By reading this you goin to feel sick, literally.
Well, let me just put an end to any and all doubts about watch prices, watch "rarity", the end of fakes and all of that. Today I visited the watch markets in Guangzhou China and there is no way to properly describe what I saw.
Let me begin by telling you that you cannot count the watches in the dozens, or hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands... not even in the hundreds of thousands... we are talking about MILLIONS of fake watches. I am not joking, MILLIONS of them.
In China for whatever cultural reason I don't know, but in China everything is separated into districts, or markets. There is the spice market, the fabric market, wet and dry food markets, shoe markets and so on, right down to plumbing supplies or lamp fixtures. EVERYTHING is contained in individual zones of the city. Within these zones one will find dozens or sometimes even hundreds of stores and stalls and booths pretty much all selling the exact same stuff. So if you need say a sump pump you go to the plumbing district, then within that large many city block area you find the sump pump zone, then choose from dozens of little stores all selling the same 10 sump pumps. It makes it easy to find the best price because you simply walk 10 feet away to the next guy if the first is not low enough. How they make money at this I truly do not know, but this is how it is.
So today we headed to the watch market. It is not as well known to tourists as most other markets. No one at the hotel knew where it was but we knew it was near the bus station so we headed there. Behind the provincial bus station unfolds a truly unbelievable scene... like nothing I could of imagined.
For several city blocks nothing is for sale other than fake watches and the components that make them. There are hundreds of individual stores and then there are these huge mall like buildings filled with hundreds and hundreds of sellers, each with case after case of fakes. Imagine something like a large convention where every seller has a booth full of his or her goods. These are large indoor areas, say about the size of an American grocery store... lined up neatly forming aisles are row upon row of glass cases, literally overflowing with every fake you have ever seen of heard of or could possibly imagine.
It was overwhelming at first. There I stood in this exhibition hall filled to the brim with people and fake watches and there was absolutely no effort to hide anything. This is NOT an under the table type of place. In fact police stood at the front of many stores just as they would in any legit department store.
So I stared to wonder up and down the aisles... this is a true WHOLE SALE market so there were no pushy attempts to sell me anything. When you approach a counter they will start to point out the "new models" or because I was wearing a Rolex they may show me other Rolex models. One side note is that I had on a genuine Rolex and they all knew within SECONDS that it was genuine. They would say something like "Original" and smile while pointing to my wrist. I plan on going back tomorrow and I will NOT wear that watch, why let them think I have money.
Anyway, they have every single Asian movement watch you can think of. Each seller has on display maybe 500 watches with many more in boxes under the counter; there are hundreds and hundreds of sellers.
We wandered through this mall and were duly impressed with how many watches they had, it was many times what I imagined this place to be. Then we realized that we were in one of many, many such stores... what was an unimaginably large number of watches to me was truly the absolute tip of the iceberg. This would be like looking at a few gold coins not realizing that you are standing next to Fort Knox!
So we continued to explore the streets and the stores and the booths and the malls... some of the watch malls had signs like "Southern Watch Trade Center" or "Northern World Horiliogical Centerâ€ on them, and they would be up to four floors (complete with escalators") of hundreds of thousands of fake watches.
Very soon you realize that it is IMPOSSIBLE to see it all, IMPOSSIBLE to understand what you are seeing. It is INSANE. This must be the epicenter of fake watches for the entire world. This in fact (as I had read) is the supplier of all the fake sellers throughout China, probably the world.
I started to see some watches that I liked, a Franck Muller Crazy Hours with working complication as well as a nice Vegas... asking price? $20, selling price, around $8. The Crazy Hours I bought was a colored one on a green strap for my wife... it has a very nicely printed dial, the complication works perfectly, for under $10 you really cannot beat it. But I wanted the high-end stuff... so I continued. One guy had a Panerai I had never seen before, it was a 40mm model chrono and I was not so interested because it was 40mm but it had a very good THICK crown and the chronos worked and the center seconds had functioned as a stop watch, all as they should... he was asking $30, I did not get into negotiation with him. However I asked him about "Better quality" and he said come back in 10 minutes.
After a while you cannot process how much you are seeing, you will never find your way back to where you just were so you better buy if you see something you like. However we did manage to get back to the Panerai guy in 10 minutes, he said he could not find anything better. I was thinking at this point that everything, as impressive and cheap as it was, would be Asian movement stuff. Not that it is not cool but I am just not too interested in buying that stuff, it is great to see it but I will not wear it. At this point we made it to yet another watch mall and on the second floor found a really nice guy. He pulled out stools for us to sit on and showed us watches. He had some decent Submariners... not the highest quality but really pretty good, very good cases in fact, screws, solid stainless, 120 click bezels, hologram sticker etc. he was ASKING $12 for them. I asked about "Swiss" and he understood and said yes... he wanted $75 for the ETA version. I was ready to negotiate but then he pulled out a piece of paper and showed me the words "custom made" He said it would be ready later that day at 4:00. That was 3 hours away and we did not have time to wait... so then I looked at a catalog and saw all sorts of good Panerais... he said he would get them and left. 30 minutes later he had not returned and so we left.
As we walked through a totally different mall a block away there he was, he tracked us down! He led us back to his shop and sure enough, he had found the Panerais... including some REALLY off beat models like the current Power reserves. Unfortunately they were low-end Asian crap, not like what was pictured in the book... so I politely said no. He asked about the Swiss sub and again I tried to explain that we did not have time. We left.
10 minutes later is yet another mall he shows up again and tells us he can have it ready in 45 minutes, at 2:00 and for $70. I was interested (My friend wants me to get him a sub) but he wanted a deposit of about $12. I was not afraid that he would rip me off, he was very nice and very helpful, but I was afraid it would not be ready at 2:00 as promised so again, I said no and continued shopping.
We turned the corner back on the street and found ANOTHER row of watch stores... this was getting crazy. We went into one and at this point just started cruising through... no more studying each case; you would be there a week. Suddenly something caught my eye, a Panerai with the best crown I have ever seen, perfect thickness and cut. It was a titanium tobacco dial, I think the PAM 36. Here they were, the quality I was looking for. He had perfect Santos, Omegas, and Daytonas, pretty much everything. I asked to see the Panerai and suddenly out from under the counter comes a bag filled with about 100 Unitas based Panerais. Each wrapped in plastic, fresh from the factory. He was looking for a 900 Yuan for most, which is $112. He was not willing to bargain too much, when I offered him 400 Yuan he pulled the watches away and was not interested in talking any longer. I remembered that this is a wholesale market and that the mark up is probably not too high. My wife and I were the ONLY Caucasians we saw all day, thousands of people and us, so this is NOT a big tourist spot where they mark everything up 10X normal price. I eventually got him down to 800 Yuan or $100 and picked up the PAM 36... it is a VERY good fake. This is the watch that typically would run many times this price. I drew a picture of a 196 and he nodded, his friend whipped out another smaller bag and there was the 196... worked well, but I was out of cash. He wanted about $130 for it. I took a business card and wrote down his booth number, I hope to find him tomorrow with some more cash on hand. The watch I did buy also has the nicest strap I have seen that comes with a fake, genuine leather, thick, great clasp... no need to change it at all. It is absolutely as good if not better than a Don's strap.
So after eyeing his other Panerais, and he had them all, the Black Seal, the current 1950, the 196, the Daylights... all of them, we told him we would be back tomorrow. Suddenly my old friend from upstairs has found me AGAIN. Now you have to understand, I am like 2 blocks away from his store in an area with thousands of people... I guess he wondered through every stall looking for the obvious Americans. This is also a sign that we are GROSSLY over paying that he is willing to hunt us down. Still, that said he was now offering to make the Swiss ETA submariner for $60. I told him I would be back tomorrow to buy it and I probably will. $60 is probably twice what he would charge a Chinese person but still about a fifth or sixth of what that watch would cost me back home.
Now, on to the straps and parts and movements and boxes. All around the edges of this market area are smaller stores that sell nothing but fake boxes and bands and straps. More than you could possibly imagine. I did not have my camera nor do I think it would be welcome but I wish I had a way to show you pictures. Image neatly wrapped bundles of Roles SS bands that are stacked 8 feet high. Each wrapped in plastic and bundled together into large grouping, then those groupings bundled together and so on until it is like 3 or four feet wide and about 8 feet tall. They hade these is gold, SS, TT what have you... thousands and thousands and thousands of them. You want a Roles box? An Omega box? A Panerai box? Go to any number of stores with names such as "Guangzhou watch packing company" and you will see thousands of them stacked on racks and sold for $1 or so.
In the basement of some of the watch markets are parts areas. They sell everything from tools to case openers to watch faces to cases to movements. One store had nothing but dozens of different movements, another nothing but empty case after case after case. I saw a large ring full of what must have been 10 thousand submariner bezels. It boggles the mind.
There is no reason to even consider buying from any place other than here if you are ever in Guangzhou... it is a short 2-hour train trip from Hong Kong and about a 20-minute flight for $100. It seriously would be worth it just for this.
I know Clive will be here soon, we will talk via PM and I will give you some details. In all of my searching I only found the good stuff at this one small booth but that building seemed to have higher quality stuff and being out of money I did not bother to look further. I will go back tomorrow, and I have all the contact info of this stall. I think that when I show others my PAM 36 the floodgates will open... my suspicion is that once I get other sources the prices will drop like a rock and these same watches will get into the $75 range.
So there you have it... an UNBELEIVABLE part of the world if you have even a passing fancy for watches... it is truly like nothing you have ever seen. How this has been kept a relative secret I don't know but I will NEVER look at a fake the same way again. This would be like thinking a grain of sand is special, then going to the beach one day and realizing that there is an endless supply. Very cool and worth a special trip.