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It's About Time

Luxury or Lie: Real vs. Fake Panerai


Teaching people how to identify fake watches is my mission because hard-to-detect counterfeits are more common than you may realize. Forty million fakes are made each year; compare that with thirty million genuine Swiss watches. You are more likely to find the fake than the genuine in many marketplaces. For example, Cartier reports there are 40,000 counterfeits of its watches, almost as many as the 50,000 genuine Cartier watches on the market.

How to Tell a Fake Panerai Watch?

This week I encountered a Panerai Luminar Marina that at first seemed genuine. Because the Panerai Marina counterfeits are among the best produced, I knew I had to take a closer look. With Panerai, the counterfeiters have reproduced the dials of the genuine watches almost perfectly, especially the “sandwich” dial where the black surface is sandwiched to the green luminescent background. The cases are also almost identical.

This watch looked pretty good: the dial was perfect, my first test, and the case felt and looked good. The movement too looked right. However, on close inspection under the loupe, I could see this watch had a typical error found in counterfeit watches: it is a fake. Here’s what I saw.

Panerai Luminar FAKE GOLD RUSH

The dial of this Panerai watch looks genuine, even close up.

Fake Panerai Luminar movement

The movement tells a different story. Can you spot the issue?

Genuine Panerai movement

Genuine Panerai movement

Movement from a fake Panerai

Movement from a fake Panerai

Genuine vs. Fake Panerai Movement

This watch had a typical error found in fake Panerai watches. Copies use a different movement than the original. Panerai movements are made by Unitas, part of the ETA group. Copies use a movement made by the Chinese movement maker Seagull that is a copy of the Unitas movement. (The ETA group does not sell to counterfeiters, but Seagull will sell to anyone. Therefore the counterfeiters have a source for a replica of the Panerai Unitas movement.)

But Panerai modifies the standard Unitas movement. Panerai adds a sophisticated regulator called a “Swan Neck Regulator,” because it has the curve of a swan’s neck.

This where the counterfeiters fall short and where the trained eye can spot a fake Panerai, if you know where to look. Look closely at the “Swan Neck Regulator on the balance wheel.

Fitting this very tiny additional part correctly, seems to be an impossible task for the counterfeiters, hence the screw holes are drilled off centre and subsequently the tiny holding screws are not centered and their heads hanging out over the metal strip they are fastening. That one tiny point, noticable only under a 2.5 magnification loupe was enough to allow me to know the watch in my hand is a fake!

Genuine vs. fake Panerai Luminar

Genuine (left) vs. fake Panerai Luminar, courtesy of Watch Report

Why Buy a Real Panerai?

You may now ask, “well who cares, if the counterfeit looks so identical to the genuine?” Well the answer to that is the fact manufacturers of luxury watches take a responsibility for their product, for example:

  1. The quality of the movement is higher in a genuine watch. That includes the accuracy of the timepiece and COSC approval. Also most manufacturers have custom additions to the standard ebauches supplied by ETA, sometimes to improve accuracy, sometimes just to differentiate their movement.
  2. Hermetic sealing of the case back and crown. That includes checking the water tightness of the case and crown, pressure testing, and humidity testing.
  3. Luxury manufacturers offer a true and lasting warranty, both for the first few years and in the long term. The moment you buy a counterfeit watch, you are on your own.
  4. Metals and Luminous materials in genuine watches are tested for safety and wearability. Counterfeit pieces have no quality control.

These are just a few reasons why a quality watch costs much more than its fake counterpart.

Real vs. Fake Panerai Dial

Here is another dial example of a genuine versus a fake – first inspection they both look OK, but closer investigation we can spot a number of differences:

First take a look at the sub seconds dial at 9 o’clock. It is not positioned as far right as on the counterfeit: Panerai does not put a luminous baton at 9 o’clock. The genuine watch only has the small minutes track at 9.

Then compare the GMT hand: on the original it practically reaches the outer edge of the dial, whereas on the counterfeit it is much shorter. Then compare the quality of steel (shiny and bright) on the original Panerai to its counterfeit. The lugs are quite different, as is the crown guard. Actually, with experience, and If I keep on inspecting, I can find over 10 differences between the genuine versus the fake, even the so-called “super-fakes” that would fool most buyers. But because Panerai is one of the most faked and most difficult to identify counterfeit watches. On many models, it is impossible to tell the difference in the dial. Make sure you look closely at the movement too.

About the Author

Adam R. Harris is the course developer and instructor of Luxury or Lie, a course offered through the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Columbia, PA. For details about the next course contact or register here.

©Adam R. Harris 2016

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