How to Spot a Real Panerai Watch
What happens when you combine Italian craftsmanship and design with Swiss watchmaking expertise? The answer: Panerai. The luxury watch manufacturer was first established in Florence, Italy in 1860 as an horological workshop and school. In addition to its Italian origins and aesthetic, Panerai is known for technological innovation, sleek sports models and exemplary technique.
“The quality of craftsmanship and materials, as well as the attention to detail helps Panerai stand out in the luxury watch market,” notes Hilary Hoge, Fine Jewelry & Watch Valuation Manager at The RealReal. “In the mid-20th century, Panerai became the Royal Italian Navy’s official supplier of precision instruments. Panerai is now headquartered in Geneva, and Panerai watches are made in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. It wasn’t until 1993 that the brand was even made available to the public. The attention and popularity Panerai received from celebrities at that time was something of a catalyst for the brand, and for luxury watch demand.”
That heightened interest in Panerai also made the brand a prime target for counterfeiters. Luckily our experts know what to look for. “Even if we’re inspecting a very good fake, we’ll spot at least one or two things that are off,” notes Hoge. “Finding even the smallest mistake can be a meticulous process, but it’s highly rewarding when we root out the replicas.” So how can you tell a fake Panerai watch from a real one? Read on as Hoge breaks down the intricate details of dials, cases and crowns (and where to find the serial number on an authentic Panerai watch).
How to Tell If Your Panerai Is Real
1. Inspect the Dial’s Details
On authentic Panerai watches, like this Luminor, the font and weight of the numbers and lettering should be specific and precise.
When authenticating a Panerai watch, start with the dial. This is how watch experts like Hoge quickly spot red flags that alert them to inauthenticity. “The shape of the numeral markers, the length of the hands and the location of the subdials are all easy tells for a trained eye,” she notes. “The font and weight of the numbers and lettering on authentic Panerai watches is specific and precise. On counterfeits, the numbers may lack uniformity in size and spacing, so the overall look is not as clean. We also always double check the length of the second hand. The second hand should almost touch the outer edge of the dial on most Panerai models, though on some—like the GMT above—the second hand should hit right above the marker. Since counterfeit parts are made in bulk for all types of different brands, the length of the second hand will almost never match the length of an authentic Panerai watch’s second hand.”
On authentic Panerai watches with a subdial complication, like this Radiomir, the 3, 6, 9 and 12 markers should not be painted onto the surface of the dial.
Complications like power reserve indicators and subdials require master artisans’ deft skills to implement. For this reason alone, most counterfeiters avoid recreating Panerai watches that have them. “The simpler the watch looks, the more often it is replicated,” says Hoge. “Complication-less Panerai watches are easier to produce, and therefore Luminor and Radiomir watches without complications are commonly replicated.”
If complications are present, however, make sure to double check their functionality and quality. “When a power reserve indicator is present on a Panerai watch, it should be a functioning complication signalling how much time is remaining in the charge of the watch’s mainspring,” says Hoge. “Counterfeits will often have a non-functional power reserve indicator. The dial seen above is actually called a sandwich dial. On sandwich dials, the 3, 6, 9 and 12 markers are not painted on the surface of the dial, but are instead cut out of the dial to reveal a luminescent layer beneath. On a counterfeit, the numbers may not be stenciled out evenly, so the numbers will have different widths and sizes. Counterfeits often lack luminescence, and if it is included, it is often the wrong color for the model. Fake Panerai watches will also frequently place the subdials too close to the center.”
On authentic Panerai watches with a cyclops date window complication, like this Radiomir, the date should be magnified and the window should be centered precisely.
Authentic Panerai watches with a cyclops date window complication will magnify the date and be centered precisely. “On a counterfeit, the cyclops will typically lack any magnification or the proper proportions,” says Hoge. “Counterfeits will often create a cyclops that is either too large or too small for the date window.”
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2. Pay Careful Attention to the Case & Crown
The case shape on an authentic Panerai watch, like this Luminor, should be “cushion-like” with slightly curved edges.
When trying to figure out how to tell a fake Panerai watch from the real deal, check the case and crown. Panerai watches have a very distinct case, and both size and shape can help you spot the real deal. “The rounded cushion shape of the Panerai case is an iconic design feature,” says Hoge. “The edges should be slightly curved, and the case shape should be neither too boxy nor too round. Dimensions for Panerai Luminor and Radiomir watches range from 40mm to 47mm. Counterfeiters often get the dimensions of the case wrong; when the watch is replicated, the size is frequently off by 1mm to 1.5mm.”
If a Panerai watch includes a locking crown guard, like this Luminor, the proportions should be wide enough to allow you to wind the watch with ease.
Some Panerai watches include a locking crown guard, a feature that dates back to the 1930s. “In the ’30s, Panerai watches housed a manually wound engine typical for military use,” says Hoge. “It had a more predictable service life and was easily maintained in the field, but having to wind the movement every day was causing the crowns to wear out. Threads were stripped, watches were flooded and the lifetime of the watch was limited. So Panerai developed a solution. Instead of screwing the crown down and clamping the seal shut, a lever was added over the top to clamp it in place instead, with the added benefit of protecting the crown from impact. It was essentially made to avoid breaking the watch. A few years after the Luminor name made its first appearance in 1949, we got our first look at a domed crown guard with a locking lever. This was patented as a tight seal device meant to seal the crown for use underwater.”
When authenticating the crown guard, keep an eye out for sizing. “The proportions of the guard, locking mechanism and crown should be wide enough so that winding the watch without unlocking the guard is easy,” notes Hoge. “On counterfeits, it is usually impossible to wind the crown without unlocking the guard because the crown is either too raised or the proportions are incorrect. On counterfeits, the guard is just there for aesthetic purposes.”
The markings between 12 and 3 on an authentic Panerai Luminor Submersible should be evenly spaced.
The design of the Panerai Luminor Submersible watch differs slightly from the Luminor and Radiomir; while it maintains the same cushion shape, it also includes a bezel. “The Submersible is a dive watch, and the bezel functions as a unidirectional 60 minute timer dive bezel,” says Hoge. “The numbers on the bezel should be clearly engraved, and the markings between 12 and 3 should be equal in size. Counterfeits will often have an improperly functioning bezel, incorrectly weighted or spaced marks, and/or an incorrect lume color.”
With a patented tight seal device, a watch dubbed the “Submersible” and the brand’s history as a supplier for sea-faring servicemen, you may be wondering … are Panerai watches waterproof? “Panerai watches are manufactured to be water-resistant to varying depths and degrees, depending on the model,” notes Hoge. “Water resistance is also dependent on maintaining the integrity of the gaskets, so regular servicing is recommended. However, this is not the same thing as being waterproof. Generally, it is not advised to wear Panerai watches in water. Only the Panerai Submersible meets the modern requirements of a dive watch.”
3. Look for Serial Numbers on the Caseback
On authentic Panerai watches, both closed casebacks and exhibition casebacks should feature serial numbers and other key identifying numbers. Note: we remove identifying numbers from images to protect that information from counterfeiters.
Another way to tell a fake Panerai watch from the genuine article: the caseback. Flip a Panerai watch over and you’ll see either a closed or exhibition-style caseback. The serial number can be found on a Panerai watch caseback, in addition to a few key identifiers. “An authentic Panerai watch will feature a serial number (beginning with BB), a case number (beginning with OP) and a single letter and slashed number combination engraved on the caseback,” says Hoge. “The alphanumeric combination corresponds to the year of production, and to the total number of watches produced. All engravings should be high quality, crisp and clear. Counterfeits will frequently have lower quality engraving, and can be missing numbers, or include incorrect numbers. Panerai reference numbers (PAM) will never appear on the caseback of authentic Panerai watches.” The various numbers present on a closed caseback will also be present on an exhibition caseback at the outer edges.
Additional information was contributed by Kamilla Akbarova, Senior Watch Valuation Manager.
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