This story is over 5 years old
Music by VICE

The Wild World of Canal Street Knockoff Watches, Volume One

In which Dapwell goes to buy a watch and learns about the finer points of Rolex craftsmanship.

by Dapwell
Apr 13 2014, 5:30pm

A fake Rolex with my wrist hair

I’ve never much cared for wristwatches. My mom bought me a 60-dollar Guess watch when I was 13 that I wore for a few weeks. It was bulky—not to mention a 13-year-old wearing a watch is pretty stupid. Maybe less so a hundred years ago when a 13-year-old American kid might need a watch to keep track of his 18-hour work shifts at the factory, but certainly not now. To be honest, I was into the box way more than the watch. Watches come in the best, sturdiest boxes. I wish I knew where that watch was now, because I could sell it for at least ten dollars and order a tofu with garlic sauce and a tofu with brown sauce from the Chinese spot.

But none of this watch disdain transfers over to counterfeit luxury watches, which I think are awesome. An insecure, low-level drug dealer trying to stunt with a fake Rolex? Amazing. An insecure low-level executive trying to stunt with a fake Rolex? Amazing. A bored Indian man wearing a fake Rolex while walking to the store to buy apple cider vinegar to use as a facial toner? Hey baby, IT’S FOR ME TO WEAR AND YOU TO STARE. (I just came up with that kicker after my editor Eric told me my last one sucked.)

This all changed when a rich friend of mine bought a real Rolex after many weeks of deliberation. I started googling around, and before long was mildly obsessed with the different models of Rolex watches and the complexity of wrist timekeeping. My original plan was to buy a Rolex Cellini I dug the lady-like style and chainmail wristband. After being discouraged by said friend, I decided to look at used Datejusts (with a Jubilee band as opposed to Oyster or Presidential band) on eBay. I abandoned this plan after a.) being told not to buy possibly fake watches on the internet for thousands of dollars and b.) not wanting to spend thousands of dollars. It would also be a little ridiculous for a barely-successful “entertainer” who can constantly be found on subway platforms throughout New York City to be wearing an (at least) ten thousand dollar watch.

A fake Rolex with my dirty sink

I decided after more than 15 years of rolling my eyes at Canal Street vendors coming up to me with counterfeit merchandise that it was time to inquire further. I headed to Canal, mid-afternoon, and I walked around for about 90 seconds before being approached by a woman holding a laminated piece of paper with photos of about 16 different Rolex models on it. I went for the “18-karat gold" Datejust. I wanted to be brought to a little showroom—or at least get one of the briefcase dudes to let me peruse his wares—but times is hard on the boulevard/Canal. I think law enforcement is generally lax if you're not purporting to be selling genuine watches for a hundred dollars, although I’m sure that was one of the reasons we had to transact in this clandestine manner.

After about five minutes (longer than I expected), the woman came back with the watch in a little Ziploc bag. Immediately, I noticed two giveaways that it was a counterfeit. The first is the cyclops (the magnifying part on the glass of the watch over the date) was only 1.5x magnification as opposed to the 2.5x magnification of a genuine Rolex. Second, the back of the case was transparent, allowing you to see the inner workings of the watch. This is extremely rare with Rolexes and apparently only existent on some very old models. The watch did feature the “sweeping” motion (as opposed to a “ticking” motion) with the seconds hand, although this is actually not a very accurate way to determine if a Rolex is genuine. Overall, I was fairly impressed with the quality of the watch, bolstered by a key-scratching demonstration of the watch glass given by the saleswoman. Useful for when your dad gets angry at you and tries to scratch your watch till it’s unreadable. How did she know?

She initially asked for $95, claiming that we entered some sort of verbal contract by me asking her to retrieve the watch. After laughing this off, I told her I’d give her 20 bucks. She pretended to walk away in disgust before immediately returning and offering to sell it to me for 80 dollars. I told her I’m from New York and I know I could get a similar watch for 10 dollars if I wanted to. She said that this money meant very little to me, but it meant a lot to her. This was a sound argument, as I was buying fake gold watches on the street for shits and giggles, and this woman sold fake gold watches on the street to eat food and pay rent. Way to make a direct and incredibly compelling argument about why I should give you more money and also why I should kill myself for being a frivolous asshole. SOLD.

Two fake Rolexes lying on my bed

We settled on 30 dollars, and I am now the owner of a fake gold Rolex watch. I’ve since purchased a two-tone with an oyster bracelet as well. I’ve had them both tightened, and I've learned to adjust the date and time with the little crown on the side. Nothing’s exploded yet. I do regret the fake diamonds on the dial, but this was mostly an exercise in getting used to wearing something on my wrist. On further trips I’ve observed some of the racial dynamics at play on Canal Street. There are, as far as I noticed, East African, Chinese, and Bangladeshi dealers of fake watches. Some of the Chinese runners will bring you to Bangladeshi men with watches, most will bring you to other Chinese. I’ve yet to see any Bangladeshi runners freely advertising that they have “Rolexes,” yet they do have them. The East African men I dealt with were clustered in a larger group together and interactions often involved longer walks beyond the area commonly known as “Counterfeit Triangle.” That’s about all I’m gonna say to avoid dry snitching on my people trying to make a living.

After this initial foray into purchasing counterfeits, I learned that the replica luxury watch game runs much deeper than I ever imagined, with entire Chinese factory operations (Noob and BP or Big Pilot) dedicated to accurately reproducing a number of luxury watches from several top brands. Each of the two prominent factories has their pros and cons, mostly relating to which individual parts of the watch are more accurately reproduced by each factory. The “movements” that power the watch either come from China or are from the famous Swiss ETA factory. I’ve just begun exploring this world (which involves, no surprise, reading a lot of internet forums) but stay tuned for more fascinating reportage from the front lines.

The author, pictured with Rolexes.

Dapwell <3s new="" york="" and="" is="" probably="" on="" canal="" street="" right="" now="" buying="" a="" shirt="" to="" show="" it.="" he's="" twitter="" -="" @dapwell

Want more of Dapwell's adventures? Read about his recent trip to India: