If you are a frequenter of any of the popular watch forums you most certainly have seen the discussion pop up regarding fakes, homages and replicas and each persons opinion on each. This is a common topic and often a heated one as some people have very strong feelings regarding one term or another. But, sometimes the discussion is muddled by varying definitions of the terms and which is appropriate in which situation. Having been part of these conversations I have my own thoughts on these terms as they apply to our hobby; my opinion is not the final word, obviously, but my own take based on the definitions of the terms.
Let’s start with what I feel is the most misused term when it comes to watches: replica. When this word is most often used it is in reference to a watch that makes its best efforts to look exactly like another watch only made by a different manufacture. The idea is to as closely replicate the real watch, hence the term replica. That does fit in with the definition of the word, at its core:
1. An exact copy or model of something, especially one on a smaller scale.
2. A duplicate of an original artistic work.
So by definition the term fits, however there is another component. These watches are made to be deceptive, owners will frequently pass them off as the real thing, which is the intent of putting “Rolex” on the dial of a watch not made by Rolex. Therefore, the proper term to be used here is in fact counterfeit. (Or, in simpler terms: fake.) Looking at the definition of a counterfeit it is clear it fits the situation:
Adjective: Made in exact imitation of something valuable or important with the intention to deceive or defraud.
Noun: A fraudulent imitation of something else; a forgery.
In reality this term better applies to the watches you might find on Canal Street in New York, or on the various replica watch forums. The watches are made to deceive and defraud and at the end of the day are just not the real thing; they are fakes. So where does that leave the term replica?
If you look at recent releases by a number of brands you will see historic pieces re-released as replica designs. This is the same brand that owns the original watch making a new piece in the same design as the previous. A few examples include Hanhart, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Longines and Sea Gull, who have released replicas of earlier watches that have been out of production for some time. This usage seems much more logical and a better application of the term than for those watches not made by the real manufacture and that are meant to look exactly like they were. So where does that leave the term homage? In a bit of a sticky area, actually.
The term homage is defined as “respect or reverence paid or rendered.” So how in the world does this apply to watches? The answer is quite simple, actually: a homage watch is generally thought to be one that “pays respect” to another watch by using elements of its design or style. This is most easy to see in what could arguably be the watch most often used for such reasons: the Rolex Submariner. There are dozens of brands that have copied at least some of the Rolex Submariner’s elements for their own watches. Everyone from Timex to Seiko to Orient, Sandoz, Citizen, Steinhart and many, many more have made watches that bear their own name, but take some (or many) design cues from the Sub. Naturally this is not reserved strictly for Rolex, but other brands have iconic designs that have been copied as well. And it seems that for the most part if these brands are not trying to claim to be what they are not, made by the original manufacture, most of the watches are left alone and available for purchase. But, there is a sticky area that I mentioned.
Perhaps a questionable one is a better way to put it. In the past few years a number of new “brands” have popped up on the internet that share the same design elements as popular watches yet do not bare the original brand name. So what’s the problem? The area of origin is frequently the issue; it is believed that brands like Alpha and Parnis will roll out of the same factor that makes the counterfeit watches many dislike. Given this belief many scorn these watches as being no better than the counterfeits that have the original brand name. Others, however, feel that as long as they are not attempting to pass them off as counterfeits the watches are fine as is, branded as Parnis, Alpha, or whatever, even sterile with no brand name.
Beyond these more straight close to 1-to-1 homages there is the category of homage watches produced from watches that are no longer in production. Watches like the Omega Seamaster 300 of the 60s, the Nav B-Uhr watches of WWII or marine chronometers are examples of styles or watches that are out of production and paid homage to by a number of brands. In these terms the homage watch may be more acceptable to some; these companies are trying to bring forward a watch with elements from one that is not readily obtainable by most people.
On some level the homage watch correlates to a cover song: some make efforts to sound exactly like the original piece whereas others make attempts to use elements of the original mixed in with different stylistic elements. Some may argue about watches being completely different than music, certainly, however the parallels are still there. This area really comes down to a matter of personal beliefs and where you feel comfortable standing on the line. At the end of the day there is no wrong answer here, just the one you are comfortable with.
These terms tend to sometimes bring out the ugly in people, especially when their opinions are very strong one way or the other. The above are how I see the definitions and how they fit into the watch world, yours may obviously vary. Using at least some common definitions can only help our conversations be more productive and engaging so we can help each other learn and enjoy this hobby even more.
by James Enloe