Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The World According to Chinatown

Here's a new toy.

Manufacturer: Bell & Ross
Model: BR 01 Tourbillon Carbon
MSRP: $131,000.

Yes, let me spell it out: One Hundred Thirty One Thousand Dollars.

Except it's not see?

Every year we assist with the University's public field trip to New York (for the purpose of seeing Broadway theatre), and one of the highlights is always Chinatown and its rich black market. Susan has amassed a collection of knock-off bags and faux-brand jewelry over the years, and the best of these knock-offs are remarkably good copies of the originals. At, of course, a tiny fraction of the price.

I've only ever bought the occasional DVD there. For example, I managed to get hold of a DVD of Star Wars Episode III before it even showed in theaters! There's every kind of stuff available, but mostly it's just fun to watch. There are a lot of people selling knock-off Rolexes, and though I know what makes them so special I've just never been into an expensive dial watch.

But this year I thought I might try and find something exotic and fun, and I looked specifically for a Bell & Ross fake. I shortly managed to find this very saucy-looking model, which impressed me as being solid and cool-looking. That was the extent of its magnetism. The guy wanted $100. "$60," I said. He scoffed, talking about how superior this watch was to all the others, blahblahblah. "$80, final offer," he said. I pulled out my money clip to show him that I had only $75. He took it, disgusted with both himself and me.

But when I got it home (after joking to the tour group that they needed to treat me like royalty because I now had a $10,000 watch) I was shocked to see how far up the food chain these forgers had aimed. I mean, the cheek!

And that inevitably led me to wonder: where did this come from? Who troubles themselves to make such a watch? I have no illusion that the mechanism is anything like the original, and it's surely not made of exotic materials as the original is (the case is clearly steel compared to the original's unobtainium). But you can see the movement through glass from both sides, including the self-winding counterweight and the visibly-oscillating action and the little ampersand second hand. If these things do not work properly, someone still went to a lot of trouble to make a close facsimile. I know that Susan's fake Tiffany jewelry actually has "Tiffany & Co." printed on it, so it shouldn't surprise me that all the correct printing is on this watch. But I AM surprised. It says, in tiny lettering, "Swiss made" on the face, and in tiny etching on the watch's back. It has the model name printed on the back, plus all the brand stuff on the band and case. It must weigh half a pound.

(Sorry for the crappy pictures. I'm only good enough to merit a camera phone.)

Where did it come from originally? (It surely wasn't made in someone's basement in Chinatown.) Even if it's nowhere near the piece of jewelry that it pretends to be--one that commands the price of a starter house--it's still much nicer than what I could buy in Appleton for $80. Who can produce this such that the middleman can make a profit at $80? I just don't get it.

We'll see how long it lasts.


Dzesika said...

Unobtanium? Is that like adamantium? But, yes, Chinatown watches ... Scott bought a few when we were in NYC in October and they're still ticking. I've got a friend who's crazy into replica watches and can tell you for hours the tiny subtle differences between a good replica and an average one.

Me, I just sunk $100 into a nice red faux-Hermes-Kelly bag and called it a day. Though if I could have found a decent Cartier Tank replica, I probably would have bit.

And then there's the question of why we even care about such things ... but a question for some other day. :)

dbackdad said...

Nice. If it works OK, I might have to have you get me one the next time you are there. :-)

Fusion said...

Fake or not, it's a nice looking watch...

GreenCanary said...

I once bought a hat and scarf from a homeless person in Manhattan... That's the extent of my knowledge on buying from street vendors.

shrimplate said...

Cindy Blackman is the drummer in the VW commercials.

wunelle said...

I left it at home during a three-day stint in New Orleans, and when I got back it had run out of juice and was stopped. But the little charge and thrust meters were exactly where they had always been. So, revelation No. 1: not everything is functional as it appears to be.

But it still is keeping pretty good time. I noticed when I went to set it that one CAN wind it with the stem; so my next exploration is to see whether the counterweight in the back actually works to wind the watch, or whether it's only cosmetic?

Jeffy said...

Pretty cool, but it lacks the one crucial feature of the genuine article - the ridiculous price. The only reason to own the real thing instead of a working copy is to be able to tell people that you have so much extra cash burning a hole in your wallet that you can throw away over $100K on a watch (although, if the Thrust indicator doesn't mean anything I don't know how it could be called a 'working' copy).

I have one silly question that comes from newer having visited Chinatown. Are there shops where you can go looking for specific kinds of knock-offs (Fake Watches 'R Us maybe??), or do you just find the right guy with a bunch of watches hung inside his coat? I would assume that someone tries at least a little bit to crack down on forgeries, and it wouldn't work well to sell them out of a permanent shop.