It’s an ordinary Saturday night in the Balinese tourist hotspot of Kuta. The streets are swarming with people. Money-belted tourists wander from shop to shop, snapping up souvenirs as they go. Soon they’ll be on their planes back home.
One shop in particular catches their eye. The inside is packed with buyers. More spill out onto the pavement. The tourists’ eyes light up at the prospect of more goods to buy. Hundreds of watches, each more dazzling than the last, are tastefully displayed on luxurious shelves. Staff are polite, attentive, welcoming. They even bring you a glass of water. Welcome to Bagus Watch and its well-oiled sales machine. The atmosphere is almost cosy, not that different from the boutiques on Rue du Rhône in Geneva, or Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich.
All the prestigious brands, from Audemars Piguet to Zenith, are lined up on the shelves. The only drawback, and not the least, is that every last one is a fake. Not that the store pretends otherwise. It openly boasts “the ultimate range of replica watches in Asia.” Nor do the tourists care. All they want is a watch to show off with. To buy into the dream even when it’s only illusion. Ursula is in her fifties. She’s fallen for not one but four Rolex. Her favourite is the Daytona, which is out of the bag and on her wrist even before she’s left the shop. The others are gifts for the family back home in California. She just about manages a smile – her skin is stretched to the limit by cosmetic surgery – but is clearly overjoyed. “I paid 1.6 million Indonesian rupiahs [IDR] for the lot. That’s $160, a bargain. And the amazing thing is, you would swear they were the genuine article!”
And that’s the sting in the tail. These braggadocchio’s watches bear an uncanny, unsettling, discomfiting resemblance to the originals. Some (the majority, unfortunately) only reveal themselves to be fakes on close inspection. Everywhere you look there are self-winding movements, quality finishes, transparent case backs and robust leather straps. Bagus even goes as far as to supply a rip-off presentation box for your fake IWC or Cartier… whose Ballon Bleu is impressively imitated. All the latest models unveiled at Baselworld and the SIHH 2008 have their doppelganger in this giant watch souk. And if the watch you’d set your heart on isn’t available, just place an order and in less than a week it’s yours. Fortunately, other models are nothing more than coarse imitations. An insult to beauty that will one day be held up in contempt. We hope.
Every luxury on display
A couple from Zurich have made their choice: Panerai for him, Vacheron Constantin for her. Neither know they will be running a risk on re-entering Switzerland. Not much of a risk, if all were told (confiscation of the fakes by border officials). When it comes to communications, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH) has its work cut out. Informed about the new law, they hesitate. He puts his watch back, then picks it up again, then puts it back. After whispering for a few moments, their decision is made… and they head off to pay for their purchases: IDR 490,000 (around $52) for the Vacheron Constantin, IDR 350,000 (around $38) for Panerai. A dissuasive law, they said?
Véronique fits in perfectly at Bagus. This thirty-something French woman adores fakes so much that even her body doesn’t have many original parts left. She’s fallen for a Bulgari necklace to embellish her gravity-defying chest. Because Bagus doesn’t only sell watches. Every luxury item is stacked on its shelves, from rings and cufflinks to ballpoints, fountain pens and other writing instruments from prestigious maisons. As a last-minute impulse, Véronique picks out a pseudo-Hermès shawl. “It’ll be cold back in France,” she says. Surrounded by all these fakes, it’s not the temperature that’s chilling…
A never-ending task
Where are these watches produced? Who makes them? We ask the staff. The mood changes, their smiles freeze. Someone calls the shop manager, who sports a phoney Dior tie. “And why might you want to know?” he asks. His tone is haughty, cutting, the obsequious sales patter is gone. The discussion turns nasty. Diplomacy goes out the window as insults are traded. To say we are no longer welcome is an understatement. The customers exchange embarrassed looks. The couple from Zurich beat a hasty retreat. So do we.
We walk three hundred metres to another Bagus Watch. Then another. This one is a subsidiary, Euro Watch. The concept is identical; only the colours on the store sign change. Once again, the staff are rushed off their feet, struggling to keep up with the hoards of customers. Tourists are practically snatching watches from each other’s hands. Surprise, surprise, we meet our Zurich couple again, about to add an “Omega” to their collection. If the heart has its reasons, counterfeiting has only one: that it is illegal. The fight against fakes is clearly a Sisyphean task.
Incidentally, bagus is Indonesian for “good” or “nice.” Any resemblance with the English word “bogus” is entirely coincidental…