You may not be familiar with WeChat, one of China's (and thus one of the world's) largest social media and messaging apps. According to this list, it has 549 million active user accounts and over a billion registered users since launching in 2011. With those kind of numbers, it's no surprise to see a lot of commerce taking place, and watches are definitely part of that mix. The app allows you to search for and randomly add friends, and a while ago I was added by a guy offering cheap watches. His were obviously counterfeits, and he wasn't trying to sell them as anything otherwise.
Counterfeit goods are just a normal part of life in China. I can walk outside my office and buy a pair of fake Nike's that are so close to the real thing, that if they were in an actual Nike store and not sitting on the back of this dude's car, you literally could not tell the difference in quality. Of course that's not the case with watches. A fake watch is going to be apparent to anyone who knows watches and knows what they are looking for, so sellers don't really try to pitch fakes as anything other than what they are; cheap watches with expensive names on them.
It is possible to get a very good deal on brand new swiss made watches, particularly Rolex and Panerai (very popular in China & HK) using WeChat. A good friend and watch collector (of authentic watches...) sells women's beauty items full time on WeChat, and quite successfully. Before she settled on exclusively selling her current product, she dabbled in luxury items brought to Mainland China from Hong Kong. I recalled a time when she had posted a few new Rolex Watches for sale, so I got in touch with her again last week and she confirmed that indeed they were authentic Rolex watches. She told me that her husband has a friend who is a watch dealer in Hong Kong (she's just across the border in Shenzhen), who brings them across the border to sell individually on WeChat. Pictured below is the Rolex Explorer II on her wrist, and also in the box when she received it. Apparently she still has access to these deals, but she only goes through the hassle for good friends and doesn't profit too much from it herself. She let me know that I could have the same one for $49,000 HKD. Today I stopped in an authorised Rolex shop here in Hong Kong and the current retail price is $60,500 HKD for the same Explorer II. So that's already a pretty great discount, but when you consider that Mainland China has a markup of 15-20% on luxury goods, no wonder people would turn to grey market resources like WeChat to search for deals.
I chatted with her husband briefly last night (on WeChat) and he was quite vague, as would be expected, about his source in HK and how he's able to sell them for so far under retail. He finished by saying that for many of the wealthy in China, Rolex and Panerai are beginning to be too "down to earth" and he is already looking to fill the demand for similar discounts on even higher end brands such as Patek Philippe.