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6th May 2024 EDT FEATURES

How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts

With an overwhelming fake rate of 1 out of 10, here's how our professionals authenticate Chrome Hearts products.


Founded in 1988 by Richard Stark, Leonard Kamhout, and John Bowman, Chrome Hearts has grown into a beloved brand transcending age and gender. Among its extensive range of offerings, its silver accessories have become iconic representations of the brand’s image.

However, with the increasing demand for their jewelry, there has also been a rise in replicas, or frankly said, fakes, flooding the market.

To shed light on this issue, we sat down with our luxury item authenticator, Nakamura-san, to learn more about his professional approach to countering such challenges.

How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts
How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts

One out of Ten Is Fake—the Rising Tide of Counterfeits

To begin, could you provide insights into how the phenomenon of counterfeit Chrome Hearts products began to emerge in the market?

After its introduction to the Japanese market in the ’90s, Chrome Hearts experienced a surge in popularity, notably among celebrities like Takuya Kimura and Kyosuke Himuro.

This heightened demand from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s led to a proliferation of counterfeit production across Asia, highlighting the significant impact of consumer demand on the prevalence of replicas.

Are there replica factories operating in Japan as well?

Yes, indeed. Just as there are instances where replicas are made for personal use, there are also large-scale production operations in factories. While the public often associates counterfeit goods with China, it’s a reality that Japan also grapples with the same issue.

Is this also true for other accessory brands?

Yes, although the prevalence is lower compared to China.

I see. So, in summary, Chrome Hearts gained popularity through celebrity influence, and replica manufacturers capitalized on that.

Exactly, particularly with models like the “Keeper Ring”.

How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts

While that may have been true for the ’90s, is it still the case now, with many fakes still around?

Yes, that’s correct. Around a decade ago, they saw a surge in popularity thanks to figures like G-Dragon and members of Sandaime J SOUL BROTHERS. Nowadays, whether domestically or internationally, they generate buzz when worn by rappers or Korean idols.

Meanwhile, keeper rings have maintained their appeal for approximately three decades without significant changes.

What’s the ratio between “authentic” and “fake” transactions in SNKRDUNK, by the way?

It’s about 1 in every 10 to 15 items that are fake. So, it has the highest rate of counterfeits among our luxury brands category. And it’s not just limited to accessories; for Chrome Hearts, the apparel faces a similar rate of counterfeits.

Beyond its popularity, are there other factors contributing to the abundance of counterfeit Chrome Hearts products? For instance, are their products relatively easy to replicate?

Silver products are actually relatively easy to cast in terms of shape replication. The main challenge lies in quantity production, which can be achieved through factory operations.

So it’s not just SNKRDUNK; the secondary market also grapples with the problem of counterfeit Chrome Hearts products.

Yes, I believe that’s the case.

This also suggests that there’s a possibility they’ve made their way onto flea market apps and vintage stores.

Exactly. There are instances where vintage stores overlook the fact that they’ve accepted fakes, leading them to unknowingly distribute them to consumers. I’ve personally witnessed such cases before.

How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts

So it’s advisable to purchase from trusted websites and stores.

That would certainly reduce such risks.

Are there other brands facing as widespread replication as Chrome Hearts?

I would say Chrome Hearts is still at the top, followed by Louis Vuitton. Within SNKRDUNK, where we handle numerous streetwear products, we encounter a significant number of fakes, particularly with Supreme.

This is especially true for their collaborations, such as Supreme x Tiffany or Supreme x Burberry. In comparison, we’ve observed a similar rate of fakes as with Chrome Hearts.

How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts

Classic Models with Unchanging Designs: Easy Targets for Counterfeits

Let’s discuss the products. The most popular ones include their rings, necklaces, wallet chains, and so on, including the one you mentioned earlier, right?

Yes, the “Keeper Ring”.

How much does it retail for?

Due to recent inflation, it’s priced around 200,000 JPY (~US$1,300) now.

So, does that mean the resale value will be higher?

No, it’s not necessarily something that can’t be purchased at retail. However, due to its high cost, many people opt to buy it used or from secondary markets.

How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts

Here, we have three cross necklace pendants. Are they all part of the same series?

These are all part of the “Cross” series, which is a marquee offering of the brand.

The one in the center looks really beautiful.

It’s crafted with diamonds, making it the most expensive one among the three. At retail, it costs around 800,000 JPY (~US$5,205).

I know this might sound like a basic question, but I’m curious if they are similar to Nike’s premium sneakers, where they fly off the shelves upon release, skyrocketing in rarity and resale value?

Well, while there are parallels, it’s more about the classics. Take the “Keeper Ring”, for example; it’s stamped with “92”, signifying its design origin in 1992. Some pieces may have slight differences between their past and current releases, but essentially, they maintain the original design integrity.

I understand.

For instance, if you look at this chain, it features a slightly rounded edge, unlike the old models, which are known to showcase a more aggressive shape.

How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts

So that means while there are minor changes made, they still stay true to the originals.

Yes, and the fact that their design doesn’t differ much, makes them easier to replicate, as long as they got the shape right.

Among their products, which item is the most frequently replicated?

It’s usually something with the cross motif, followed by the “Dagger”, which resembles the design of a sword. Lastly, there’s the “Baby Fat”, the smallest necklace pendant I’ve shown a while back, which is popular among both males and females.

Are there also fakes for the ones with diamonds?

Yes, there’s a practice known as “After Diamonds”, involving the insertion of low-quality diamonds afterward, which became increasingly common approximately 7–8 years ago.

I see.

Genuine diamonds have pre-drilled holes in the base item from the time of manufacture for embedding the diamonds, but in the case of “After” diamonds, the holes are drilled later, so the way the stones are set, the shape and spacing of the prongs, etc., differ from the real thing.

Even if genuine diamonds are present, their grades may vary, and there are cases where other types of diamonds, such as cubic zirconia, moissanite, or lab-grown diamonds, are used instead. The variety of fakes is quite extensive.

Additionally, are replicas made in Asia only distributed within Asia?

No, they are also distributed in the US and UK.

Where can one find authentic Chrome Hearts in Japan?

You can find several Chrome Hearts retail stores across Japan, making them the best places to look.

Is there any proof of authenticity available?

Previously, for products purchased before March 2022, an invoice was attached to each purchase. However, they have since been replaced by regular receipts.

How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts

So, by examining those documents, you can determine the date of purchase, among other details, right?

Yes. For instance, if a vintage model arrives with a 2020 invoice or receipt, we can determine that it is not authentic.

Are there also counterfeit invoices and receipts?

Yes, indeed. That’s why we also examine details such as the paper cut, text spacing, font, and other factors.

How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts

Chrome Hearts Receipt

Even if everything is categorized as fakes, I believe there are still many different ways to produce the products. Can you provide more details about that?

As for techniques, there are methods such as lost wax casting, engraving, and silver clay. To mass-produce, molds are taken from the original prototype using what’s called a “rubber mold”.

In the lost wax method, molds are directly taken from a real Chrome Hearts prototype, or less commonly, items are crafted from scratch using a technique called wax carving. Additionally, items produced using 3D printers are also used.

Which method is commonly employed in the production of counterfeit items?

Lost wax casting would be the method commonly used, as it’s efficient for mass production.

Are you referring to cost and skill requirements?

Yes, that’s correct. It’s inexpensive and easy to make. Once the mold is created, it’s simple to mass-produce by just pouring silver into it. So, there’s this image of “mass-produced fakes equal rubber mold-produced fakes.”

I understand. In that case, why do the other methods exist?

Basically, fakes manufactured through engraving or silver clay are rare, with lost wax casting being the predominant method. However, with fake items made by directly molding from a real piece, there’s a drawback where during the casting process, the size may end up smaller compared to the real one, even if the design is perfectly copied.

Nowadays, 3D printing is becoming more prevalent, and it offers the advantage of being able to adjust for shrinkage rate.

How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts

So, alongside traditional methods, 3D printing has emerged as the latest one?

It’s not actually a new method, but it has indeed become commonly used in recent times.

Is it because the cost involved is lower?

No, actually, the initial cost is higher for 3D printers. However, with the use of 3D CAD (Computer-Aided Design), it’s possible to design slightly larger to account for factors like shrinkage during casting, as mentioned earlier. This means that the finished fakes can be produced closer to the real size.

So, does that mean that 3D printed replicas are the most accurate and have been becoming more common lately?

Yes, that’s right.

That being said, SNKRDUNK is still able to authenticate items thanks to its extensive database, correct?

That’s correct. For instance, the shrinkage rate can vary depending on the item or the mold used, and there are characteristics such as porosity and flash that are prone to occur, so we take into account these differences and treatments.

Additionally, details such as cracks, parting lines, and sprue marks that occur during manufacturing are also crucial points to consider, which we always verify during the authentication process.

How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts

Authenticity Assessment Utilizing Tools, Data, and Past Experience

Let’s discuss the authentication process. It seems that you use various tools.

Firstly, we have a caliper, a tool for measuring dimensions like width and thickness. Then, we use a ring gauge for measuring ring sizes. We also utilize a scale to check the weight, and a magnifying glass to check engravings.

Additionally, we have a diamond tester. It indicates an error when applied to non-diamonds and halts for diamond simulants like moissanite.

What are the authentication steps for each product category?

Let’s talk about rings. Firstly, we measure the size, but there’s a key point here. We use the ring gauge and pass it through from both the top and bottom to check the size. The reason is that with fakes, the shape can be distorted, so you might find that it’s size 21 from the top, but size 20 from the bottom.

Additionally, even if it’s genuine, there might be deformation from accidental impacts during use, so we thoroughly check from both sides to discern this.

I see.

Next, we measure the dimensions and weight.

Are there specific model numbers associated with each product?

The authenticators share numerical data of genuine products among themselves. Then, we inspect the overall build, particularly focusing on the engravings.

Do you have any tips for spotting fakes based on their design or engravings? I imagine there’s quite a bit of intuition involved.

Fakes come in many different varieties. Some have engravings that are completely different from the real ones, while others are made quite meticulously. So, if you can’t determine authenticity based on appearance alone, factors like size and weight become important.

Additionally, examining the numbers is also crucial. Even for the same model, there can be variations in engravings based on the year or size. However, discerning these differences requires experience from observing a large number of authentic and fake items.

How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts

Let’s proceed with the necklaces.

Similar to rings, we also measure the size here. The key point is to ensure accurate measurement of the parts for any potential deformation. Additionally, since parts may have been replaced, we also inspect the widths, inner diameters, and engravings of the smaller components.

I understand. That’s because they are not made from a single component like rings.

That’s why there are cases where the main part is authentic, but the accompanying parts are fake.

But why is that the case? Wouldn’t it require more effort to replace the parts?

Well, there are cases where individuals sell items with damaged parts for a low price on platforms like flea markets or online marketplaces. Then, buyers, whether businesses or individuals, purchase them and attach fake parts… That’s one possible scenario.

I see. Are there additional steps in the authentication process for diamond products?

Yes. Even if genuine diamonds are used, there are cases where non-original parts are added. We carefully discern such details as well.

Does that also apply to the wallet chains?

Basically, it’s the same, but for longer chains, we can’t measure them with calipers, so we use a tape measure. Also, there are classifications based on length such as “short,” “long,” and “extra long,” and each has a set number of links, so we also count those.

Are there any methods to distinguish between different qualities of silver?

Yes. Chrome Hearts uses 925 silver, and we measure this using a “specific gravity meter”.

How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts
How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts

An Authenticator with Experience Inspecting Thousands of Real/Fake Items Alone Is Extremely Rare

Could you please tell us about your background again?

I entered this field about 10 years ago when I was still a student. I initially started as a personal buyer, then gradually transitioned to consigning my items to secondary distribution stores for sale.

So, you personally sourced the items from somewhere?

Yes. At that time, purchasing from the US would cost about 30% cheaper, and in Japan, United Arrows provides discount coupons which could add up to about 15% cheaper than other domestic stores. So I usually purchase them off retail.

As for used products, back then, personal transactions facilitated through platforms like Twitter were thriving. Therefore, I would buy from there and sell them for a slightly higher price.

I see. So, because you had seen plenty of genuine items at official stores in the US and Japan, where there were guarantees, you were able to discern authenticity even in personal transactions. Were there counterfeit items mixed in with those sold via Twitter back then?

Yes, there were already a significant number of Chrome Hearts counterfeits back then. To develop my ability to discern authenticity, I meticulously studied items purchased from official stores, and also sought information from consignment stores and acquaintances of buyers.

Additionally, to understand how counterfeit items are made and the differences that exist between genuine and fake items, I visited jewelry workshops where I learned a great deal.

Did you acquire all of that information through personal contacts?

Yes, I obtained information from places that repair Chrome Hearts products, as well as from places that produce products similar to Chrome Hearts.

But what made you consider starting that line of work?

In around 2014, retail prices of Chrome Hearts products had doubled from the original price I purchased mine for. So, I thought it might be a profitable business, and that’s how I got started.

I see. So, you transitioned from personal transactions to consigning items to stores, and then you joined SNKRDUNK. I heard you joined the company three years ago, so for approximately seven years, you’ve been continuously examining real and fake Chrome Hearts items. During that time, were you also appraising other brands?

Yes. In addition to luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Hermès, I’ve also appraised accessory brands such as Goro’s.

I see. On the internet, there’s an abundance of information on how to spot fake Chrome Hearts items. However, is it possible for someone who isn’t an authenticator to quickly distinguish between real and fake items at places like thrift stores?

It’s challenging, and that’s one of the unique aspects of Chrome Hearts products.

How SNKRDUNK Authenticates Chrome Hearts

Is it because there are so many counterfeits in the market, as you mentioned earlier?

That’s right. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a technique where counterfeit items are replicated from genuine ones by using molds. As a result, you end up with items that have the same design as the genuine ones, but are just slightly smaller.

However, for someone who isn’t an authenticator, it’s quite difficult to quickly discern this slight difference in size visually. That’s why it’s important to accurately measure the size and weight.

Among rings, necklaces, and wallet chains, which are the easiest to replicate?

It’s the rings. Unlike necklaces or chains which are composed of multiple parts, rings are made of a single piece, making them by far the easiest to replicate.

Are there any other strengths that SNKRDUNK possesses aside from the use of various equipment and the sharing of data among appraisers?

That would be the sheer volume of real and fake items we’ve examined. Personally, I’ve seen and touched tens of thousands of items over the years. I believe it’s quite rare for an individual authenticator to have checked such a large number of items alone.

So, the key lies in the aggregation and sharing of experiences and data among individual authenticators.

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