWCC. That is my hope anyway.
WN: Who is the ideal student for Luxury or Lie?
AH: Anyone and everyone interested in horology and of course any level of appraiser or collector. The course is designed primarily to teach people how to identify a counterfeit from a genuine piece, but it does more than that by teaching the basics of wristwatches and how to appraise them correctly.
WN: If you could pick one, which part of the course do you think the students
responded to the most?
AH: The afternoon session "Genuine or Fake" was very enjoyable and informative. I post real examples that I have found; the participants, armed with the same photos and details I had, went online to decide themselves whether the watch is genuine. That process showed me what I suspected, that most people try to convince themselves that the piece is genuine, even after they spot a telltale sign that it’s a fake.
“I’ve been telling my colleagues how terrific you were (Harris) and that it is an essential course to take the next time it comes up.”
Gina D’Onofrio, Jewelry Appraisal Services
WN: Your students came from a wide range of professional backgrounds.
Did you find that challenging?
AH: Yes I did. There were two or three very knowledgeable persons in my course and one watch journalist. The "wool could not be pulled over their eyes"; in other words, they could not be fooled, and I am pleased to say that they also learned points from the course and indeed added their input. The jewelry appraisers had less understanding of luxury timepieces or counterfeits; for these people, more patience and time were required, but that was my job.
WN: How will next year's course be different?
AH: We learned a lot from the participants’ surveys. First, the course will be a full three days, and it will be limited to 15 people. We will use more models, or examples, of items, such as movements, so they can see and feel, for example, the differences between an ETA movement and a Swiss Sellita versus a Chinese Seagull. On the last day we had over 24 watches for the participants to evaluate; in the next course I will pass these examples around earlier for participants to handle what is being discussed.
WN: What was your biggest challenge teaching Luxury or Lie?
AH: Let’s make no "lie" about it; this course was a huge challenge and in some ways a risk to the NAWCC and myself. Many doubted that the course could be a success; thankfully, a number of people within the organization supported me, and I managed to meet the goal. Now the course needs fine-tuned on the basis of feedback and experience, and it must be up-to-date; that is a big challenge and hard work.
“I learned so much from your seminar, especially the Never 31 or 7 and the Litmus Test (so clever!)”
Zully Patino, The Provident Loan Society of New York
WN: Luxury or Lie took you many months and countless hours of work and planning. How did you celebrate its completion?
AH: No celebration at all. I obviously felt on a "high" and was thankful it had succeeded; that evening I drank a little more than the recommended medicinal glass of red wine. Next day it was work as usual, starting to plan the 2016 course. That is the story of life: complete one task or budget and then move on to the next. "Time waits for no man!"