Online Watch Scams: Don’t Get Your Crown Screwed
Cue up “Kerry Pomo” and sing along to our spammy carol:
I’m beginning to see a lot of watch scams
on my Facebook feed
flimsy cases and empty dials
clueless people are posting smiles
and the only thing that’s working here is greed
Not a day goes by I don’t see watch scams
trendy, Bauhaus bunk
taking shoppers for a ride
while the movement packed inside
is all Chinese junk
Check the calendar, dear consumers. Just days remain till Christmas. And if you don’t have your shopping done for the dearest folks on your list, well… you better hop to it.
I’ll admit: I’m something of an impulse buyer. And I used to be a procrastinator extraordinaire when it came to Christmas. My brother, Dan, and I would make a game of it: start no earlier than 3 p.m. Christmas Eve, point the car down the highway toward the gnarliest mall traffic imaginable, and make our way through the raggedy leftovers of Toys R Us, Target, Walmart, Odd Lots, the whole madcap tour.
There was the Christmas we managed a single folding bar stool for one brother, a canned ham for another. And Dad was always due for an “executive” fart machine or similar desktop device programmed with machine guns, bombs, sirens — to allegedly relieve work stress. While Mom may have enjoyed the ritual candy each Christmas, or maybe not.
It’s the thought that counts, right? That is, until you get older, and hopefully wiser, and tend to think things through a bit before slapping down your hard-earned cash on something for your kids or wife or coworkers. Or yourself.
Well: don’t know about you, but: nothing sucks the impulse out of my buying like the cold bite of buyer’s remorse. Whether it’s haggling over a car and ending up with a 7-year wrap warranty, or bringing home the exact model of fridge as the one that broke down three years into its short life, since that’s still the model that fits snug between the cabinets.
We all compromise, sometimes. But nothing gets my consumer rage going like the crap I see advertised on Facebook, or passed off as something they’re not on Amazon. Deals too good to be true, junk given a blinding marketing sheen, and everybody’s brother and mother and wife liking the hell out of it and tagging their supposed loved ones.
Meanwhile, the Christmas clock is ticking and the uninformed are about to click their way to a bit of misery, a helping of remorse. Since it’s the thought that counts, let’s stop, let’s think about it. Let’s make it count.
Let’s take a look at the cheapo, scam-bait junk passing off as legit watches, thumping into your field of vision with every Facebook ad and website banner, and help you steer clear.
Too Good to be True? Uh, Reread & Remember That
One of my more Dad-like behaviors (aside from, maybe, referring to myself as “dad-like,” when I’ve fit the moniker for merely 12 years) is my fanatical research of a thing before I deign to purchase it. The diligent digging, the persistent-poring over, the “getting smart” about a particular item only enhances its value to me before I hand over cash.
Because we live in a world only too eager to take our money. To play on our impressions of a status item, or something that promises to change your life in a small or large way, and train a shrink-ray ZAP on your senses before depleting your bank account. Whether it’s jewelry, or a bag, or a coat, or a car — a house, even — the top of the consumer mountain may be crowned by overpriced, unattainable luxury, but the village at its base is dirty and crowded with countless cheap imitations giving off the gloss of something finer, when underneath is deception and stink.
What kills me about most of these products is that there is usually a reasonable, quality alternative at every rung of the luxury ladder if people only took the time to research before purchasing. In the world of watches, in particular, a well-worn map exists to guide you past the carnival barkers to places offering something elusive in the hub bub: reliability, quality, longevity.
At the beginning of the year I started steeping myself in everything watches. The better to understand the options for reliability, quality, longevity, so I could assemble my own list of brands and models I could admire not just following my own impulses, but properly educated by a trusted, like-minded community. It’s meant assurance I can make purchases small and large with a thorough knowledge of the terrain. I can walk into a watch shop and educate the staff with what I know, instead of being taken for a bumpy, incompetent ride.
So it’s infuriating when I run into advertisements on Facebook, or listings on Amazon, or just the shimmering gall of slickly-marketed websites for watch brands — usually self-styled upstarts — that advertise luxury, that sell you on status, when they’re as empty as their copied designs and Cracker Jack box movements. From the comment feed, and the review stars, you can see people parted from their hard-earned money. When all the knowledge is out there to scoop up, if only people knew where to look, or took an extra second to do so.
So what are the ugly, the bad, and the (merely) dubious watches I run into every day? I’ll categorize a few below, and share sources to info that helps sort the wheat from the chaff. Ultimately, personal taste is going to win out when you choose a watch for you or someone on your shopping list. My advice? Go with brands — and sellers — that have stood the test of time. A few sites to help you broaden your knowledge:
- A Blog To Watch
- WatchUSeek Forums
- Reddit’s R/Watches — they’ve even compiled a buying guide and a brand guide
- For something more visual, check out Esquire’s 2018 Brand Guide — and note that while fashion brands that get upturned noses from watch snobs are still represented, they’ve carefully pruned popular imitators like Invicta, Daniel Wellington, Sturhling, etc. from their list: you should, too
These are some of the sources I quote from below in debunking the junk that hits us in the face daily. Don’t get your crown screwed: do some searching. And in the realm of watches, at least, buy with confidence.
The Ugly: Avoid these Turkeys or Risk Getting Gobbled
On the scale of dubious to bad to ugly, you can’t really call what these brands offer watches. Because they’d have to reliably tell the time. And that is not what these products are about.
No, these items are about screwing you, and screwing you good. Playing to your desire to have something for free. Or have something that looks like something else, for pennies on the dollar.
Guess what? You get what you pay for.
Probably the best dissertation of what’s going on in the Ugly category has to do with the smoke-and-mirrors deployed by the likes of the Folsom Watch Co. and those pressed from the same cheap mold (Ottica, SofiCoastal, etc.). They blanket Instagram and Facebook with advertisements for free watches (just pay shipping and handling!) and all sorts of beautiful people posting pictures wearing them. What you end up with are mass-produced movements and garbage materials, destined to return to the garbage but leaving a residual residue of shame.
As for Folsom? They aren’t on Facebook anymore. But their website still exists. They’ve branched out into bags and leggings and other accessories, advertising their San Francisco PO Box and identifying themselves with the area’s “web gurus, urban warriors, (and) offbeat artists” while supposedly working at “redefining traditional boundaries.” The Better Business Bureau has a take on that. They identify Folsom by name and conclude: beware.
Another rotten apple on the ugly tree is Tevise. I was stunned when I came across this turd floating in the cesspool of imitation watches. It apes the ever-emulated Rolex Submariner dive watch, but it’s so blatant in its failings I couldn’t believe folks out there even throw down $20 for it, let alone find it on Amazon as an Amazon’s Choice. (!!!)
Right on its face the Tevise is blatantly lying to you. “Perlative Ceronometer,” it says, about where you’d expect to see Superlative Chronometer indicated on a Rolex, or any other watch subjected to the rigorous quality tests of the Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres, ensuring accuracy in an automatic watch within seconds per day. Reddit users had fun with this, but I find it appalling. It’s so blatant a ripoff, and that line of text to me is a curse — taking up space and delivering… nothing.
Above the perlative ceronometer legend is this one: 100 ft = 30m. Again, for anyone with a minimum knowledge of watches, seeing this sequence on a dive watch of all things just lets you know Tevise is only good for gaping at like the joke it is. On an Oris diver, or Tudor, or Rolex, etc., you’d see something more akin to 100 M = 330 ft. Probably the minimum at which you’d want to take a watch swimming. For diving, you’re looking at more like 200 or 300 meters/660 or 990/1000 feet. See what Tevise did there? Nothing but a carnival trick, the old switcheroo.
For all the fuzzy, aspirational qualities attached to watches, if a watch company doesn’t take you seriously, how can you be taken seriously when wearing their watch?
The Bad: Negative Associations Ensure a Drag of a Time
In the Bad category, I’m flagging two species of brands too slick to get my pick: the mass-produced, minimalist watches that tack on a (manufactured?) story to push you over the threshold, and the arbitrarily-priced carnival barkers who get you thinking “deal” before you give a thought to what you’re buying.
Let’s start with a lesson, shall we? This says it better and with the appropriate amount of snark. But in summary, how do you create a successful, minimalist watch brand? Choose an arbitrary name, craft a story around it, create a slick website, advertise yourself as “industry disrupting,” pack in cheap movements into the same, ubiquitous, mass-produced design, and then flood social media with photos. Of the extensive coverage on these brands out there, several have caught them using exotic photos when their address is a PO Box. (Industry disrupting!) Or using pictures of a workbench with watch-makers tools, or even a finely-crafted automatic movement when they’re using cheap, Miyota Quartz in every model. (Affordable luxury!)
These brands are just indistinguishable to me:
- Daniel Wellington (dissected here);
- Filipo Loretti, which shares a story straight out of the “how to create a brand” laugh reel, but whose legendary customer service nightmares are detailed here and here;
- Vincero, which clutters the Amazon landscape, and features yet another dubious story of founders tapping into the same supply chain of junk our by-the-numbers primer warns us against, something the odd marble chunk inserted in their casebacks can’t possibly make up for;
- Tufina, whose website and social media ads broadcast “since 1828,” and claim a family history of watchmaking, but in actuality are a brand squarely focused on sales, with no small slice of deception, as this post illustrates, featuring a Q&A with the brand, which is then disavowed by its movement partner, Elysee — verdict: Tufina advertises in-house movements; they are not.
- And it’s the same whiff of stink carried by Shinola‘s grafting itself to Detroit — something the FTC has slapped it for, and five years ago the New York Times dissected thusly: “Since being founded in 2011, Shinola has co-opted Detroit’s original industrial grit and history—its offices are even in an old GM building—to sell $2,000 bikes and $600 watches to an upscale clientele in places like TriBeCa and Venice, California. The company’s Detroit-ness is about as real as Chipotle’s Mexican-ness. Shinola’s parent company, Bedrock Brands (which also owns Filson), is based in Texas.”
Are the watches worth wearing? Who knows? When a brand is that anxious to pile on false puffery, I don’t know about you, but it screams: NOT MUCH TO SEE HERE.
And then we come to Invicta. Much lambasted by knowing watch-buyers as one of the worst watches being sold, you can love or hate their designs, doesn’t matter much to me, it’s just their blatant price scheming that makes me cross to the other side of the continent and clutch my wallet to my ass defensively.
The internet abounds with stories of crumbling bands and nonexistent customer service (not to mention a completely bunk warranty). But, really, why go to the trouble when their main, consistent strategy is to price a watch arbitrarily high, then sell it for half off. Always, always. There is actually a mall sale right now offering six Invictas for the price of 2. I can’t think of a better example of unreal value.
So what is the real value? One strategy: go to Amazon and find the same model, sometimes for 10-20% of how it’s marked down on the Invicta site. But I tend to agree with my fellow R/Watches redditors: probably closer to $0.
The Dubious: Clones, Disruptors and Half-Off Deals
So, as we come to the gasping close of this screed against the unscrupulous and merely mercenary, we’re down to the dregs: the brands that traffic in one or a few of the checklist of dubious qualities that just say one thing to me, over and over: AVOID AVOID AVOID AVOID AVOID.
You’ve got your Stuhrling “Original”: copied designs and a supposed German heritage. Survey says? It’s Chinese, through and through. PASS.
There’s Linjer, with a familiar story of industry disruption(!), affordable luxury(!) and minimalist design (or more copying), a Norwegian-named Daniel Wellington, and Ronda Chinese quartz movements; going for half off on Black Friday.
And at this point, maybe it’s where I hit overload. Because while Torgoen, Jack Mason and Panzera get some legit press, the designs blandly blend, and the analysis of movements gets minute, and the deals just all seem the same overpriced and discounted blah.
Cue the departure of my analytical binge.
At the end of the day, we want, or should want, products that move us, that stand up, that perform an authentic function. And we should be able to discern what’s dubiously slick or outrageously false from what’s worth our time, our emotion, our investment. If this lengthy article illustrates anything, I hope it’s the wealth of valuable information out there, and opinions that help to guide and affirm our choices. Disagree on a particular brand I’ve labeled ugly, bad or dubious? Sure. You’re welcome to. But when the preponderance of evidence suggests steering clear, buyer beware. Or press on at your peril.