Sotheby’s has announced a bunch of Pre Vendôme and Richemont Panerai watches for their upcoming “Important Watches” auction on May 24, 2018 in New York.
I had the opportunity to check all watch thoroughly thanks to detail pictures sent by Sotheby’s. All watches underwent the same level of scrutiny in typical Perezcope manner and the results for some of the watches are quite stunning. Sotheby’s has been informed about the results of this research prior to the publishing of this article.
Two watches are complete fakes, a third one has a wrong case and the Mille Metri is questionable to say the least. The findings in this report were made possible thanks to the great work of Loris Pasetto and Luciano Cipullo and their fantastic two books “Panerai – Una storia Italiana“.
Let’s start with the fake ones.
Update May 26, 2018
The lots 245, 250 and 248 were withdrawn before the auction and all information about them was deleted from Sotheby’s website.
LOT 245 – Panerai 5218-202/A Luminor Marina Militare, Preproduction Prototype, P006
The offered watch is supposed to be one of ten preproduction prototypes of ref. 5218-202/A. There are several inconsistencies which lead me to believe this is a made-up counterfeit.
Ref. 5218-202/A was specifically designed for the Italian Navy. That is the reason why there is a “Marina Militare” print on the dial in addition to Luminor Panerai. Panerai had no intention to sell this model to the public.
Guenat SA Montres Valgines, the Swiss company that designed and produced the first Pre Vendôme models, delivered ten preproduction units before the definitive production started. These pieces are clearly marked on the outside of the caseback with the letter P and the individual three digit number. P001 to P010. The first three watches P001, P002 and P003 were assigned to the Officine Panerai managers Dino Zei, Bruno Latini and Franco Zavattaro.
The dial of P006 appears to be a so-called “non-matching” dial on the beauty shot provided on the Sotheby’s website but on the unedited pictures sent to me the dial looks more like a later “matching” dial.
Preproduction units were fitted with early versions of Pre V dials. Due to international regulations about the use of tritium, the first dials had a layer of clear lacquer in order to keep the lume in place. This lacquer reacted chemically with the tritium lume and the numerals and markers turned to a bright orange colour. These dials are known among collectors as “non-matching” dials, since the lume of the dial does not match the lume on the hands.
As soon as this effect was noticed, Officine Panerai asked the dial producer to stop using the protective lacquer. The dials that followed were all matching.
The following comparison between P006 and P005 shows that P006 has a later “matching” dial. The difference in colour on non-matching dials is more pronounced.
The movement of this watch is not original.
Pre Vendôme Luminor watches were equipped with Unitas 6497 calibers. Just like the Rolex 618 used in vintage Panerai watches, the Unitas 6497 was originally a pocket watch movement.
Unitas 6497 calibers found in Pre Vendôme Panerai watches are not standard out of the box units. These movements were highly elaborated units in terms of adornments (Côtes de Genève) and special components such as Glucydur balance wheel or Incabloc shock protection. They were made on special request of Guenat SA Montres Valgine for Panerai watches and bore the Guenat caliber number 3126. Aditionally, all movements were adjusted to four positions, which means that the variance in accuracy between several orientations (positions) was minimized.
Watches are typically adjusted in 2 to 6 positions:
- Dial up
- Crown down
- Dial down
- Crown left
- Crown up
- Crown right
The following comparison shows the movement from P006 next to the movement from the 5218-207/A with serial number 023/200, a movement that can be considered completely original. There are several discrepancies.
007/200 has a barrel bridge with standard Unitas engravings (1), (2). The alignment of the engravings on the train gear bridge is off. Another interesting observation is a milled off area (3) on the barrel bridge near the ratchet wheel click which shouldn’t be there in the first place.
Let’s have a closer look at that milled off area. The next picture is a comparison between the movement of P006 and a low grade Unitas 497/6497 found in a pocket watch. Low grade Unitas 497/6497 have neither adornments such as Côtes de Genève or soleil finish on ratchet and crown wheels nor has any attempt been made to adjust them to different positions. As a matter of fact, they are marked “Unadjusted” near the ratchet wheel click.
The milled off area (3) near the click suddenly makes perfect sense. Basically, the counterfeiters took an low grade Unitas 497/6497, removed the “Unadjusted” inscription, applied Côtes de Genève, plated the bridges and engraved the train gear bridge. Aditionally, they upgraded the movement with a Glucydur balance wheel to make it look more legit.
A closer look at some case details of P006 reveal more discrepancies. The PVD coating for instance is way to grainy for an early case. A direct comparison with another 5218-202/A shows that the lugs of P006 have a considerably different shape. And this is where things become very interesting!
Ref. 5218-202/A was produced by Guenat SA Montres Valgine in Switzerland. In 1996, Panerai decided to move the production of their watches to Italy in order to save costs. Panerai chose a company named Coro Slr located near Florence. The two references that followed, ref. 5218-209 and ref. 5218-210 had a case with a slighly different shape. Panerai ordered 150 pieces of ref. 5218-209 and 350 pieces of ref. 5218-210 in September 1996. However, after several reminders, Coro was only able to complete 12 pieces of ref. 5218-209 and only 2 pieces of ref. 5218-210.
After Panerai was sold to Vendôme/Richemont in March 1997, the counterfeiters were able to get their hands on unused Panerai remainders from Guenat SA Montres Valgine and Coro Srl. With these parts at hand, the counterfeiters started the production of an undefined number of Pre Vendôme fakes.
The caseback of P006 looks ok at first glance.
However, the real magic of preproduction units is only visible after opening the watch. P006 has the internal Guenat reference number 6047 stamped on the inside of the caseback and this important detail simply doesn’t add up with preproduction units. This caseback could be original though, as I came across the information that for some reasons unnumbered casebacks were indeed available.
According to the book “Panerai – Una Storia Italiana” (Page 57), none of the preproduction prototypes had a stamp on the inside of the caseback, neither the Luminor 5218-201/A nor the Luminor Marina Militare 5218-202/A.
“The insides of all the preproduction series casebacks are not stamped.”
The watch shown in the book is Dino Zei’s very own preproduction 5218-202/A with case number P001.
This caseback is either fake or a remainder from the Guenat production, which was found without serial number.
This watch is accompanied by a Panerai Registration and Service Booklet. The Certificate of conformity has the typical Paneria QC stamp and appears at first glance to be signed by Mario Paci. However, Mario Paci’s signature looks wrong so I double checked with him and he confirmed that this signature is fake. In addition, Mr. Paci used to sign above the label: seal and signature, never underneath.
This watch is without the shadow of a doubt a so-called Rinaldi fake. Luciano Rinaldi was known among old-established watch collectors and dealers for his many Rolex fakes, e.g. Rolex GMT Pan Am with white dial which was featured by Guido Mondani in one of his books. At some point during the late 1990s or early 2000s, Rinaldi was able to buy over old Panerai remainders from Guenat Montres Valgine and Coro Slr and he started assembling Pre Vendôme watches from loose parts. Since correct movements were unobtainable, he had to make-up standard 6497. It is unknown how many of these Rinaldi Pre V fakes are out there but they are easy to spot once you know what to look for.
LOT 250 – Panerai 5218-207/A Luminor Daylight Slytech with Blue Dial
LOT 250 is supposed to be an extraordinary rare 5218-207/A with a sought-after blue indices dial, produced in extremely limited numbers at the very beginning of this reference. At first glance it looks ok but several details don’t add up. To understand what this watch is all about we need to go back in time to the very inception of this reference.
Reference 5218-207/A Slytech Luminor Daylight was a Special Edition specifically designed for Sylvester Stallone. Since Panerai had many unsold Luminor 5218-201/A in stock, instead of ordering new watches, Panerai decided to modify existing watches. 105 unsold pieces of ref. 5218-201/A were sent back to Guenat SA Montres Valgine in Switzerland in order to be modified into ref. 5218-207/A. Guenat replaced the dials and removed the original inscriptions from the casebacks. New inscritions were applied.
The initial dials were white with blue numerals and markers. Panerai delivered 41 watches to Sylvester Stallone in December 1995 but when Sly saw the watches for the first time he didn’t like the blue dial and asked Panerai for a redesign. In consequence, Sly returned 37 watches in three separate shipments to Panerai. Four watches were not returned for some reasons and went missing. Their numbers were 032, 033, 034 and 035. These are the only watches which retainined the initial blue dial.
The white dial was redesigned and Panerai sent the remaining 101 pieces (105 minus 4) of ref. 5218-207/A back to Guenat SA Montres Valgine for the necessary changes. The dials could be recycled and were reprinted while the hands were replaced. Due to the four watches that went missing with Sylvester Stallone, Dino Zei decided to redo all matriculation numbers.
“As a result of the missing four watches and their respective matriculation numbers, the decision was made to redo the numbering sequence, milling away the previous entry and placing a new number in the rectangular space previously obtained by bas-relief.
On 12th March 1996 the 101 Daylights were sent to Guenat S.A. Montres Valgine for the necessary changes. 97 watches, numbered 001 to 097, were returned on 27th May whilst the remaining four (098 – 101) were delivered directly by Guenat to Monty Shadow (without box or guarantee).”
Panerai – Una Storia Italiana (Page 174)
With case number 007/200, the watch offered by Sotheby’s could not possibly be one of the four pieces that retained the blue dial. In addition, it is documented that watch number 007/200 was handed over to Vendôme/Richemont when Panerai sold the brand “Officine Panerai” and the remaining watch stock in March 1997. 007/200 was without a doubt one of the 101 modified pieces.
As we have learned, the dials 101 of 105 watches were reprinted and the hands were replaced. It is unknown whether Rinaldi was able to source unused dials when he bought the remainders from Guenat or if the blue indices dials he used are fake. He made several of these blue indices dial fakes and sold them as the real deal to unsispicious collectors.
The movement of this 5218-207/A is basecially the same as on the fake 5218-202/A with case number P006 discussed above. It is completely made-up.
This movement has the very same issues as the movement in P006.
The profile view of this case seems fine. The shape of the lugs corresponds with Guenat-made cases. The case of ths watch could be one of the remainder cases that were extracted from Guenat.
The caseback of 007/200 is obviously fake. A comparison with a proper 5218-207/A caseback leaves absolutely no doubt. Instead of OFFICiNE PANERAI FIRENZE the caseback of 007/200 says SLYTECH PANERAI in the upper part. The insciptions on the caseback of 007/200 are actually inspired by ref. 5218-205/A.
The photo below was taken from “Panerai – Una Storia Italiana” and shows the differences between the casebacks of ref. 5218-207/A Luminor and ref. 5218-205/A Luminor Submersible. The caseback of 007/200 clearly resambles the style of ref. 5218-205/A.
The inside of this caseback has the typical Perlage finish but bears no Guenat reference number. Only the earliest preproduction casebacks had no Guenat hallmark on the inside. In addition, the inner shape is off compared to genuine Guenat casebacks.
This caseback is without the shadow of a doubt fake.
The booklet of this watch was possibly blanko signed and stamped at some point.
LOT 248 – Panerai 5218-203/A Luminor Marina
The present 5218-203/A looks perfect at first glance. Everything is how it should be except for the case, which appears to be a later part from the Coro production.
Reference 5218-203/A was produced in 1994, together with the second series of ref. 5218-202/A. The biggest difference between ref. 5218-203/A and other Luminor models is the small seconds hand at 9 o’clock, a feature that was standard on Unitas 6497 and had to be removed for the earlier references 5218-201/A and 5218-202/A. The movement of ref. 5218-203/A has slightly different engraings on the train gear bridge.
Original 5218-203/A dial with typical tritium patina.
This 5218-203/A is fitted with a correct Guenat Cal. 3126 Mark 2. The engravings on both bridges are slightly different compared to the Guenat 3126 Mark 1.
Ref. 5218-203/A was produced by Guenat and should have a Guenat style case. The comparison below shows that the case of this 5218-203/A is not from Guenat but from Coro Slr.
Original 5218-203/A caseback with correct inscriptions.
Inside of the caseback with Guenat reference hallmark 6047.
The booklet of this watch appears to be original.
This watch is a riddle. It’s not the usual Rinaldi fake with several unmatching details. Dial, movement and caseback are genuine 5218-203/A parts and only the case is wrong for this reference. Genuine movements were not available as far as I know. That is why fake Pre Vendôme watches have made-up Unitas units. I am not aware of a similar situation where everything is correct except for the case. The fact that this watch has a wrong case leads to several questions. For instance, let’s assue this was a correct 5218-203/A at some point. What happened with the original Guenat case? Was it used to create a super fake 5218-202/A that would fetch a much higher amount of money than a “common” 5218-203/A?
LOT 242 – Panerai Mille Metri with titanium case
The Mille Metri (1000 Metres) was a prototype that was developed during the mid 1980s. The inception of this watch did not follow a specific request from the Italian Navy to develop a modern dive watch for their underwater units, instead it was solely Panerai’s initiative in order to try to increase the revenue of the company. The watch was designed and built by Alessandro Bettarini, Panerai’s former Head of Research & Development.
According to Dino Zei, ex CEO of Officine Panerai SpA, Panerai finished one prototype that was later tested under real life conditions by an officer of the Marina Militare. After months of testing, the watch passed all tests and was given back to Panerai. The officer praised the watch but no order was ever made. This very watch was part of the watch stock that was handed over to Vendôme/Richemont in March 1997 and is now part of their Archivio Storico Panerai.
In a series of interviews that are included as DVD in the book Panerai – Una Storia Italiana, Dino Zei clearly stated that only one watch was finished, the very watch that was later successfully tested.
However, Zei also affirmed that 7 or 8 different pieces were made, but not finished ones, just cases, etc. Massimo Cecchi, a former Panerai Quality Manager (1981 – 1985) explained in his interview that Panerai received one movement from ETA, an automatic 2824-1 caliber, and that this very movement was fitted into the watch thas was assembled.
Please find below an excerpt from the DVD. Cecchi’s statement is at 6:07.
There are several Mille Metri watches around. Some are made of titanium, others of bronze. There are also two with black aluminium cases which are counterfeits made by Luciano Rinaldi and his son Samuele.
Sotheby’s has auctioned at least four Mille Metris in the past, three in titanium and one in bronze. Christie’s has auctioned two, one in titanium and one in bronze. Most have black dials but there is also one with a white dial. All these watches come with an authentication letter from Alessandro Bettarini.
It is interesting to note Dino Zei’s statement that only one watch was finished. This implies that all other watches must have been assembled and finished at a later moment. Massimo Cecchi’s statement that the only ETA movement received was fitted into the final prototype further supports Zei’s statement.
If only one Mille Metri was ever assembled, where did all these other watches come from? On the authentication letter, Bettarini stated that all other cases went lost during the many transfers of Officine Panerai. My guess is that once Panerai watches became popular, all these other Mille Metri were made or assembled in order to financially profit from the momentum.
Since all these watches were made by the same person, authenticating them was pretty easy. In my opinion there is only one legitimate Mille Metri, and that is the prototype that was handed over to Vendôme/Richemont in 1997. All other watches are highly questionable.
LOT 241 – 5218-302 Slytech
This watch underwent the same level of scrutiny as the watches above and appears to be ok.
LOT 246 – 5218-201/A
This watch underwent the same level of scrutiny as the watches above and appears to be ok.
LOT 247 – 5218-205/A
This watch underwent the same level of scrutiny as the watches above and appears to be ok. The booklet however bears a fake signature.
LOT 249 – Panerai 5218-207/A Luminor Daylight Slytech, 023/200
This watch underwent the same level of scrutiny as the watches above and appears to be ok.
LOT 252 – PAM 203
The PAM 203 is a Special Edition from 2006. The main feature of this reference are its legendary Angelus 240 movements which according to the modern Richemont Panerai were found in stock when Vendôme/Richemont took over the Officine Panerai brand and the remaning watch stock.
That is true. However, the modern Panerai deliberatly ommited the fact that the movements found in stock were not historical Angelus movement specifically made for Panerai but simple key-winding units from table clocks which had to be converted in order to fit into a wristwatch.
Read more: The Truth about the PAM 203
That’s it for now. I wrote this article while I am travelling and it is not exhaustive. Some pictures and details are missing. I will try to make an update asap. Thanks for your interest.
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Literature: Panerai – Una Storia Italiana