Among the many counterfeit goods sold at Gongbei’s Underground Market, luxury watches are among the best-sellers. To show you an example of the quality of the counterfeit manufacture sold in there, I’ve chosen a Vacheron Constantin, a Swiss brand of fine watches with a reputation for high-quality craftsmanship.
Despite being a manufacturer since 1755, and having their watches considered masterpieces of precision, detail and distinction, it seems nothing is an obstacle for many Chinese manufacturers, who have no problem flooding the market with replicas of the chronographs from this Swiss brand.
At the Chinese city of Zhuhai, Gongbei Underground shelters dozens of shops and stalls devoted to selling this kind of high-end watches exclusively, and the chronograph from Vacheron Constantin are no exception. These shops have differences in quality for the same model, and you’ll see briefcases labeled “AAA” or “A++”, as a sales trick, to seem more appealing to the fools around. Sometimes there’s police walking around, so they keep on display unbranded, legal watches, so if anybody is interested in a copycat watch from a particular luxury brand, they’ll pull out the briefcase or open the drawer where they are kept from suspicious eyes.
It is worth mentioning the detail that the sellers call them ‘replicas’, always avoiding words like fake, knock-off, counterfeit or copy, which also makes the products seem closer to an original. They’ll tell you hundreds of (pretty convincing) histories about how a true Vacheron ended in a shop like theirs, so make no mistake: they all are fakes.
Here’s the knock-off as found at Gongbei Underground:
This copycat above is, in fact, a mix of two original models: the obverse is from the Historiques Collection, and the reverse from the Overseas Collection. The manufacturer tried to make some sort of innovation mixing these two.
Here an original Ultra-fine 1955:
And here’s the reverse of a chronograph from the Overseas Collection:
Although at naked eye the quality of the counterfeit seems undeniable, a closer look will show a weak metallic coating, bad finishing and other imperfections; the strap is awful, a crude leather imitation. And for a price of 20 kuài (about 2 Euros) after heavy bargaining (the seller started at 400 kuài). Not me, a friend got it…