Swiss Fake

Swiss fakes are cheap, inexpensive Swiss-made watches that are imitations of medium-to-high grade American watches, or are marked to be something that they are not; in both instances they were intended to deceive the buyers.

What is a Swiss Fake?

Swiss fake is a term used to describe inexpensive, Swiss-made watches made to resemble medium-to-high grade American watches; or originally, a widely sold American watch. They are marked with names similar to those of American watches, or with names that sound as though they should be an American watch. Or, they are watches bearing markings that are deceptive or just plain untrue. In this, they are distinctly different from an inexpensive import which is honestly marked and which may be a private label watch. The factors listed below, in the "How Can One Distinguish a Swiss Fake?" section are not infallible. It is the sum of the appearance that leads to a judgement that a particular movement is a fake as opposed to it simply being an inexpensive import or even a higher grade watch. The more a person compares suspected fakes against "honest" inexpensive imports or domestic movements, the easier it becomes.

An 1888 Discussion of Such Watches

The following is excerpted from:
Appendix to the Twenty-Second Volume of the Journals of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada (Volume 22, Issue 3) - From the 23rd February, 1888, to the 22nd May, 1888 (Both Days Inclusive)
Appendix (No. 3)
Entire work available online courtesy Google Books
Contributed by Lorne Wasylishen

(Excerpt - page 323)

Section III - Manufacturers
House of Commons, Ottawa, 9th March, 1888
Pursuant to adjournment of the morning sitting the Committee on Alleged Trade Combinations met at 7 o'clock this evening, Mr. Wallace, M.P., in the chair.

Charles Stark, sworn.
By the Chairman:
Q. What is your place of residence? A. My residence is in Toronto, and my occupation that of a wholesale and retail jeweler, and manufacturer of gold and silver watch cases.

(Excerpt - page 332)
John H. Jones, Montreal, wholesale jeweler, being sworn, deposed as follows:
By the Chairman:
Q. How long have you been in your present business? A. I have been engaged in the watch business in Canada for nearly thirty years.

(Excerpt - pages 335-336)
By Mr. McKay:

Q. You say there were imitation and bogus movements brought in? A (Mr. Jones). Yes.
Q. Did they put on the names of American movements? A. You see on Mr. Stark's watch the name "Providence." It is a Swiss movement of the value of $1.50 to lay them down in Canada.
Mr. Stark. - I will take 5,000.
Mr. Jones. - That movement is stamped "Providence," and is a bogus movement.
Mr. Stark. - It is called Swiss-American. There is not factory known by the name of Providence, and what is more, no movement can pass the customs of the United States or Canada that is bogus. I say that I have not seen genuine brands imitated, and I have sold scores of movements.
Q. Did they put a name, say Elgin, or Bartlett, of Ellery: A. They do it sometimes by changing a letter. For instance I have see hundreds of movements that would be taken for Bartlett, marked Barzlett - a Swiss movement.
By the Chairman:
Q. A bogus movement is one that purports to have the name of some known movement on it? A. It is an imitation. Instead of Bartlett it was simply put Barzlett.
Q. How do you call this "Providence" a bogus movement? A. There is no such place as Providence in Switzerland.
Q. There is no such place as Ellery? A. There is the name of a person as well as a place used.
Q. Is it the imitation of an American movement? A. It is done to deceive. The public honestly buy that, believing it to be an American watch, which is it not.
Q. Are there any watches made in Providence? A. No; not in the watch trade, neither in movements nor cases.
Q. How do you make that out a bogus one? A. I say it is done for the purposes of fraud. The name put on the movement is "Providence," and it is attempted to foist that upon the public as an American watch. It has the name of an American city upon it, from which the public would believe it was an American watch. We have a great number of these sort of things. Not only such names as "Providence," but "Boston" and "Chicago." They have these names put on to lead people to believe that these are American goods. They have quite a variety of names on these fraudulent movements, because they are imported to deceive the public.

How Can One Distinguish a Swiss Fake?

Swiss fake movements have a number of characteristics that aid in establishing their nature. Only a few of these are definitive (shown below in brown italics), but when a number of the others are present, they serve to identify a movement as a fake.

  • There is a distinctive lettering style that, once recognized, prompts one to look for other characteristics.
  • There is a lack of a fine finish on exposed parts, such as the winding wheels and regulator (which may be gilded).
  • This indication requires the comparison of multiple examples of the same or similar named movement: They are stamped with the same serial number. As examples, take a look at thee movements: Corona Special, Engineers' Special and Frisco Special.
  • Some of the movement markings may have been obliterated by the regulator, its scale or by jewel settings and/or their screws.
  • One or more of the jewel setting screws is covered by the regulator or its scale (such as seen on this Marvin 'RR Special').
  • The placement of an additional plate above the usual top plate of a full plate watch (as seen in this Union Pacific example, courtesy of Cactus50). A tip-off of this is that there is a cutout for the balance, or it may have cutouts to display jewels (real or imitation) set into the real top plate. This is not to be confused with the recessed balance of a number of American or Swiss watches in which the top plate is milled out to form the recess. Also, there is a late 1950s or 1960s Swiss-built, 16-size, 25-jewel, Waltham movement that has this "feature." It is debatable whether or not it should be referred to as a Swiss fake.
  • The top center jewel, or top plate jewels, may not be jewels at all; being red, celluloid disks instead.
  • Top plate jewels have imitation, screw-down settings which are just circles engraved or stamped into the top plate around the jewel. Sometimes, the screw heads don't actually intersect with the circles, emphasizing the fact that they're there just for show.
  • Many “Swiss Fakes” made to resemble 16-size, American railroad standard watches have "21 Jewels" on the dial, in an arc over the seconds bit. This is in a distinctive (red) lettering style. Some of these watches may not be actually fitted with 21 functional jewels. These watches were imported from the last quarter of the nineteenth century through the end of the American pocket watch era in the 1960’s. But, a red "21 Jewels" dial marking was sometimes legitimately used by Illinois and perhaps others.
  • Very, very few American watches (almost all plainly marked "New Era," "Columbus," or "Illinois") have a locomotive on the dial or movement, and when they do, the locomotive will be of American design, not European.
  • The movements are marked "Highly Jeweled" or "Highly Adjusted": These terms have no recognized meaning and are not used on medium or high grade watches.
  • They are marked to have 1, 2 or 3 adjustments (see below), although these markings were legitimately used on some Swiss watches of well-known makes or private labels.
  • Movements marked "Adjusted" that have imitation expansion balances or uncut balances are fakes. The imitation expansion balances can be identified by the "cuts" in the balance rim not going all the way through the rim, see below.

Jon Hanson said:
Most common Swiss FAKES are 18s key wind and stem wind watches made in huge quantities. The above statement that 16s are the most common is incorrect. Most common Swiss FAKES are 18s key wind and stem wind watches made in huge quantities. Some resemble early key wind watches, while others are FAKE 21 jeweled movements resembling railroad watches. Early key winds many times have signed names similar to American watch company names and grades but usually are mis-spelled or entirely made up. The finish, gilding (if gilt) and/or nickel plating (or damaskeening) is far from correct, steel work or lack thereof, dial quality, and measurements of components is far from correct. Balances also are FAKE and not comensated one piece junk. Dial feet count is usually incorrect. The finish and quality of hands are poor.

Swiss Fakes Were A Problem 140 Years Ago

Swiss fakes go back more than 140 years, as evidenced by this 1869 newspaper ad posted by Jerry Treiman. More recently, just over a hundred years ago a 1908 article described one such watch. Also in 1908, C.D. Rood, president of the Hamilton Watch Co. testified before congress during tariff hearings. The text of his testimony is available online thanks to Robert Sweet.

They're Not To Be Trusted!

Swiss fakes are not medium quality Swiss watches bearing private labels for the North American market. The markings on “Swiss Fakes” as to adjustment are not to be trusted. Watch Adjustment to temperature and/or positions, prior to the 1930s, required a bimetallic, temperature compensated balance. Thus, any watch built before then and marked to be "Adjusted" needs to have such a balance to actually be adjusted. The deception occasionally goes as far as simulating a temperature compensated balance. On a true compensated balance, the rim of the balance (wheel) has two cuts, all the way through the rim, one near each of the two arms that support the rim. Sometimes, these cuts are faked by the use of a slot that goes half way through the rim, as seen on this Marvin watch, posted by tlalders on 8-Jan-10. The imitation balance rim cuts on an "Adjusted" marked watch justify referring to it as a fake as opposed to it merely being an inexpensive watch. Most “Swiss Fakes” don’t bother doing this and the balances don’t have any cuts at all. These are not to be confused with post-1930 quality watches whose anti-magnetic, temperature immune balances are not cut. A real temperature compensated balance has the inside of the rim made of a different color material than the outside of the rim. A faked compensated balance may be made entirely of the same material. No American watches come to mind whose numerical adjustment markings (as opposed to just being marked "Adjusted") are to less than 3 positions, or 5 adjustments (heat, cold and 3 positions). Markings on “Swiss Fakes” may be 1, 2 or 3 adjustments.

Examples of Swiss Fakes

A list of examples of Swiss Fakes follows below. It is doubtful that the list will ever be complete, but hopefully interested parties will contribute pictures of their examples, either alphbetically in the list, or by posting them using the Discussion tab at the top of the page.

"20th Century Special", Movement and Dial contributed by Jon Cross.

"Aberdeen", Movement and Dial contributed by Mundie.
"American Canadian Watch Co."
"Anglo American M'fg. Co."
"Approved", Hunting Movement and Dial contributed by JoyF.
"AT&SF Train Dispatcher", Movement and Dial contributed by survival.

"Bradford Watch Co." 15-jewel (?), Movement and Dial contributed by ghtaggart.

"Capitol" 21-jewel, Movement and Dial contributed by John Arrowood ('N' in Buren lacks a crossbar in these fakes) - this example is missing fake center jewel cap.
"Chicago Watch Co." 15-jewel, Movement and Unsigned Dial contributed by Michael Kasper
"Congress Watch" - Similar Mvt to Delaware (below), courtesy of Jerry Treiman.
"Cook County Watch Co."
"Corona Special", Movement and Dial - Similar Mvt w/ same S/N as Engineers' Special and Frisco Special (below), contributed by wittsendinc.

"D. Hanlon W.Co." contributed by citylist.
"Dayton Watch Co"KW/KS, Movement and Dial contributed by Dano4734.
"Delaware" Movement and Unsigned Dial - Similar Mvt to Congress Watch (above) contributed by vintageguy.

"Engineers' Special" Dial and Movement - Similar Mvt w/ same S/N as Corona Special (above) and Frisco Special (below), contributed by big4jim.
"The Ethan Allen Watch"
"Eureka Watch Co. - Montreal" which mimics a Waltham model 57, contributed by Waleczek - see detail of trade mark

"F. Willard" Dial and Movement, contributed by Jim Bennett.
"Fearless" Serial Number 56379, courtesy of pocketsrforwatches - Roger
"Frisco Special" Dial and Movement - Similar Mvt w/ same S/N as Corona Special and Engineers' Special (above), contributed by jt_hiatt.

"G.M. Weeler - Chicago, Ills" missing ita balance, contributed by Dave Coatsworth
"G.M. Wheeler - Elgin, Ill" by Dave Coatsworth
"Grand Trunk Pacific Special" Dial and Movement, contributed by GOT
"Great Eastern Watch Co." Dial and Movement, contributed by Omexa.

"H.W.C." 7-jewel example
"H.W.C." 17-jewel, Hunting Movement serial number 785630 and Dial, contributed by Phil
"H.W.C." 17-jewel, Open-Face Movement serial number 172654 and Dial contributed by Cajonkev
"H.W.C." 21-jewel, Open-Face Movement having the same serial number 172654 and Dial contributed by Gordian
"H.W.C." 21-jewel, a different Open-Face Movement having the same serial number as Phil's 17-Jewel movement (above), 785630, and Dial contributed by guun
"H.W.C. Special" 21-jewel, hunting Movement and Dial contributed by MFRC1956
"H.W.C. Special" 21-jewel hunting (a different movement), Movement and Dial (marked "Adjusted") contributed by bkerr
"H.W.C. Specially Adjusted" 23-jewel, hunting Movement and Dial contributed by Mary Ann
"H. Milton W.C." 18-size, 21-jewel open-face, Movement and Dial (marked "21 Jewels") contributed by DMack98
"Hanover" 16-size: Open-face and Hunting.
"Hanover Special" 18-size Hunting.
"Howland" 23-jewel contributed by Tom.
"Howland" 21-jewel, Movement and Dial contributed by Samie Smith.

"I. G. American Watch" contributed by pmwas.
"Illinois Central" 21-jewel, Movement and Dial contributed by ichogger (Chuck)
"Illinois Central," a different example; 21-jewel, Movement and Dial contributed by Seismicpocketwatcher
"Imperial Watch Co." contributed by wzroberts83

"Locomotive Special" 21-jewel, Movement and Dial contributed by orlimarko

"M.J. Tobias"
"M.J. Tobias" verge fusee.
"Manhattan," Movement and Dial contributed by richiec
"Manhattan Watch Co." contributed by Mikie T
"Marvin Watch Co." Dial and nickel open-face Movement, contributed by joetime. Note that the serial number is partially hidden by the regulator, but 148 are the first three digits.
"Marvin Watch Co." "M.W.Co. - New York" Dial and nickel hunting Movement, contributed by Terry C. Note that the S/N, 148972, is the same as on the two "Marvin Watch Co. R.R. Special" movements linked to below.
"Marvin Watch Co. R.R. Special" Dial and nickel open-face Movement, contributed by tlalders; same Dial and gilt open-face Movement, contributed by poueb40. Note: The 2 mvts have the same S/N, 148972 (the gilt movement's leading digit '1' has been obliterated by one of the jewel settings).
"Massasoit Watch Company Boston, Mass"
"Meridian Watch Co." Movement and Dial contributed by testguy
"Metropolitan Watch Co., New York"
"M.K.T. Train Dispatcher"

"New England Watch Co." (unsigned dial) posted by PostalWatchGuy.
"New England Watch Co." having different plates and an Unsigned Dial posted by canmandu.
"New Haven Watch Co." Dial, Movement-1 and Movement-2, contributed by Rookie70e.
"New London Watch Co." (dial marked the same) posted by secondshort. Lacking markings of adjustment, this example is more honest than most.
"New London Watch Co." Dial and Movement posted by rusty_apachie, although marked somewhat differently, has similar-looking plates. Note that on both New London movements, one of the screws for the 'jewel setting' nearest the regulator scale doesn't actually touch the 'jewel setting'.
"N.H. Watch Co." 17-jewel, contributed by vintageguy and,
"N.H. Watch Co." 19-jewel, having the same serial number, but a different barrel bridge shape, contributed by PostalWatchGuy.
"North Shore" Dial and Movement, contributed by GeneralFantastic.
"North Shore Limited" Dial and Movement, contributed by RyanM.
"Northern Special" Dial and Movement, contributed by Beauregard.

"Ohio Watch Co." S/N 952406, 18-Size, KW/KS Dial and Movement, contributed by Dave Bisbee.
"Ontario Watch Co." This may be more of a private label watch than a 'Swiss Fake'

"P.J. Barzlet - Waldham, Mass" contributed by Dave Coatsworth
"P.S. Bartlet - Waldham, Mass"
"P.S. Bartlett - New York" contributed by Dave Coatsworth
"Perrett Watch Company" Dial and Movement, contributed by Logan Joo.
"Providence Watch Co." Dial and Movement, contributed by sloppystack - Will Price.

"Quality Time" Dial and Movement (which has a few issues), contributed by 8bit gamer.

"R.R. Special" Dial and HC Movement, contributed by Kim G.
"R.R. Watch Co." Dial and Movement, contributed by BravoDelta.
"Railway Time Keeper" Dial and Open-Face Movement, S/N 785630, contributed by sixtiescycles.
"Railway Time Keeper" Dial and Hunting Movement, S/N 785630, contributed by Vintiques.
"Reliable Time Keeper" Dial and Movement, contributed by dcbrown.
"Rockville Watch Co." S/N 952406, 18-Size, KW/KS Dial and Movement, contributed by Christopher Burris.

"Shawmut Watch Co." Boston Keywind Movement and under-the-dial image contributed by Statler Gilfillen
"Shawmut Watch Co." Boston Keywind Movement S/N 13639 and Dial contributed by fijidad
"Shawmut Watch Co." Boston Similar 10-size Keywind Movement and dial contributed by luvsthetick
"Shawmut Watch Co." Boston 18-size Keywind Movement and dial contributed by luvsthetick
"Springfield" Dial and Movement contributed by kh125mick
"Superior" Dial and Movement contributed by Waleczek

"Union Pacific" movement, courtesy of Cactus50
"Union Watch Co." movement.
"Union Watch Co.", Movement, Dial and Case contributed by Mike Fell.
"Union National Watch Co." U.N.W.Co. Dial and 18-size Hunting Movement contributed by Robert Gary.
"Universal Watch Co." Unsigned Dial and Keywind Movement contributed by sugarsnout.

"VWC" 21-jewel, Dial and Movement contributed by canmandu, whose top plate "jewels" are mounted on an additional plate on top of the real top plate

"Washington. St. Watch Co., Chicago, Ill." Dial and Movement, 18-size, courtesy of dharam
"Western Pacific" Dial and Unsigned Movement, 16-size, courtesy of Dennis Hubscher
"Western Canada Special" Dial and Movement, 18-size, courtesy of Jonathan Bingham
"Western Special" Dial and Open-Face Movement, 18-size, S/N 172654, courtesy of cathaste
"Western Special" Dial and Hunting Movement, 18-size, S/N 172654, courtesy of Vintiques
"W. Ellery - Boston" unfortunately missing its balance & balance cock, contributed by djlucarell
"William Ellery - Boston, Mass" having no serial number, contributed by Dave Coatsworth

"Y.W.C." 21-jewel movement, contributed by ericsb210. It is very similar to the 21-jewel "H.W.C." movement contributed by Gordian (above)

Are Swiss Fakes Collectable?

Whether or not Swiss fakes are collectable is up to the individual. In recent years, they have come to appeal to some collectors. They have a charm all their own and those examples in good running condition, those that have been serviced properly, keep reasonable time - nothing spectacular - but within a couple of minutes a day or better.


Back issues of the NAWCC Bulletin and the Watch & Clock Bulletin are available online to NAWCC members who are currently logged in

"Swiss Imatations of Early American Watches," Wesley R. Hauptman, NAWCC Bulletin No. 87, August 1960, pp. 270-276.

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