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How To Spot a Fake Panerai

How To Spot a Fake Panerai

By Adam R. Harris

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 Luminor 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 (fake panerai serial numbers)


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 center 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, noticeable 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.


Find out more about selling a luxury watch with Worthy.
See also: how to spot a fake Rolex

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


We encountered a fake Panerai Luminar Marina that at first seemed genuine. How can you tell a fake Panerai from a real one? Click for the complete guide!
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  1. Mike says:

    Besides the swan neck, is there something visible that you can check for? Say on a PAM 533?

  2. Jay says:

    Some panerai model does have luminous baton at 9 oclock like my Panerai PAM 87…

  3. carole churm says:

    I have been left a luminor panerai Firenze 1860 no 1053
    I have no idea if it’s fake or not as I can’t find this watch anywhere what do I do next I have pics

  4. peter says:

    I have read your article.Sorry, don’t agree the replica market offers the average buyer an opportunity to experience ownership of these expensive overpriced watches by the average person.all watch brand company’s need to do is make one model that Mr average can buy.I appalled the Chinese for their workmanship in making these replicas look so auentic

  5. Eric Torbeck says:

    Will someone help me authenticate a panerai?

  6. Robert Butler says:

    Just wondering why there are no more “Luxury or Lie?” courses at the NAWCC?
    The videos are quite good sometimes.

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