by Marius Borger
Although prices paid for Vintage Panerai Models produced for the Italian Royal Navy dating more than 60 years ago are not comparable with todays models, the criminal energy, involving modifying and replacing certain parts to increase a watches value, also holds for Neo-Vintage Panerai models.
After the acquisition of Panerai by the Vendôme Group (Richemont) in 1997, the brand released several different base models that are still available today with only minor changes.
In the first several years, Panerai used Tritium as a luminous marker for their dials. It is a radioactive isotope that charges light to make the numerals and subsecond dials visible during night and was used by nearly every watch brand including Rolex, Omega and so on. A key characteristic of this material is it’s changing color over time. At first, Tritium appears pure white and slowly develops a patina, which causes a vanilla-yellowish tone after several years.
Today, watches with a so-called T-Dial are sought after collector pieces because of their rarity and the special development of the dial’s patina.
After several series of the Luminor Marina models, Panerai switched to the non-radioactive, non-patina developing Luminova material somewhere within the B-Series production. This luminous material is still used today as it is proven safe even for watchmakers getting in contact directly with this substance.
According to Dirk Grandry, who investigated and registered a lot of B-series watches back in 2008, Panerai switched to Luminova halfway around the production of the B Series.
Interestingly, they also split up the case for the different references.
For the A series (1998), Panerai used it’s case numbered 6502 for the Luminor Marina models 001, 003 and 004 plus Luminor Base 002, 009 and 010. All of them include a Tritium dial.
For the B series (1999), Panerai split up the 6502 case in four different versions at some point of the production:
- OP6518 for 001 and 003
- OP6519 for 004
- OP6520 for 002 and 010
- OP6521 for 009
At least for the sought after 004 some new research can draw a clearer picture on the T-Dial confusion.
The 004, together with the 009, are the most popular and sought after T-Dial models, as Panerai did not re-release them within the C series until today. There are several Special Editions (like the 599, 026 or the 360) that follow the same dial layout with a PVD treated case, but the Tritium dial remains unique and will stay a collectible item in the future.
Although the official year 2000 price list does not include the models anymore, the list price back in 1998/1999 was somewhere under 3,000 USD. Because of the limited amount and the discontinuation of the PVD models, prices started to rise quickly, reaching far above 15,000 USD to 20,000 USD back in 2012. The difference between a 004 with Luminova dial and a Tritium dial could count for more then 8,000 USD and is still noticeable in today’s offerings.
To sum up: Only the hands & dial being Tritium can increase the value of a 004 or 009 by up to 100% looking at the recent market. Lot’s of potential for bad guys to make some profit.
Personally, I was looking for a 004 TDial since more than a year, when I finally found one offered with full box and papers in the US for a decent price. After checking the serial numbers and paperwork with my local Panerai boutique, I transferred the money and was happily expecting this special piece.
While waiting for the package to arrive, I started to dig in deeper into the topic and read an old post on p.com, where Dirk Grandry states that there is a pretty low chance (0% to 10%) that a OP6519 case contains a Tritium dial. The purchased watch had a 6519 case and I started my research.
Luckily, Dirk’s post was followed by lots of owners providing their serial and case number. I got even luckier finding out that most of the sellers on chrono24 do not anonymize those numbers in their pictures. In conclusion, I started to archive all available information I came across.
The last entry in my archive was based on the information provided by a guy on paneristi.com back in 2012. After double-checking his numbers I had to find out, that he once owned the watch I just purchased, but with a Luminova dial.
I got in contact with him and was able to recreate the buying & selling history:
- The above pictured 004 was sold from Switzerland to the US in January 2012 – with L Dial
- It was then sold in March 2012 to another guy in the US – with L Dial for USD $8.600
- The former owner who bought it from Switzerland receives a mail in May 2013, as somebody bought the watch from a dealer in New York, but with T Dial for USD $17.000
After the new owner found out that the dial has been swapped, he returned the watch and got a full refund. Three years later, the watch ended up in my hands.
After releasing this information within the German Paneristi Community, another member was happily willing to buy the watch for the same price I paid. He didn’t care if they dial was swapped and probably only a small part of Panerai enthusiast do care about such minor irregularities. Swapping dials and hands to Tritum is happening nearly on a daily basis for Rolex models and is not that big of a deal. However, my personal view is that I want a timepiece that is as correct to its history as it can be. And for this watch it was not the case. The search continues.
After taking a closer look at my newly build archive (Over 40 B Series 004 and 60 B Series models overall), I found out more details on which I can assume the evolution of the PAM004.
My list contains several 004 models with OP6519 case, the lowest being BB984643 with L-Dial and the highest being BB985215 with L-Dial. In between, there are three watches with Tritium dial, including mine that has been proven swapped. The history of the other two watches cannot be tracked and it can be assumed that those dials have been swapped as well, as it makes no sense within the production process to install old Tritium dials just in between a current batch of Luminova dials.
In addition, the list contains several 004 models with OP6502 case, the lowest being
being BB978368 / 2902 of 3000 with TDial.
and the highest BB978465 / 2999 of 3000 with TDial.
The highest known 001, which used the same OP6502 case, is registered with BB980274 / 2877 of 3000 with TDial.
Interestingly, the production for B-series models started with the highest limitation number 3000/3000 going all the way down 0001.
Based on the available information, it can be assumed that the first batch of OP6502 case models was 100 pieces 004, containing old Tritum dials (3000 to 2901). After the production of this batch, Panerai switch most probably to the 001 model for 300 pieces (2900 to 2701).
Nearly every registered reference with OP6502 case includes a TDial across all models. Only a few have Luminova dials, where the history of ownership can not be gathered. Most possibly the TDials have been replaced during a service, as Panerai swapped the Dials to Luminova once they got their hands on the old Tritium stuff.
To sum up, if you want a legitimate 004 with Tritium dial, either go for an A series model or a B series with OP6502 case. If you are offered a 004 TDial within a OP6519 case, I am 100% sure that the dial has been swapped at some point to increase the watch’s value. Watch out.
This article will be updated continuously at any time new evidence is gathered.
If you own a B series model and want to contribute to my archive or if you are unsure whether to buy an offered piece, don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org