How knockoff Apple Watch bands are nearly as good as the real thing

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Spot the difference. On the left is Apple's $450 Link Bracelet for Apple Watch. On the right, a $90 knockoff that gets 4.5 stars on Amazon.
Spot the difference. On the left is Apple's $450 Link Bracelet for Apple Watch. On the right, a $90 knockoff that gets 4.5 stars on Amazon.
Photo: Apple

The internet is awash with knockoff bands for the Apple Watch that are almost as good as the genuine articles.

Knockoff products are traditionally cheap and nasty, but tons of these replica Apple Watch bands are so good, they rival Apple’s own products — at a fraction of the price.

We’ve taken a tour of knockoff band land, and found that there are lots of cheap, inexpensive bands on eBay and Amazon that are high in quality and are getting glowing reviews from customers.

“My black Apple Sport band has started flaking off, while the third-party knock-offs still look brand new,” said Neven Mrgan, a designer for Panic software in Portland, Oregon who bought a less-than-half-price band on Amazon.

The Apple Watch is one of the first smartwatches designed to be endlessly customized with different watch bands. Apple sells quite a few of them with price points ranging from $49 for a basic fluoroelastomer Sport band all the way up to $449 for a stainless steel Link Bracelet. Knockoffs, on the other hand, start at less than $10 and rise to about $90 for a stainless steel link bracelet. In many cases, the replicas are as good as the originals.

Fake goods of all kinds have come a long way. Knockoffs used to be used to be associated with cheap, crappy copies of pricey items. Counterfeit goods are everywhere you look: smartphones, shoes, handbags, even parts for airplanes. And these days, fake goods have dramatically risen in quality. Counterfeit goods is an enormous industry, raking in $600 billion annually, according to World Trademark Review, a market research firm. Fakes represent 7 percent of global trade annually, and generate more than twice the estimated profits of illegal drugs ($321 billion).

In the case of the Apple watch bands, most of the third-party bands aren’t counterfeit. They might look identical to Apple’s bands, but in most cases, they are clearly identified as being made by a third party. They are perhaps better called “unauthorized copies,” rather than fakes.

Bang for the buck

The Sport band Mrgan bought sells for only $17.99 on Amazon. It’s made by a company called MoKo and even comes in colors that Apple doesn’t offer, like purple, orange, gray or the yellow seen in his tweet. MoKo’s bands are rated very highly by hundreds of customers (four-and-half stars out of five). While Apple makes the Sport bands out of fluoroelastomer, the knockoffs are made of silicone rubber, with stainless steel for the clasp.

That’s only just the beginning.

Take a look through eBay. The auction site has hundreds of offerings, such as this Leather Loop knockoff for just $19.43 and the seller, iHot-Store (whatever that is) has 99.9 percent positive feedback.

iHot-Store’s Loop is made of genuine leather and has all the same features as Apple’s, like the adjustable magnetic closure. It also comes in several different colors that aren’t offered by Apple, such as red and blue. Apple’s real Leather Loop band costs a hefty $149 and offers fewer color options. Of course, Apple’s Leather Loop is guaranteed to be high quality and the company offers sterling customer service and a (frequently) no-questions-asked return policy. It might give you rash, but $20 isn’t a lot of money to gamble with.

Tech pundit Andy Ihnatko also got a a knockoff Leather Loop. Ihnatko’s band cost about $25 on Amazon depending on the color. Ihnatko admits that it’s not as nice as Apple’s, but it’s hard to convince people to spend over $110 more for authenticity that might be only marginally better.

Mockup Milanese Loops

https://twitter.com/Sheerman/status/649917238082936832

Apple sells a very nice Milanese Loop band made of mesh steel for $149 and a stainless steel Link Bracelet for an eye-popping $449. On eBay and Amazon though, there are cheapo Milanese Loops for as little as $12.65 and stainless steel Link Bracelets for as little as $89.99. Just like the other replacement bands, both of these products have excellent customer reviews, come in unique colors and appear to be nearly identical to Apple’s bands.

The price of personalization

What ends up being abundantly clear from knockoff demand is the thirst for customization.

“Before I had different watches, now I have different bands,” said entrepreneur Bryce Shearer, who will soon launch a Kickstarter campaign for Latch, a luxury leather band for Apple Watch that’ll start at $99 for early bird backers. “I think this is huge — dare I say the greatest design element of the watch. I’ve yet to see another smartwatch that carries a design that lends itself to easy, interchangeable bands.”

Apple touts that because Apple Watch bands come in so many different styles and colors, it’s easy to swap out different bands based on how you feel. Yet with prices ranging from $49 to $449, it’s can get very expensive very quickly. It looks like a lot of Apple Watch owners want different colors and styles without breaking the bank to get them.

Instead, they’re seeking out inexpensive alternatives — and with knockoff quality getting better and better, it’s becoming harder to argue against that. Aiming for products that are a little inferior but a lot cheaper, knockoff buyers are getting others to listen to their reasoning now more than ever.

But buyer beware

Of course, buying a knockoff isn’t always smooth sailing. Tech blogger Stephen Chan documented his experience buying a Leather Loop knockoff in extensive detail. The sides of the band started to peel after just a couple days. The glue didn’t hold the leather in place up against the metal connector and the customer service was terrible. He even provides several photos of the band falling apart.

Still, it’s worth mentioning that another customer wrote a negative review for a MoKo bands citing some “quality control issues,” but later updated it saying the manufacturer issued a full refund in response to his review alone.

Knockoff customer service is apparently knock-out.