Who Buys Counterfeit Watches? (2008 Apr)

by Barry A. Liebling

While people who decide to buy high-end, luxury designer watches may have a variety of yearnings – the desire to have the most functional timepiece is probably not at the top of their list. Designer watch brands such as Rolex, Breitling, and Cartier with products that often cost thousands of dollars cannot match the reliability, accuracy, and cutting-edge features of the technology watch brands such as Casio, Suunto, and Seiko whose best timepieces sell for hundreds of dollars.

Where designer brands excel is in their esthetics. Enthusiasts regard them as works of art that are as much jewelry as they are timekeeping instruments. Buyers of designer watches typically want to have the finest looking, most valuable, highest prestige timepieces. They often regard their purchase as a public expression of their taste and a proclamation that they can afford an extravagant possession.

Not unexpectedly the popularity of designer watches has inspired criminals who counterfeit and sell knock offs. There are neighborhoods in New York City where fake designer watches – as well as other luxury imposters such as luggage and clothing – are sold openly. As fast as the police can shut them down, merchants of forged brands reopen in other locations.

More far reaching than neighborhood outlets of phony watches are the traffickers that operate on the internet. Each week I receive hundreds of unwanted e-mails that invite me to buy “replica designer brand watches” that purportedly mimic details of the real watches including “watermarks and serial numbers.”

Of course the counterfeiters are villains who have no justification for their abhorrent behavior. They are stealing the names and distinctive looks of legitimate manufacturers and are dealing fraudulent merchandise. Their moral status is the same as those who counterfeit money.

What sort of person buys a counterfeit designer watch?

In fairness, some purchasers are making an innocent error. Not everyone is familiar with the major designer brands and how much they cost. Some people might purchase a nice looking watch for a couple of hundred dollars without realizing that it is an unauthorized copy of the real thing.

But there are lots of customers who deliberately buy “replica watches” and know they are participating in a fraud. What drives this mischief?

There are some people who buy fakes because they feel resentful toward designer watch manufacturers and want to strike out. They are aware that these watches can have astronomical prices and this offends their “sense of fairness.” These are grumblers who are indignant that “greedy companies” are charging “ridiculous prices” and getting away with it. These pompous purchasers tell themselves that they are striking a blow against avaricious corporations by acquiring a knock off, and they are pleased that they are contributing to diluting the value of the brand.

Of course you can like or dislike watch manufacturers for any number of reasons – some legitimate and some not. If you think that a brand is overpriced your most obvious move is simply to refrain from having anything to do with it. You can take this one step further by telling anyone who will listen why you regard the watches as a rip-off. Ultimately, if others still decide to buy expensive designer watches it is none of your business.

A larger proportion of fake watch buyers harbor no particular hostility to the manufacturer, but they believe they can benefit by possessing a counterfeit.

In some cases the customer is intent on projecting a “prestige image” and wants others to believe that he is the owner of an extravagant timepiece. At some level he believes that those who think he has a genuine designer watch will respect him and treat him better. This is a variant of the “clothes makes a man theme” with a fraudulent twist.

But in judging someone’s merit how much should it count that he does or does not wear a designer watch? Surely it is common knowledge that many of the most successful, most affluent people have no interest in watches as jewelry, do not spend their money this way, yet suffer no lack of prestige. More importantly, the customer who buys a fake watch to boost his status is an imposter. When his trick is discovered the game is up. If he is dishonest about his watch where else will he attempt to fool others?

In other cases the customer makes no attempt to deceive and openly tells his peers that he bought a fake. He may think that owning and showing off a counterfeit is amusing. He may delight in noting that the fake has some of the fine details of the real brand. This consumer has no animosity toward the manufacturer and believes that since he was never going to buy the real thing anyway his acquisition does not cost the manufacturer any lost sales.

But the cheerful purchaser of replicas has not considered the significance of his actions. Even if he bears no ill will, he is participating in a theft of intellectual property. You cannot justify making a tainted purchase by claiming you failed to think it through. And in these circumstances the customer did fail to think. By showing off a replica brand he is proclaiming how much importance he attaches to authenticity – none.

While people who decide to buy counterfeit designer watches may have a variety of yearnings – the desire to be virtuous is not among them.

*** See other entries at AlertMindPublishing.com in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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