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Fake Swiss watches swamp Russian market

Sales of counterfeit Swiss watches in Russia have grown rapidly over the past three years Keystone Archive

Swiss watch manufacturers and the Russian authorities have sounded the alarm over the growing trade in counterfeit timepieces.

This content was published on March 13, 2003 - 12:33

Fifteen years ago there were virtually no Swiss watches to be found in Russia, but now increasing numbers of fake Swatches, Omegas, Patek Philippes and Rolexes are being sold across the country.

"It's a very serious problem, which is hard to quantify," said Marc Frisanco an intellectual property expert with Vacheron-Constantin in Geneva.

"Counterfeits strike at the very heart of our brands."

Sales of Swiss watches in Russia totalled SFr112 million ($84.5 million) in the first 11 months of 2002. During the same period there was a marked increase in the number of fakes on offer for between SFr100 and SFr200.

Growing phenomenon

"This phenomenon has grown in the past two to three years," Alexandr Tolstobrov, the director of Swatch Le Prestige in Moscow told swissinfo.

At the same time the number of seizures by police has also grown. Stocks of counterfeit Swiss watches have been discovered in student hostels, as well as in the Moscow city-centre department store, Tsum.

Not only are fake watches becoming more common, they are also improving in quality. Some of the better examples even contain precious metals including gold.

Swatch watches were the first to arrive in Russia 15 years ago, followed by more expensive exclusive brands.

"The arrival of the big brands brought about an improvement in the quality of copies," said Timur Barayev, editor in chief of the magazine, "Moyi Chasy" (My Watch), which gives its readers tips on spotting a fake.

"People who have never seen a real Swiss watch find it difficult to recognise a fake."

Gifts

The rise in counterfeits is not a worry to Oleg Cherbakov of the Swiss Watch shop, which opened near Red Square in October 2000.

"These copies form an additional market. People buy them to give as gifts," Cherbakov told swissinfo.

"They may even bring us more publicity."

But the Russian authorities are not prepared to let the market in fakes grow unchecked. The rise in counterfeit goods and the resulting loss of important tax revenues has prompted the government in Moscow to set up a task force into the problem.

And later this month the joint Russian-Swiss commission, which has commissioned a study into counterfeiting, will also be discussing the issue.

swissinfo, Henri Roth in Moscow

In brief

There has been a huge rise in the number of counterfeit Swiss watches on sale in Russia.

Fake Swiss watches sell for SFr100-200.

The quality of the fakes has improved to the extent that it can be hard to tell the difference between genuine articles and counterfeits.

A joint Swiss-Russian commission is investigating what can be done to stop the growing market in fake watches.

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